Neil Jordan isn’t involved in “Hit & Miss,” a six-episode UK series making its US premiere on DirecTV this Wednesday, July 11th at 10pm — he’s got his own television project, “The Borgias,” on Showtime. But “Hit and Miss” (create by Paul Abbott, of “Shameless) does feel a little like a creation patchworked together from pieces of Jordan’s films — a touch of “The Butcher Boy,” a dab of “Mona Lisa” and, of course, a hefty dose of “The Crying Game.” It brings together two types of characters he’s shown an affinity for — children and transwomen, four of the former and one of the latter united by the death of someone they all loved.
The kids are siblings who range in age from six-year-old Leonie (Roma Christensen) to 16-year-old Riley (Karla Crome). They live on a smallholding farm in the Yorkshire countryside with a few chickens, some pigs and an uneasy relationship with their landlord John (Vincent Regan). Their mother Wendy just died of cancer, and they have different fathers — one of them, Ryan, who’s since made the transition to become Mia (Chloë Sevigny), a pre-op woman who learns she has a 11-year-old son who shares her former name and that she’s been named the family’s legal guardian at the start of the series.
Mia isn’t just an unusual choice for caretaker because of the changes she’s made since she was a part of Wendy’s life — she’s also a professional assassin who’s been living the kind of solitary, disciplined life pop culture’s contract killers inevitably do, training relentlessly in her spare, spacious Manchester loft apartment between assignments and meetings with her boss Eddie (Peter Wight).
Mia is a ridiculous creation, which works in her favor — she becomes the touch of the fantastic that unmoors “Hit & Miss” and saves it from being a more mundane kind of quirky makeshift family drama. It’s an effect amplified by the fact that Sevigny looks nothing like a man, even a former one who’s been carefully learning to live as a woman and taking hormone pills for years. The show first introduces the character in a series of unveilings — a hooded figure who shoots someone in a parking lot, then goes back to a car where she’s shown to be a dark-haired woman who reapplies lipstick in the rearview mirror. And then we see her at home, changing her license plates and then stripping down for the shower to reveal — yup, an intact penis.
“Hit & Miss” offers us its protagonist’s nudity in a casual but confrontational way — it’s not staged to shock, but instead is presented in matter-of-fact scenes (Mia tucking herself into her undies) that insist you look. And Mia certainly does — in one scene, drinking alone to console herself after one of her wards calls her a “freak,” she strips down in front of a mirror and lashes at her own form. Mia thinks of herself as a woman trapped in a man’s body, and so sees herself as stuck halfway, saving up for the operation that will fully free her to become, per the show’s own chosen and not terribly subtle metaphor, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
There’s something of the noir to Sevigny’s take on Mia, from her vaguely vintage hairdo to the lower register in which the actress speaks (the accent’s a shakier thing). The character’s more comfortable killing people than being around them, though Sevigny’s less convincing when she’s supposed to be showing off her unexpected strength and physical prowess by punching bags, hanging sides of meat or neighboring bullies — she doesn’t make the case that her career should next veer off into the action genre. But dealing with the kids or interacting with flirty local Ben (Jonas Armstrong), she’s heartbreakingly tentative, testing out the waters of not just feminine social behavior but sudden adoptive motherhood as well.
If “Hit & Miss” has, in terms of its heroine, the feel of a stunt, it’s one that defies expectations by being such a strange mix of the intimate and the outlandish — it even manages the odd moment of humor, like an understated take on the old “is that a *ahem* in your pants or are you just happy to see me” line. And if Sevigny can’t quite pull off all the tough gal aspects of the role, she still impresses in the more domestic half of her role and in the slow sense of comfort her character is developing with herself. She’s highly watchable, especially when the show allows Mia moments of being larger than life — singing a Morrissey song in the spotlight at a karaoke night, dancing with her new family at an impromptu party and demonstrating that becoming the person you think you’re meant to be is as much an interior process as an exterior one.