Thursday, 24 May 2012

Review: HIT & MISS (Sky Atlantic)

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Sky Atlantic take their first step into original homegrown drama with the six-part Hit & Miss, created by Paul Abbott (Shameless, State Of Play) and written by Sean Conway. US indie star Chloë Sevigny (Big Love) takes the lead as transgender hitman Mia, introduced casually shooting a man dead for a crime boss, before discovering she fathered a son 11 years ago. Summoned to windswept west Yorkshire, shortly after her ex-lover Wendy's died of cancer, Mia tries to connect with her young son and his three siblings—Riley (Karla Crome), Levi (Reece Noi) and Leonie (Roma Christensen)—now she's become their legal guardian. At first, she isn't made to feel welcome, but that soon changes once her violent history as a hired assassin comes in handy...

Ever since I heard about Hit & Miss, I've been dying to see it. The strange but satisfying thing is how different the show is to what I expected—being less a hitman thriller with a gimmick-y protagonist, and more a family drama about dysfunctional people learning to live and love. Some will prefer the sexier version that's been allowed to percolate in their minds for months, but I enjoyed the amiable predictability of this placid premiere. Of course Mia's going to use her skills as a professional killer to pay her skint family's debts; and of course her shy son Ryan's (Jordan Bennie) going to K.O the school bully who steals his pocket money after boxing lessons. You expected it to happen, and happen it did. But I didn't mind how the story unspooled in some fairly obvious ways, because that doesn't mean I have any idea where he remaining five episodes are headed.

Sevigny is mesmerising as Mia, and does a good job with a mild "Irish traveller" accent (although opinions always vary when it comes to how well foreign actors cope with British dialects). All I know is this: I wasn't reminded of Sevigny's American heritage at any point, and her understated performance was one to savour. Mia's clearly a broken person (more through her choice of occupation than conflicts over her impending sex change), but she senses the possibility that this underprivileged family will make her feel whole. By virtue of her slightly androgynous appearance, Sevigny also makes for a good choice playing a man-becoming-a-woman, and the show itself handled that aspect of the premise with skill. There's an early sequence where Mia strips naked to have a shower, you see her penis (a prosthetic that won't give Dirk Diggler sleepless nights), but it's all handled very tastefully. I've heard it said that Hit & Miss should have cast a genuine transgender actor, or maybe someone more obviously a "man in makeup", but I don't think it's a particular concern. They were probably concerned the show would be misconstrued if Mia resembled a man in drag, too. If Sevigny was the best person for the role, then that's all that matters.

The rest of the cast were very natural and interesting to watch, especially Crome as the eldest girl who just wants Mia to sign documents to appease social services and "piss off". Bennie, as the little boy who's lost a mum but gained a dad-in-mum's-clothing, was also very charming and invited you into his performance. The only thing that felt strange to me was how there wasn't much grieving going on, considering those three kids have just lost their mother to cancer, and were fending for themselves in a tumbledown farm atop a remote hill with no money to pay for electricity.

Overall, Hit & Miss is off to a great start, despite the simplistic storyline that didn't offer too many big surprises. But now Mia's literally brought light into her family's lives (by reconnecting the farm's electric using money stolen from a rich man whose throat she slashed open), I'm intrigued to see where the story will go from here. Will Mia's shadowy past catch up with her, as she struggles to balance the demands of this new family with the ugly job she's paid to do by gangsters? Does she even want to leave that life behind just yet? What will happen if, or rather when, her kids discover what she does for a living? Is there a chance Mia's presence on the farm will do more harm than good? (I got a slightly uncomfortable feeling when she made Ryan punch his bully to the floor, but maybe that's just me being soft.)

Like all good dramas, I'm already asking questions and will be awaiting the answers and unseen complications from the weeks ahead. On the evidence of this confident and composed premiere, Sky Atlantic's long-awaited drama is more hit than miss.

Aside

  • I loved the retro feel of the show, which came through mainly because the family can't afford many mod cons. Their farm wouldn't have looked out of place in the '40s or '50s. The lack of internet was particularly apparent: Riley was seen flirting with a boys over a CB radio (how '70s), while Ryan was introduced to pornography through an old-fashioned dirty magazine.
  • This episode was directed by Hettie Macdonald, who helmed the fantastic and very popular Doctor Who episode "Blink", together with Wallander, The Fixer and many others.
  • I know what you're thinking: how do you pronounce Chloë Sevigny's surname? Well, it's "sevenyay".
  • How appropriate that Mia's an anagram of "aim".
written by Sean Conway / directed by Hettie Macdonald / 22 May 2012 / Sky Atlantic