Hands up, who wants a treat? Alrighty, here’s one to savour. It will make you laugh, make you shiver and make you wonder why most TV content can’t be as buoyantly inventive.
Killing Eve (Sunday, CTV Drama Channel, previously known as Bravo, 10 p.m.) is back for its third season. The return-date was moved up by two weeks because, well, because pandemic. Thank heavens. It still sizzles, this warped thriller, loaded with dry wit and featuring two brilliant performances. While Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who originally adapted the Villanelle series of novellas by Luke Jennings, has left the show, the unique tone and the exuberance are intact.
When we last saw our two twisted figures, Eve (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer), they were having a major spat in Rome. Their enchantment with each other, as inexplicable as it is delicious, led to Villanelle shooting Eve. Well, Eve survived. Of course she bloody well did. But as Konstantin, Villanelle’s shifty handler, says to Eve in Episode 2, “You know, when a bullet goes through you, it leaves something behind.”
The series has smartly recalibrated and opens with what is essentially a plot reboot. After that long-running, wild cat-and-mouse game between the two central figures, it was time. As you may remember, this madcap narrative began with MI5 researcher Eve, a down-to-earth woman with a flaky sense of humour, hoping to get into some real spy-catching work. Along came the Villanelle case. A glamorous assassin, cold-blooded and ruthless, was murdering fellas around Europe. Eve had her number. And Villanelle knew it, intrigued that this self-effacing, desk-bound woman in England was her true nemesis. Eventually, they both tried to kill each other because love is hate and hate is love. As we all know.
As this season opens, it’s all Villanelle and Comer is as sublimely mischievously alluring as ever playing this demon. She’s getting married to another woman. Then, things go awry. Along comes her old mentor (Harriet Walter) from her days as a Soviet-trained assassin, and there is a competition between the two women to determine who is the most vicious, violent and the most steely of killers. There is an air of kooky, screwball humour about all of this, a hallmark of the show from the beginning. The one lovely surprise is that Villanelle, not Eve, owns the show in the early going.
Meanwhile, suffice to say, Eve is in isolation. She’s working in the kitchen of an Asian restaurant somewhere in a boring part of England. She drinks too much and has taken up smoking. Her life has a gaping hole, and that hole can only be filled by that cruel, sinister and fabulously well-dressed assassin Villanelle. And so the game begins again. Old stalwarts are back, including the acid-tongued Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), Eve’s former boss, who has the sort of vehemently prickly conversations with men that are another distinction of the series. A casual conversation in the office cafeteria can include Carolyn loftily informing some chap about her love life, “Divorces are easy, it’s the marriages that are bloody hard.”
What makes Killing Eve so special, again, is the sheer vitality of the plotting, the wit and dialogue. (It was made for BBC America and, in Britain, there has always been a slightly sniffy attitude toward it; pay no mind to the lukewarm reaction in the British press.) It buzzes with the outrageous, larky energy involved in taking a cat-and-mouse espionage thriller and injecting female-centric lust, rage and humour. What a treat.
Finally, this column continues with a “Stay-at-home-period daily streaming pick” for the next while. Today’s pick is Save Me (CBC Gem). Probably the best Canadian series you’ve ignored, it’s funny, clever, sometimes melancholy and often beautifully unsettling. We get to know a small team of paramedics, and the series – drama/comedy/drollery – manages to drill down briefly into people’s lives and circumstances right before the medics show up in an emergency situation of some sort. Each episode comes in at about 10 minutes and some are remarkably dense. Created and directed by actor/playwright Fab Filippo, it’s a wonderful short binge of two seasons, with some knockout episodes.
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