'Hitmen': TV Review

HITMEN - Birthday Episode 101 - Mel Giedroyc -Sue Perkins -Publicity -H 2020
Sky UK Limited
A sketch-comedy conceit that's just funny enough.
8/6/2020

'The Great British Bake Off' presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins play slightly against type as chatty killers in Peacock's dark comedy.

For the most part, the new Peacock comedy Hitmen is exactly what it sounds like. A pair of hired guns, working for a seldom-seen crime boss named Mr. K, pass their days kidnapping and killing their targets, then disposing of their bodies. Most of their waking hours are spent in a grimy van, which is equipped with all manner of murder-facilitating doohickeys. The twist: These assassins are played by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, better known stateside as Mel and Sue, the presenters of The Great British Bake Off.

Friends and comedy partners for over three decades, Perkins and Giedroyc surprised GBBO fans when they — along with judge Mary Berry — abruptly quit the hit reality competition in 2016 after disagreeing with producers about changes the duo described as a "crueler" direction for the show. They bring to Hitmen plenty of the dorky drollness that was their signature contribution to GBBO; the series is less Barry than What We Do in the Shadows, minus the latter's, well, dazzling joke density, masterfully controlled silliness and chockablock comedic virtuosity. If some of the best TV comedies of the past few years have focused on the drab ordinariness (and/or existential malaise) of outwardly badass vocations, here's a thoroughly low-key iteration of that trope.

Admittedly, Hitmen doesn't profess the ambition of those other comedies. With six 22-minute episodes comprising the debut season, it's content to be an appetizer. There's a "just enough" quality to pretty much every facet of the series: the charm of its lead performances, the freshness of its jokes and storylines, the modest flourishes in its visuals and stunts. (Armed but physically graceless, the middle-aged, frumpily costumed Giedroyc and Perkins are also just barely believable as mid- to lower-tier contract killers.) In GBBO terms, there's nothing resembling a showstopper here, but it's perfectly proficient as a technical challenge.

Nearly every episode of Hitmen starts with the same dilemma: what to do with the target they've abducted and tied up in the back of their van. Because Fran (Perkins) and Jamie (Giedroyc) are best friends and inveterate natterers, their victims end up forced to eavesdrop on their personal problems, like feckless Jamie's lack of attraction to her seemingly flawless boyfriend and lesbian Fran's wreckage of a "visa marriage" to a gay man from Portugal. Fran is smitten with Liz (Tonya Cornelisse), a gravel-voiced, ultra-intense American rival paired with another softie, Charles (Asim Chaudhry), both of whom occasionally drop by in their more conventionally hitman-esque black SUV to keep their beef going (and fluster Fran).

Most of the time, though, it's a three-person show, which means episodes largely succeed or fail depending on the guest actor of the week's chemistry with Giedroyc and Perkins. Fleabag's Sian Clifford is a particular highlight as Mr. K's embezzling accountant; tougher and smarter than Fran and Jamie combined, she almost immediately pits her captors against each other. But most of the guest actors fail to transcend their stock characters, which means being stuck for 20 or so minutes with a sketch-comedy conceit that refuses to deepen into anything more layered or nuanced.

More disappointing is the fact that despite the winkingly archetypal movie-assassin situations that Fran and Jamie seem to be deliberately written into (a chase in a mannequin factory; killing a man who slept with Mr. K's fiancee), there are few subversions, let alone commentary, on the genericness of those circumstances. That makes the digressive moments of quirkiness between Perkins and Giedroyc, like Fran and Jamie debating which Lion King characters are the hottest, feel all the more winsome — and insufficient in number. If we weren't going to get much scarring, Hitmen could at least have given us more Scar talk. 

Cast: Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins

Creators: Joe Markham, Joe Parham

Premieres Thursday, Aug. 6, on Peacock