Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc met at Cambridge University and have been working as a comedy duo for three decades and counting. They are best known (in America, at least) for their seven-year run as co-hosts of The Great British Bake Off. But they left the show in 2016, reportedly because they felt it was getting too mean, drifting away from its core values as one of the only happy, sweet, peace-loving reality competition shows out there.
With that in mind, the premise of their new show Hitmen is almost a joke in and of itself.
In the six-episode series, produced in Britain by SkyOne and distributed in the US by NBC’s up-and-coming streaming service Peacock, Perkins and Giedroyc are the titular hitmen, professional killers working for a mysterious presence named Mr. K.
Jamie and Fran (Giedroyc and Perkins, respectively) are best friends and assassins for hire who spend their days sitting on stakeouts in their blood-soaked van, offing targets, and dumping body parts in the river.
They are the very picture of cold-bloodedness, killing for hire with more nonchalance than they ever showed for baked goods.
But whether this casting as remorseless murderers is a deliberate in-joke or not, Hitmen is surprisingly full of that heartwarming, life-affirming, honest-to-god nice comedy the pair stood by so firmly with their previous show. There’s just a lot more gore this time.
That’s because, during every high-tension gun chase, every garbage bag of limbs casually tossed into the Thames, there’s a constant stream of back and forth conversation as Fran and Jamie discuss the mundanities of life, from romance to family to the real mainstay of the show: their friendship. And it’s all delivered in the practiced, one-liner-heavy banter of a longstanding comedy duo.
And gosh is it nice. At six episodes of twenty-two minutes each, Hitmen is an easily digestible black comedy — granted, it goes to some very dark places indeed, and if you find yourself waiting for an episode in which someone doesn’t desperately beg for their life, don’t hold your breath. But this casual, callous violence is treated with such levity that it’s impossible to be brought down by it. It may be dark, but it’s certainly not gritty.
This is nicecore with some conspicuous but ultimately superficial blood spatter on its face.
That being said, the show is far from perfect. None of the episodes are complicated or very unique, which is probably its biggest downfall. The juxtaposition of Fran and Jamie’s career of choice to the mood of the show is unusual, but each episode’s plot could easily find — and probably has found — its way into plenty of sitcoms already. After a minute or two of setup, you can pretty reliably chart the direction the rest of the script will take.
Because of this, the first episode is probably the best. With a blank slate and a cheerful, joke-heavy mood, it still holds a few cards up its sleeve in terms of just how far into bloody extremes it’s willing to go — to its credit, it goes pretty far. But once that’s established, the remaining episodes are missing that original element of surprise.
The humor doesn’t always totally land, either. Giedroyc is very much the Goofus to Perkins’ Gallant, the comic relief in a show that’s already very much a comedy. And sometimes it’s too much. When she gets a little too hung up on playing April Fool’s Day pranks, or raising an egg as if it’s her own child, it pushes the limits of the suspension of disbelief. Not that her character could be an assassin, but just that she’s a living, breathing person at all.
But in the end, these are relatively minor problems that don’t necessarily address the heart of the show. Hitmen is not hard-hitting. And it’s not groundbreaking. What it is is a comedy showcase and a series about friendship. In other words, it’s the ideal vehicle for two comedians who’ve been friends and working partners for so long. Giedroyc and Perkins play very well off each other, with a natural chemistry that puts the show itself second. Sometimes this hierarchy seems very deliberate: in one episode the pair’s assassination target doesn’t even appear until the last five minutes.
But again, that’s mostly alright. The show’s hitmen conceit might wear a little thin sometimes, but more than anything it’s a chance to enjoy watching its stars work together.
If there’s one thing Hitmen could really use, it’s a second season. It has laid out its framework and established its characters and ends its first season with a wide-open finale ripe for new adventures. Another run of episodes with the same relationships and humor but more complex and unique plots could really go somewhere interesting. Here’s to hoping Peacock gives it a chance.
Hitmen premieres on Peacock on Thursday, August 6th.