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Television: Sprightly tale of female assassin is a winner for RTÉ


In her sights: Jodie Comer in 'Killing Eve'

In her sights: Jodie Comer in 'Killing Eve'

In her sights: Jodie Comer in 'Killing Eve'

In the opening scene of Killing Eve (RTÉ2), a nice young woman in a Viennese cafe smiles sweetly at a little girl who's seated at a nearby table and eating ice cream from a bowl. The little girl smiles back, but when the young woman is leaving the cafe she tips the ice cream into the little girl's lap.

So not such a nice young woman, then, and we soon discover how not nice she can be. In fact, she's a hitwoman called Villanelle (Jodie Comer), nonchalantly dispatching her victims in various European locales by means of knives, hairpins, poisoned perfumes or just guns.

She's also possibly quite nuts, deriving more pleasure from her murderous work and from the impersonations and ruses it involves than is strictly necessary. "Why are you doing this to me?" asks one terrified victim who's lying on the floor from a gunshot wound. "I have absolutely no idea", she blithely replies before finishing him off.

Meanwhile in London, desk-bound MI5 officer Eve (Sandra Oh) has developed something of an obsession with female assassins, and this leads secret service boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) to recruit her in the search for Villanelle.

Welcome to the world of Luke Jennings, who wrote the Villanelle novellas on which the series is based, and to that of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of the brilliantly dark BBC sitcom Fleabag and scriptwriter of this blackly funny new venture.

Indeed, despite all the bloodletting, there's a jaunty tone to Killing Eve that's very winning, along with a fondness for quirky characters: not just the terrific Oh as Eve, but also David Haig as her genially sceptical colleague, Owen McDonnell as her affable Polish husband, and Kim Bodnia (from The Bridge) as Villanelle's unsettlingly laid-back boss.

This eight-part series was made by BBC America, but RTÉ has got first screening rights on this side of the Atlantic, just as it did last winter with Mr Mercedes, which bafflingly still hasn't been picked up by any other network, either in Europe or the United States. I don't know if Killing Eve will prove to be as arresting as that marvellous series, but it certainly has begun very promisingly.

And the first twenty minutes of Bodyguard (BBC1) were as thrilling as it gets, with a young man on a London-bound train managing against all the odds to talk down a terrified young woman who had been fitted with a suicide vest and ordered to blow everyone up.

In fact, as a soldier who had served in Afghanistan, David Budd (Richard Madden) had some expertise in these matters, but his coolness in the extreme danger of this terrorist incident leads his superiors to assign him as bodyguard to home secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), who's under threat for her hawkishly right-wing stance.

But this is a series by Jed Mercurio, who created four seasons of Line of Duty (with a fifth on the way), so it's reasonable to assume that nothing will turn out to be quite as it seems. And, indeed, we already know that David, separated from his wife, has been traumatised by the horrors of Afghanistan and nurses a barely-controlled anger against those who sent him there, including his unrepentant new boss.

In the second of this week's opening episodes, after a brilliantly filmed attack on her life, he ended up in bed with her, but anyone who expects a life of romantic bliss as the final outcome hasn't seen a Jed Mercurio series, where expectations are constantly confounded. Viewers are in for a bumpy ride, though a thrilling one too, I hope.

Adrian Chiles is not a problem drinker, or so he assured us at the outset of Drinkers Like Me (BBC2). "I don't really get drunk and I don't misbehave", he told us. "I may drink six days a week but I don't fall over, fight or find myself too hungover to function." Nor, he said, does he wake up in doorways or in bed with strangers.

His drinking pals concurred. "We're addicted to it without being alcoholics," said Mark. "There's drinking and there's drinking," insisted Kevin. "I know my own limits. Some people don't," declared a third friend in yet another delusional statement.

Chiles himself thought that the recommended guideline of 14 units a week (seven pints or one-and-a-half bottles of wine) was daft, given that on the previous day he'd consumed 32.4 units and that over a week, "I can't imagine I wouldn't be in triple figures".

But then he reflected that in a culture where social drinking is seen as the norm, alcohol "is the only drug you have to apologise for not taking", so he sought medical advice and discovered there was scarring on his liver and a distinct possibility of cirrhosis, liver failure and even death. The result was that he opted to drink more responsibly ("the world's most boring phrase") and was now down to 25 units a week.

The programme was an engagingly told cautionary tale for all of us who like a drink or two or more.

Disenchantment (Netflix) is the new animation series from Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, and I'm afraid it's a dud. Miind you, I thought Futurama a dud, too, along with later seasons of The Simpsons, which pandered far too obsequiously to the egos of its celebrity guests.

But Disenchantment, which doesn't even look good, is especially charmless and indeed laughless, with tired medieval gags lifted from Monty Python and other sources. Princess Bean, supposedly a hard-drinking rebel, isn't remotely endearing, while the attempts at adult humour are very lame in the era of Family Guy and other genuinely rude animated sitcoms.

Indo Review