In its best moments, “Killing It” is a heart of raging tenderness. The show would have you believe it’s a kooky comedy about two python hunters in Florida. It’s so much more. It’s a hideous vision of the U.S. under late-stage capitalism, where everyone’s trying to get one over on everybody else. A few good people try to do what’s right in a landscape that con artists strip for parts and sell. But “Killing It” never laughs at the people in need. It treats laughter as a scalpel to cut out the absurdity they witness, that we live with.
Craig has a dream. All it needs is $20,000, and for him to be on time for a meeting in the Florida swamp. He meets Jillian when he calls an Uber. She arrives towing a small billboard behind her car. It doubles as her tiny apartment. She pulls over mid-trip to kill a python, an invasive species she can get paid for by the foot. She also gets paid to film herself eating bananas, and there’s a nightmarish episode where she housesits for a rich woman who wants Jillian to pose as her for tax purposes.
Craig had a car of his own, so why’s he need an Uber? He got fired from his job as a security guard at the bank that turned him down for a business loan. He accidentally burned down his truck grilling breakfast in it after spending the night there because he’s renting out his apartment to what turns out to be a porn shoot.
They’re both scraping by doing anything they can, at any risk and often at a greater cost than what they make. But that one meeting, the dream, that loan – it could get Craig the money he needs to buy swampland for a saw palmetto farm.
“Killing It” blends the realism of desperation with the idealism of hope and the greater absurdity of what we allow to kill that hope. It reflects a nation of con artists in the looming shadow of 2016, the few people concerned about doing right caught in traps of morality baited by thieves who run a broken system. Craig and Jillian team up for a python hunting contest – the one remaining chance either of them have.
There’s a sense of profound othering within “Killing It”: to strive in a culture that abuses those who give their all until they’re burnt through, that there’s no such thing as time off, that to be successful you have to be a brand assessed as valuable even if that means sacrificing anything of value or substance. Content must be constant, not substant. “Killing It” is a haunting, absurdist, often Kafka-esque commentary on the world falling apart around us. It’s also the funniest series to premiere this year.
“Killing It” attacks comedy with the storytelling sensibility of a horror movie. The jokes highlight economic despair, sadness, panic, voter suppression, deportation, its characters live in a little tow-around billboard or a 24-hour gym, but they are never the target. Every joke punches up with fury. It’s as close as comedy comes to a howling scream, of facing the tightrope between being fed up and not taking it anymore vs. giving up. This show wants to break something. Anything. Everything.
Craig Robinson is beautiful in communicating the modern state of desperation and idealism, the difficulty in life at the boundary of hope and hopelessness. He’s witnessing what we thought the world could be as it’s hoarded away piece by piece, thinking success is to become one of the hoarders despite knowing he clearly isn’t made to victimize others.
Claudia O’Doherty is…unparalleled. You may know her already as Stede Bonnet’s jilted wife Mary from “Our Flag Means Death”. She’s at the height of her powers as Jillian. She’s an absolutely rare comedy voice who nails every line she has. Lines that weren’t jokes suddenly are. But there’s something even more magical in her performance. She has a remarkable ability to take any line of comedy and twist its conclusion, to take what we’re laughing at mid-stream and turn it desperate, angry, or hopeful. She takes you in the middle of what’s opening you up and puts a point on it. She takes your safe laughter and appends it as it happens, turns it transgressive and subversive. She performs comedy as alchemy.
If the description of this series comes across sounding depressing or haunting, understand that its humor isn’t helpless. It’s vengeful. It’s goddamn pissed because the whole point of its characters doing right is that they’re usually too kind to be that angry on their own behalf. The show has to be angry for them. “Killing It” points at the kind as they face injustice, and the harmful as they do damage, and stares straight at who in that system gets punished and rewarded. It’s a show that loses its shit with utter precision.
Even the title refers less to its characters work-every-minute mantras or their shambles of a python-hunting effort. What we witness being killed is all of our chances, our futures, our ability to provide.
The pace of the series can vary as it leans into later episodes that center on individual characters. That takes some getting used to. Jillian’s episode housesitting could exist as its own short story, a hilarious and hideous foray into our modern cyberpunk through a humanity-by-proxy take on “Cyrano de Bergerac”.
The episode after follows Craig as he waits in an unmoving 2016 election line with his ex-wife and daughter, all waiting for their chance to stand in the next unmoving line as Craig battles wits with an insurance investigator.
The cast is great. Aside from Robinson and O’Doherty, Craig’s ex-wife Camille is played by Stephanie Nogueras. Both character and actress are deaf, and it’s refreshing to see sign language rolled into the comedy without filmmakers editing around the performance. Nogueras’s timing is as good as anybody’s and it’s crucial that she’s entrusted to show it.
Rell Battle plays Craig’s brother Isaiah, who’s rejected Craig’s morals and pursues a life of small-time con artistry. Then there’s Trump-esque figure Rodney Lamonca, whose entire family sells access to nothing at a premium his fans are happy to pay. Scott MacArthur’s competing snake hunter Brock is willfully lost in overcompensatory masculinity.
As the series rotates through giving time to each, you might feel like a particular episode isn’t as strong depending on your feelings about a character. As a whole, however, “Killing It” wields absurdism in comedy like few shows can.
Be aware it’s not a family watch. Nudity is used, usually out of left field and hilariously, and there’s some graphic violence. Also swearing.
It’s been an especially strong year for comedies in just these four short months. As I highlighted in my review for “Somebody Somewhere”, we seem to be in a surge of empathetic comedies. Few marry empathy to anger, but part of feeling for someone needs to be anger at the injustices and inequalities they face. “Killing It” finds that groove and runs with it.
You can watch “Killing It” on Peacock. All 10 episodes are available.
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