There is a very thin line between love, lust and obsession. Or so we have been told repeatedly. But is obsession really that wrong? I mean, I know it is wrong, Netflix’s You emphatically tells us that. But what happens when obsession all but consumes you? This is what Killing Eve tries to answer.
BBC America’s Killing Eve which is based on the Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle books tries to depict this conundrum on screen. And it has been successful in showing how lives of the obsessed unravel. Starring the inimitable Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) and the effervescent Jodie Comer (The White Princess), this is one of the best television shows on-air right now. This show can be best described as a spy comedy that focuses on the “the most fu****-up relationship on television.”
The series focuses on smart yet funny MI6 agent Eve Polastri who identifies a rather efficient and ruthless female assassin-for-hire, Villanelle. And her subsequent transformation as she slowly becomes obsessed with the assassin. The sociopathic Villanelle loves to enjoy the lifestyle offered to her because of her unconventional job. In the second season premiere, Eve describes her house as, “Chic as shit.” She has no qualms about killing and lying. Rather she quite enjoys it.
The show, created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is in equal parts a spy thriller and a laugh out loud comedy has really unimaginable twists and shines a light on surprisingly realistic interpersonal interaction. But more than anything, the show is about two strong female characters who find an odd peace in each other’s eyes. And that is saying something given that they come from two absolutely different backgrounds.
So what’s so special about this show?
Just to give you a hint as to the awesomeness of this show: It was nominated for 15 BAFTA awards this year, with both Oh and Comer being nominated for the Best Leading Actor (Female). If that were not enough, the show topped on almost every critic’s list of the best show of 2018. Which in itself is a great thing because over 500 scripted shows were released last year (including those released by streaming platforms).
Killing Eve is a cut above the rest because of its sharp repartrie, stylish aesthetics and shimmering costumes. All that and sublime performances by the entire cast besides the leads. At the heart of the show is the basic ‘will-they-won’t-they’ storyline of the cop and the self-admitted psychopath. Even the background score by David Holmes is devastatingly haunting and memorable.
The show was greenlit in November 2016 and its subsequent release in April coincided with the growing chorus of more female centric-shows and films. This show, created by women and starring women, is a fine example of why having more women at the fore is very important. Sandra Oh told Buzzfeed in an interview: “When all of that was happening, and everything was happening, I felt my life and my world opening up,” Oh said. “The voice, the explosion, the rage, the catharsis. We were aligned — and our show was aligned — with the stars. So we could just go, Boop: here, guys! I know where you’re at — and how about this?” (sic)
“We had no idea that the conversation, the culture, around gender was going to be so explosive,” said Sarah Barnett, AMC Networks’ entertainment president, who oversees of BBC America. “But Killing Eve blows the Bechdel test off the scale.”
How the show came to be
Like I have mentioned before, this show is based on Luke Jennings’ book Codename Villanelle. Jennings’ book was a self-published novella available only on Amazon when it was released. He then went on to publish the sequel to the book a few years later. However in the books, Eve does not feature in the first book. The first one is about Villanelle and establishes her character as one of the best assassins-for-hire in Europe.
The novella then captured the attention of Sally Woodward Gentle — a London-based producer and former BBC executive who runs the production company Sid Gentle Films — through sheer happenstance. “A work colleague of ours was at a dinner party sitting next to Luke, who said, ‘I’ve written these novellas and they’re literally published on Amazon to be read on commute,'” Woodward Gentle said in an interview.
Woodward Gentle then brought on Phoebe Waller-Bridge to adapt the novella for the small screen. Waller-Bridge was the writer-actor of the one-woman show Fleabag that made a lot of noise at the Edinburgh festival in 2013, and then at the Soho Theatre in London. It is now also a critically acclaimed television series streaming on BBC One, Two and Three in the UK.
As per Buzzfeed: “To take a female assassin and put it through the kaleidoscope of Phoebe was something I thought was going to be far more interesting than going to a male writer to get them to do an action thing,” Woodward Gentle said.
Woodward Gentle and Waller-Bridge developed a Villanelle-focused pilot script for one of the Sky TV channels in the UK, which ended up passing on the show in spring 2015. Luckily for BBC, the came across this script after the runaway success of their sci-fi show, Orphan Black, that lasted for five seasons.
Seasons 1 and 2
When Orphan Black was released BBC understood that there was a huge ‘undeserved women’ audience that was craving more women centric shows. They also realised that there was a ‘fanatical loyalty’ that was attached to these shows. So, when they saw Fleabag, they wanted it but figured it would never be attractive enough for the local audience.
But when they heard about Killing Eve and Waller-Bridge’s association with the project, they immediately got the rights to the show and greenlit a first season. However the show took time in development given how different the manuscript is from the book.
According to Buzzfeed: A few casting choices were more whimsical. When Waller-Bridge wanted the classically trained Fiona Shaw to play Carolyn, the boss at MI6 who tasks Eve with finding Villanelle, the two of them went to lunch to discuss the possibility. (The character was originally written as a man, which Waller-Bridge changed.) “Why do you want me to play this?” Shaw remembered asking Waller-Bridge. “She said, ‘Because I saw Medea when I was 13.’ ‘You saw Medea! What’s that got to do with it?’”
Killing Eve finished its first season with an unbroken record of weekly ratings growth in the key adults 25-54 and 18-49 demos – a first for a TV show in Nielsen live+3 ratings. The finale delivered series highs with 1.25 million viewers in live+3, up 86 percent from premiere, with 545,000 adults 25-54 and 378,000 adults 18-49, up 127 percent and 100 percent from premiere, respectively.
The show was subsequently renewed for a second season under the leadership of Emerald Fennell, who was at the helm in Season 2, taking over for creator/executive producer and Season 1 lead writer/showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
And right after Killing Eve‘s Season 2 premiere on April 7, 2019, BBC America has ordered a third season of the acclaimed series with a new lead writer, executive producer and showrunner — British writer Suzanne Heathcote (Fear the Walking Dead).
“We love having this show and the brilliant Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw on our networks,” said Sarah Barnett, President, Entertainment Networks for the AMC Networks. “Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Emerald Fennell have delivered two addictively entertaining seasons. As we did last year, we’re renewing Killing Eve right out of the gate, now with Suzanne Heathcote as lead writer, as a sign of confidence – we adore this show as much as our fans do. Killing Eve doesn’t do anything in a templated way; we love giving opportunity to three genius women to make their mark.”
“I’m very excited that the Killing Eve baton is being passed onto another incredible writer for season 3. We can sleep soundly knowing these characters are safe in Suzanne Heathcote’s hilariously murderous hands,” said Waller-Bridge.
“We are overjoyed at this show of love and passion for the show. And delighted to have another fierce woman at the writing helm. We have been so lucky,” Sally Woodward Gentle said in an interview.
The news of Killing Eve’s third season renewal comes shortly after the series earned 15 BAFTA TV Award nominations, including Leading Female Actor nominations for both Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh and Best Supporting Female Actor nomination for Fiona Shaw and Best Supporting Male Actor nomination for Kim Bodnia.
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