A couple queer TV recommendations

I've been swimming in good TV this past month and there's more on the way (please ... new season of Great British Bake-Off...). But there are two shows I want to recommend purely on the basis of their starring or featuring queer women characters!

They both pretty dark, but they delighted me so if you're into dark shit you might like them too.

Killing Eve

BBCA | 8 episodes

Killing Eve follows Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), an MI5 agent who has a lil' obsession with female assassins. There aren't that many! Exciting! She's thrown immediately and delightfully into conflict with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) a ... female assassin! Of particular viciousness!

As Caroline Framke wrote for Vox:

It feels too cutesy — or at the very least, too reductive — to call the meticulous, curious, and even sexy way Eve and Villanelle circle each other a “cat-and-mouse game.” If anything, both are cats — Eve domestic, Villanelle feral — recognizing the other from across a crowded room, slinking around the edges, waiting to see who pounces first.

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Killing Eve is dark and violent, but it's also got a perfect edge of humor to it. The characters are funny and awkward, and Sandra Oh in particular has an everywoman clumsiness that is endearing as hell.

Oh wait, what makes this queer? Villanelle is multisexual, as revealed very early in the series. She's also obsessed with Eve. And as pointed out by one of Eve's coworkers in the second episode, Eve's intensity in her pursuit of Villanelle crosses the line from professional to something else. The way it plays out could easily have fallen into a creepy evil lesbian trope, but in my experience I found that Killing Eve neatly avoided it. Maybe I was just too enthused to see such a character as unapologetically self-possessed, ruthless, and amoral as Villanelle.

All in all, I'm just thrilled that there's a spy thriller all about competent women who are fucking obsessed with each other.

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Amazon Prime | 6 episodes

The 2018 adaptation of the eponymous 1967 has had to deal with the specter of what I'm told is a very good film, also called Picnic At Hanging Rock from 1975. The film was called "languorous, woozy, dipped in honey," by Rachel Syme at the New Republic (that link LARGE spoilers for all versions of Hanging Rock), and the Amazon series ... well, it's about as over the top as a show can be.

And I fucking love it.

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The colors are bonkers, the costumes elaborate and beautiful. There's at least one scene that I was convinced was a dream sequence because it was so unreal, but nope! It wasn't! It's so visually compelling that I find it hard to look away. Everything is drama, beauty, and strangeness turned up to 11.

The story is about a group of boarding school girls who go on a Valentine's Day picnic in 1900. The picnic is at a natural formation called Hanging Rock, and during the day a group of girls climb the rock and go missing. The rest of the story is spent trying to uncover what happened to them.

If you like mysteries, hints of the supernatural, and generous shots of girls in corsets touching each other, this is the show for you! I especially enjoyed the interactions between the clique of girls who climb the rock. The dynamic between them reminded me of the main characters from Libba Bray's A Great And Terrible Beauty. We get the sense that these are the popular, powerful girls in the school — the ones that are pretty or smart or rich and that you otherwise don't want to fuck with. But at the same time we see how protective they are of each other, and how vulnerable they ultimately are. They're young women shipped off to school with a cruel headmistress, expected to conform — or suffer the consequences.

I liked that the show respected that complex duality — power and vulnerability — of these young women. Picnic is one of those stories where you get the sense no one is going to leave happily, but you can enjoy the buttload of sexual tension and implication and longing along the way.

Additional reading:

Killing Eve:

  • Killing Eve had "better viewership gains than any scripted show has seen in a decade." - Wired
  • "If executed poorly, [Killing Eve] could have fallen prey to age-old issues dealing with LGBTQ representation on-screen, like queerbaiting or male-fantasy lesbianism. Yet even with its shocking finale this weekend, Killing Eve escaped those criticisms entirely, thanks to a few specific choices" - The Verge (MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE SEASON)
  • "21 Times “Killing Eve” Depicted Lesbian Relationship Scenarios With Dead-On Accuracy" - Autostraddle (ALSO SPOILERS)

Picnic At Hanging Rock:

  • "For better, and for worse, the 2018 Picnic At Hanging Rock has no compunctions about wrenching up its petticoats and exposing those ankles to the elements." - The AV Club 
  • "Take away the corsets, and the fact that there are horses and not cars, and it’s like, you try and stand up as a woman and be true to who you are. It’s still pretty tough.” - Picnic showrunner Larysa Kondracki to Screen Daily
  • Also from the same piece: "The director went for a Stanley Kubrick-influenced visual style, with heavily saturated colors and carefully composed framing, and a tone that owes something to teen movies of the eighties."
  • "It’s such a feast for the eyeballs… ‘Stylized’ means making it feel high-fashiony, weird, it’s like there’s something a bit ugly about it, in a truthful way." - Picnic actress Lily Sullivan to The Daily Dot
  • "If Weir’s film was a romantic, surreal, shimmering mystery—Twin Peaks by way of John Keats—the new Hanging Rock is a more Gothic work of horror, revealing the rot that permeates the blooms of the Victorian bouquet." - The Atlantic