Having achieved a bit of a catch-up on the Sky+ box, we turned our attention earlier in the week to Hit and Miss – Sky Atlantic's recent six-parter starring Chloe Sevigny as a pre-op transsexual assassin (now out on Blu-Ray and DVD).
Ever since Pulp Fiction I've been a bit ambivalent about drama involving hitmen; there seems something a bit uncomfortable about the (usual) equation of 'cool' with a total disregard for the value of human life.
And while the 'Created by Paul Abbott' factor was enough to entice me towards 'series link' (it was written by Sean Conway), for some reason I was still expecting a reheated version of some Nikita-style toot.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by the first two eps. For a start, it had totally eluded me that the series was set in Manchester and the surrounding moors, rather than the US.
The show started predictably enough, as we saw Mia (Sevigny) nail one of her assignments on the sodium-lit roof of a car park. However, the big moment came when her 'agent' (Peter Wight) passed on a letter he'd received from an ex-girlfriend of Mia's.
Before long we learned that not only did Mia have a nine-year-old son she never knew about, Ryan, but the ex had died recently and had named Mia as the guardian of all four of her kids, living on a farmstead out on the bleak moors.
Once Mia hooked up with her wards, we were much back in familiar Paul Abbott territory: a chaotic but fiercely independent family trying its best to survive without any parental guidance.
And pretty soon we found ourselves in even more familiar Western territory, with Mia as the lone gunman trying to protect her hapless new family from the villainous landowner (Vincent Regan) trying to drive them out.
The two elder kids (Reece Noi and Karla Crome) felt they didn't need any help and did everything they can to turn Mia away, but before long she started to impose her quiet authority on the family.
To lapse into crass writing-manual-speak for a moment, it's clear that Mia has two big 'transformative arcs': not only is she undergoing her sex change process (as illustrated by her almost fetishistic dependence on her hormone pills), but she has to deal with suddenly having to abandon her totally self-sufficient 'lone wolf' lifestyle to settle into a more domestic scene - another Western trope.
The role of Mia is a bold choice for an actress, but despite everyone's efforts Chloe Sevigny never really looked liked she'd been a man at any stage (even with her prosthetic todger). It also took me a while to realise that her accent was supposed to be Irish.
Still, she does give a good bit of 'glower', and subtly depicts the inner struggle of someone trying to inhibit their violent urges. And the story creates a nice bit of ambivalence about what she does.
At the end of the first episode we might have an initial urge to cheer when she pastes the bullying landlord into the dirt. However, it's immediately apparent that rather than ending the confrontation, it's actually escalated the conflict to the point of no return.
As Ryan bonds with Mia and starts to train with her, it also raises the question of to what extent he's going to get dragged into his parent's world of violence – especially after Mia involved him in the beating of the landlord and his bullying son.
The two episodes, directed with restraint and compassion by Hettie Macdonald, were very nicely shot and paced, and take time out from the core story to look also at the chilling effect of grief on the children and Mia's unhappiness at remaining trapped in the male body she sees as a prison.
At six episodes, I think the series is going to be just long enough not to outstay its welcome, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.