“When did you know you were a girl?” asks Ryan (Jordan Bennie). “I suppose I’ve always known,” answers Mia (Chloë Sevigny). This brief exchange between 11-year-old Ryan and his estranged father barely begins to set up the layers of tension at work in Hit & Miss.
Summoned to a small Yorkshire farm after the death of Ryan’s mother Wendy, the transgendered Mia here meets teenagers Riley (Karla Crome) and Levi (Reece Noi), and six-year-old Leonie (Roma Christensen), Ryan’s siblings from another father. The adjustment is more difficult than it sounds, as Mia is not only transgender, but also a contract killer.
Such plot complications are consistent with the show’s lineage. The first original drama production for the UK satellite channel Sky Atlantic, Hit & Miss now comes to DirecTV’s Audience Network, premiering after the Season Five opener of the famously intricate Damages on 11 July. Created by Paul Abbott and co-written by Sean Conway, Hit & Miss is similar to Abbott’s Shameless, recently adapted for Showtime in the US—as well as other Showtime dramas focused on complicated women, like Weeds or The United States of Tara—in that it juxtaposes fantastical and surreal situations with intimately observed family drama.
This juxtaposition is present from the pilot, which cuts between affectionate play and arguments between the children and Mia, and her elaborately designed contract killings. When Mia first arrives, Levi and Riley have taken over the running of their mother’s farm and the upbringing of Ryan and Leonie. They resist Mia’s attempts to be a parental figure—attending Leonie’s dance classes or teaching Levi to shave—while she’s distracted by the demands of her job, illustrated by brief scenes of her expertly sniping targets or brutally strangling them in phone boxes.
The difference between the two Mias is striking. As a killer, she transforms from a feminine appearance into an androgynous figure in a hood and tracksuit. These visible shifts suggest she’s able to split off her professional performance from her daily experience. However, her job does occasionally spill into her new life, as when she beats up a local man trying to force the family out of their home, or turns to her gangster boss (Peter Wight) for help in securing the house.
The series focuses again and again on this split experience, Mia’s struggle to maintain her career and find her place in a small community as the guardian of a group of children still mourning the loss of their mother. In the farmhouse, Mia and the children play games with pillowcases, help each other with chores, and see themselves set against the rest of the world. And each misses their mother differently: Leonie imagines her comforting her, Riley maintains a relationship with her via a CB radio, and Ryan and Levi act out with occasional violence of their own.
In this, they may reflect Mia, but they’re hardly like her. Mia does her best to be a mother, but also breaks down in misery over her male anatomy while alone in her flat. Full frontal shots of Sevigny wearing a prosthetic penis emphasize Mia’s gender dysphoria, as she conducts cold appraisals of herself in the mirror. These scenes have added to the controversy over Sevigny’s casting as Mia. However, the choice may help the series to make another point, that Mia’s identity as a woman is accepted by her family and associates—and viewers. Hit & Miss goes further to suggest that her lingering anxieties over her transition are eased through the creation of a loving family bond, where both troubled children and unusual parent might find in each other mutual support.
Hit & Miss could have exploited Mia’s situation to set up shocking reveals of her identity, or focused on her role as a contract killer. Abbott and Conway choose instead to tell a story of multiple adjustments and explorations, anchoring its more extreme elements in the gradual development of, and tensions within, close-knit biological and alternative families.
The show’s most innovative stroke is not that it features an expert assassin or a transgender protagonist. Rather, what makes Hit & Miss one of the strongest UK dramas to hit US TV so far this year is its reframing of such high-concept premises within unsensational contexts.