In the UK: Tuesdays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic
In the US: Acquired by DirecTV. Starts July 11
For many years, BSkyB has been seen by many in the UK as something of a scubby parasite. It earns a fortune from sports subscriptions and then what does it do with them? Uses them to price every other broadcaster out the sports market to make even more money, which is uses to acquire all the good US TV shows to make even more money (£6.6 billion in 2011). But does it make any programming itself? No, just tacky reality shows.
But the times, they are a changing. Sky may have poached all the good US TV shows, even signing an exclusive deal to acquire everything HBO makes and air it on a new channel Sky Atlantic, but now it’s started to get into the business of making halfway decent, scripted TV shows. It’s putting a real effort into comedy on Sky 1, it’s got two more-than-halfway decent arts channels in the form of Sky Arts 1 and 2, and despite the confusing name on the tin, Sky Atlantic now has its first home-grown UK drama.
Created by Paul Abbott of Shameless fame and written by writer-film director Sean Conway (brilliantlove, Alex and Her Arse Truck (no really), Rabbit Stories and Kings of London), it’s about a trans hitwoman who suddenly discovers she has a son by a former girlfriend. Chloë Sevigny – a Golden Globe-winning US actress who’s best known for Showtime’s Big Love but also for movies such as American Psycho, Lars von Trier’s Dogville and Boys Don’t Cry, in which she played a woman who falls in love with a trans man – is Mia, the hitwoman in question, who has to trundle off to meet her new family and to become both father and mother to them.
And unlike a lot of previous attempts by Sky at original programming, it’s not half bad. Even though it also stars Jonas Armstrong from Robin Hood, it’s about a trans hitwoman trying to raise a family in the Yorkshire Dales and it’s called Hit and Miss. Clever, huh?
Here’s a trailer.
Mia is a contract killer with a big secret: she’s a pre-op transsexual. Mia’s life is sent into a tailspin when she receives a letter from her ex, Wendy, who reveals that she’s dying from cancer and that Mia had fathered a son, 11-year-old Ryan. Travelling to a tiny village in West Yorkshire to see the boy, the assassin then discovers the rest of Wendy’s brood…
Ambitious and high concept, HIT & MISS is about family, sexual identity and killing, as it follows Mia’s attempts to mix her killer instincts with her new maternal ones as she starts life with her new family – a lethal killer at the heart of a troubled family dramatically changes all of their lives forever.
Multi-award winning writer and producer Paul Abbott is responsible for some of the most diverse and genre-defining dramas to appear on British television, from Shameless to conspiracy thriller State of Play. HIT & MISS is written by film writer Sean Conway (Brilliant Love, Kings Of London), who delivers a dark and compelling series
Is it any good?
In a sense, this feels as much a marketing move for BSkyB as it does a TV show: “Look at us, we can produce quality TV, too,” it seems to say with every scene.
Here, ‘quality’ means unoffensive – by which I don’t mean bland but actually mean “not insulting to viewers’ intelligence or particular groups”, which is good going for Sky – and “shot in the style of an independent movie”.
All the same, this is a proper show that had it been made by BBC1 or even Channel 4 would have been glossier and faster-moving, but honestly, I actually don’t think it would have been as good. Hit and Miss doesn’t have the absolute political correctness or the preachiness that it would have had on those two channels, and in some ways it has more guts: it’s perfectly happy to include full-frontal nudity of Sevigny, complete with prosthetic penis, if the plot demands it, but doesn’t sensationalise it, instead using it to make the audience look at their own prurience and stereotypes.
Indeed, gender questions are at the heart of the show. It would have been easy to make a show about a trans woman in which her femininity was exaggerated in an effort to convince the audience that someone trans can be the gender and sex they claim to be – to have a faux, stereotypical femininity that parodies womanhood. Instead, we have a trans woman – played by a cis woman – who is strong, athletic and violent, yet also maternal and who dresses in a ‘feminine’ manner. She tries to be a ‘mother figure’ to Riley (Karla Crome) but a ‘father figure’ to her own child Ryan (Jorden Bennie), teaching him how to punch. It makes the audience question what it is to be a father or a mother, a man or a woman, and to a certain extent whether those terms have real meaning outside societal definitions.
Unlike Sky 1’s slow-moving Mad Dogs, this is slow-moving with a reason other than to show us some lovely location filming. Here we’re getting to know Mia and the children of her former girlfriend, as well as the people who live in the village. No one is a saint, and no one is an outright bigot, with discrimination nuanced and varied. Some of those who know of Mia’s history show surprising compassion while still refusing to accept her presence, while others simply regard her as a freak while appearing to her befriend her.
There is one obvious stereotype – John (Vincent Regan), a misogynist bully and father of a bully, who’s had affairs with both Mia’s ex and Riley, even while his own wife is pregnant. Whether any shades of white will be added to him remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Jonas Armstrong is being set up as the friendly, liberal man in town and a potential boyfriend to Mia; whether he’ll react well to learning Mia was born in a man’s body and hasn’t yet had the surgery remains to be seen.
Hit and Miss suffers a little bit from not having as much action as its title suggests, although it handles it well when it does turn up. It could also have done with more set-up: although we do get a glimpse of Mia’s life before she finds out about her son, it’s essentially empty so the only world we get to see is the one Mia’s choosing to enter and there’s no real choice for her to make: nothing or family.
Whether it can sustain what is essentially the plot of one film – for the cynical, if you squint a bit, The Crying Game – over the course of six episodes, we’ll have to wait to see. How well it’ll continue to tread its sensitive tightrope – and how long Chloë Sevigny can maintain her Irish traveller accent for – is also something only time will reveal.
But on the strength of the first episode, Sky Atlantic may not have a hit on its hands, but it does at least show it’s on the very first steps to becoming a possible HBO for the UK – without simply airing all of HBO’s content.