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Peacock’s ‘Killing It’: TV Review

Craig Robinson plays a cash-strapped would-be entrepreneur who teams up with his Uber driver (Claudia O’Doherty) for a snake-hunting contest in the comedy series from Luke Del Tredici and Dan Goor.

In the season finale of Peacock’s Killing It, inveterate scammer Isaiah (Rell Battle) sums up his view of the world. “Ain’t nothing but snakes all the way down,” he insists, over the protests of his more straight-laced, kind-hearted brother Craig (Craig Robinson). And based on what we’ve seen on the show, Isaiah isn’t necessarily wrong: Its ten half-hour episodes are a tour through all manner of American grift, from the intimate to the institutional, the technically legal to the wildly illegal.

But through its approachable sense of humor and compassion for its characters, Killing It (from creators Luke Del Tredici and Dan Goor of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) makes a likable case for choosing to be kind anyway — to look out for one another when we can, even if it won’t solve everything in the long run. After all, there really are a lot of snakes out there.

Including some very literal ones, since Killing It centers around Craig’s efforts to win a snake-hunting contest sponsored by the state of Florida. It’s not his first choice of job. At the start of the series, he’s barely getting by; by the end of the second episode, he’s lost both his job and his house. His only way out of this hole, as he sees it, is to kill enough snakes to win the $20,000 cash prize, and invest it in the million-dollar idea he keeps trying to pitch to everyone else. So he reluctantly teams up with Jillian (Claudia O’Doherty, Love), an Uber driver who’s even more strapped for cash than he is, and sets out to the Everglades with his nail gun in tow.

From there, Killing It winds its way through a plot that’s half crime thriller, half buddy comedy, all capitalist critique. Between the high financial stakes of the contest and Craig’s association with Isaiah, who makes his living through whatever illegal schemes he’s able to cook up, Craig and Jillian soon find themselves enmeshed in a web of criminal intrigue that starts with a fire and rapidly grows out of control from there. (Pointedly, the most dogged investigator on the case is not a public servant, but a guy working for a private insurance company that would really rather not pay out a policy.) And that’s when they’re not getting tripped up over rookie snake-hunting mistakes, as when Craig accidentally nails a snake to his own hand in episode two.

But they also find in each other a surprisingly meaningful friendship. Killing It‘s comedy only rarely rises to laugh-out-loud levels of hilarity, but the odd-couple dynamic between Jillian and Craig makes for a breezy ride. Robinson’s innate charisma allows him to play Craig as the steady, decent, mostly pragmatic straight man without ceding interest to the weirder, wilder characters in his midst. Meanwhile, Jillian, who at the start seems both to Craig and to us like a total kook ­— a relentlessly upbeat chatterbox who muses that 16 was a great age to have her dad die — reveals deeper, softer, sometimes sadder layers over the course of the season. O’Doherty delivers some of the season’s most bittersweet moments as well as its funniest.

Initially, what really unites the two is an obsession with the American dream. For that matter, it’s what brings together pretty much everyone on Killing It, as characters talk about the idea in explicit terms from the first episode to the last. For those at the bottom — including Craig, Jillian, aspiring YouTube star Brock (Scott MacArthur) and his more skeptical son Corby (Wyatt Walter) — it’s the faith that their hard work will be rewarded with riches. For those at the top, like motivational speaker Rodney LaMonca (Tim Heidecker), it’s a justification for the wealth they’ve already amassed — often off of true believers like Craig, who shells out hundreds to attend Rodney’s “Dominine” conference, so called because its attendees do more than dominate (“domin-eight“).

And from start to finish, the show lays bare just how empty that dream is. Killing It is sensitive to the endless indignities of inequality in America. It’s not just that Jillian is working half a dozen gigs at once and still so broke she’s living out of the mobile billboard she drives behind her Uber; it’s that in exchange for paltry TaskRabbit wages, wealthy clients like Sloane (D’Arcy Carden) feel entitled to treat Jillian like a pet and her dating life like a game.

And it’s not just that Rodney has raked in riches by doing little more than telling other people to work harder; it’s that he’s simultaneously fetishizing labor to the point of claiming he wished he’d grown up in a sweatshop. “I’m jealous of those kids developing a work ethic,” he tells his colleagues. “The only thing I was doing at that age was trying to figure out which pillow to fuck.”

These personal injustices are reflected on a larger scale in the show’s setting: It takes place around the 2016 election, with one episode even set in an hours-long poll line. Killing It‘s choice to set its story slightly in the past sometimes gives it the feel of a series from, well, slightly in the past. As cogent as its commentary can be, it’s also treading ground covered extensively over the past several years, in everything from Squid Game to Maid in the last year alone. The series isn’t saying much about capitalism we haven’t heard before, sometimes with deeper analysis or greater feeling.

Then again, there’s a reason that themes of poverty or class disparity seem to come up again and again in our entertainment. Society hasn’t evolved to the point where these ideas are no longer relevant. Killing It is firm in its awareness that hard work alone isn’t going to save the Craigs of the world, no matter what he himself wants so desperately to believe, and it doesn’t really try to offer any systemic solutions that can. But rather than give itself over to those bleak realities, the show finds heart and humor in the underdogs fighting their way through, who find it in themselves to care about each other in a world that does not care about them — and to tell some pretty funny jokes along the way.

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