Nearly 500 scripted TV shows aired in each of the last two years, and that number is expected to grow moving forward. As such, your television backlog is probably already overwhelmingly long and getting longer by the minute. Still, BBC America’s Killing Eve, a cat-and-mouse game between MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), deserves a spot atop your binge list.
Based on a novella series titled Codename Villanelle, the show follows Eve, an MI5 officer who might be too clever for her desk job, as a string of unusual murders occur across Europe. Eve connects these killings to a single assassin, who she believes to be a woman. Her superiors don’t take this connection seriously, but an MI6 agent, Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw), notices Eve’s work and recruits her to run a secret operation to identify and track down the assassin. Killing Eve strikes the perfect balance between Sherlock Holmes-style detective work and the hair-raising spy-thrillers that inspired it.
The characters of Killing Eve are refreshingly likable. Eve may cause her fair share of audience groans, but that’s is because she’s a flawed, relatable human being, not a dark, ambivalent, (middle-aged white male) anti-hero like those of prestige TV’s past. Supporting characters like Carolyn, Bill Pargrave (David Haig), and Konstantin Vasiliev (Kim Bodnia) all feel equally nuanced and contemporary. Viewers can even find themselves rooting for the stylish, willful Villanelle in between heinous crimes.
Showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) gleefully avoids conventional cat-and-mouse storytelling, instead opting for full-on psychological warfare between her two leads. Agent and assassin discover a mutual obsession with one another, akin to the bond shared between cop-and-con in Michael Mann’s Heat on the big screen, Netflix’s Mindhunter and The Fall on the small screen (all worth your time as well), and Batman and the Joker in literature (hey, comics count). The result is smart, gripping TV that’s hard to find anywhere else, even when there are 500 shows to choose from.
BBCA, which must realize that it has lightning in a bottle here, ordered a second season before the pilot aired, so no need to worry about this turning into another Firefly. I hate to recommend hour-long dramas, but Killing Eve’s 45-minute runtime is among the fastest on television. Season one wrapped up its eight-episode run in May, so it’s all available to watch now. The series is currently available to stream on Hulu for the thriftier among us. Killing Eve’s unusually intimate approach to a caper that has every right to play the long game has made for a surprising 2018 standout.