Usually, the return of Killing Eve would be pretty much guaranteed to provide the most unconventional, rule-busting TV programme of the week — where genres are mixed so thoroughly as to create a whole new one. This week, though, there were two new series that were even harder to classify.
One was ITV’s Wild Bill: a show so bonkers that the fact it stars Rob Lowe as the recently appointed chief constable of East Lincolnshire mightn’t be the weirdest thing about it. When the resolutely American Bill Hixon (Lowe) first arrived in Boston, Lincs, it looked as if we’d be in for a standard fish-out-of-water comedy, with the traditional differences between Brits and Yanks played for knockabout laughs. And for much of the opening episode we were. Bill tried his unavailing best to do irony. He failed to understand the words ‘marmite’ and ‘marmalade’. He gave a gung-ho address to a bunch of scruffy British coppers who seemed nearly as dumbfounded by Lowe’s presence as we were.
Yet, interspersed with this was the tragic story of a teenage girl who’d been beheaded ten years before, and of her grieving, guilt-ridden mother. Or at least her intermittently grieving, guilt-ridden mother — because, when the script required it, the woman turned positively jolly, scoffing pizza and chortling at the telly as she did a spot of babysitting for Hixon’s own daughter.
Nor is Hixon one of those chief constables (like, for example, all of them in real life) who leave the crime-solving to their detectives. On Wednesday he led the sleuthing himself, forming an improbable partnership with a young policewoman called Muriel, whose salt-of-the-earth, farming-background ways were constantly emphasised — especially by her.
And that was just for starters. Other elements included a bona fide Russian gangster, the traditional comedy pathologist, some slightly schmaltzy daddy-daughter issues and a gritty portrayal of the effects of Brexit in a Leave-voting town with lots of Eastern European immigrants.
Faced with such a medley, some shows might have been tempted to try to bring the elements together into something resembling coherence. This one, however, seems happy simply to rotate them. Thanks to Lowe’s undeniable star quality, and perhaps even the sheer peculiarity of the entire enterprise, Wild Bill is quite fun to watch. But at times it feels almost hallucinatory in its oddness, making you wonder if you’ve somehow got drunk without noticing — or drinking.
More deliberately sui generis is Year of the Rabbit (Channel 4, Monday), a sitcom about policing in Victorian London that apparently had the working title Ye Sweeney. It’s not hard to see why either. Inspector Rabbit — played by Matt Berry with his usual disdain for understatement — was first seen showing a classroom of children how to beat a confession out of a suspect, with the teacher as his prop. He then asked: ‘Now, who wants to see how we fish opium out of sailors’ arseholes?’ (All the children did.) And from there Rabbit boozed and fought his way through the East End underworld — including the 19th-century equivalent of a strip club — while also helping to make this the best series for great swearing since The Thick of It.
The willingness to throw in any sort of joke or situation as long as it’s funny reminds me a bit of The IT Crowd. Nonetheless, with a proper whodunit plot, a terrific supporting cast and even the occasional signs of heart, Year of the Rabbit is unlike anything else around — and impossible to categorise, except as one of the best new comedies for ages.
Finally, the good news is that — however out-weirded it might have been this week — Killing Eve (BBC1, Saturday) is still its own glorious thing too. This time round, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has handed the writing duties to her friend Emerald Fennell, but any fears that this might lead to a second-season dip were soon banished. Admittedly, the first episode set up the new series more than actually beginning it — but there was plenty to enjoy as Villanelle (Jody Comer) unsurprisingly proved that it takes more than a deep knife wound in the stomach to stop her lying, stealing and killing people. Meanwhile, Fennell demonstrated the same miraculous ability as her sainted predecessor to give us a script that’s simultaneously horrifying, sexy and funny. (If I remember my school chemistry right, that means that whereas Wild Bill is a mixture, Killing Eve is a compound.)
My only mild reservation — or perhaps just the glimmer of a possible reservation to come — was the odd sign that the show may yet make the mistake of becoming a kind of celebration of itself. There were a couple of moments where the knowingness approached self-consciousness — mainly involving Fiona Shaw’s turn as the archly eccentric bureau chief, who seems obliged to crank up her arch eccentricity with every appearance.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free