The biggest Transgender drama of the year so far – just how well did ‘Hit & Miss‘ do?
The wasteland that is transgender roles in drama is a serious one, we mostly see transgender people within the biomedical model context, or documentaries of their lives and struggles.
So when a drama has a transgender character the trans world watches with interest – far more closely than what would be deemed ‘normal’ in most programming, comparisons are made. There was much debate within the trans community over this programme, some found this exploitative, others found it hard-hitting with a transwoman (in this instance) in a place of power.
We take a look at the positives and the negatives of Hit & Miss, and what (if anything) could have been done to have made this better.
As series for Sky from Paul (Mrs In-betweeny/Shamelss) Abbott, featuring a transgender assassin who discovers she has a son and goes about building her life with him and his family, but at the same time struggling to carry out the ‘hits’ that has kept her tough, hard and focused until this moment. There is little arguing Paul Abbot is a talented and prolific writer, however, this series just did not have the ‘freshness’ and tight fluidity that Mrs In-Betweeny brought to the table in 2008. The lack of a transgender person in the lead was a missed opportunity.
The Review – Warning, contains spoilers!
The plot? An assassin named Mia who is also a ‘pre-op transsexual’ is shocked that she’s fathered an 11 year old son with her ex-girlfriend Wendy. She discovers she is a guardian of the children in a will, and arrives in the middle of nowhere to look after them.
When I first heard about this drama from Sky Atlantic HD, I was dismissive. My first thought was quite simple, why did they cast a non-transperson for a trans role? This is 2012! In the wake of the excellent job Candis Cayne did in ‘Dirty Sexy Money‘ from 2007-09, it was quite clear that to get past this issue, and allow the viewer to relax and engage, this hurdle is a big one – one not cleared cleared by Chloe Sevigny (Mia) despite her best efforts.
The simplest way to see just how important the trans issue was to carrying this rather slow (to put it mildly) drama was to, just for a moment, imagine with a few changes this plot with a ‘biological female’ as the character rather than a transgender one. The moment you switch the thinking to that you see just how plodding this script is.
But she is meant to be trans so lets go with it.
Its all been done before
The opening sees us follow her to execute somebody with a silenced pistol, we then see her apply lipstick in the rear-view mirror, we see her training, which was right out of Million Dollar Baby, in fact the similarities, camera angles and ‘work out’ routine could have been edited into Hit and Miss by Director Clint himself(!) and I doubt you would have noticed, This was a bit of a shame.
She also looks an awful lot like Eastwood’s character played by non-other than ‘Hilary Swank’ (Chloe has tinted her hair dark brown for the role), Hilary won an Oscar for the role of Brandon Teena in ‘Boys don’t Cry’ (1999), It was also quite interesting that this film preceded the first showing of Hit & Miss on Sky Atlantic. The similarities with her back catalogue are there for all to see, and clearly Swank is an influence in this Drama. There is also a little nod to ‘Kill Bill’ in this too. Women ‘offing’ people is a turn-on for some! And a of course this sort of thing is not unknown ‘Beautiful Boxer‘ (2004) did incorporate violence too.
Looking back, we also see the almost identical scene of a a transgender woman suddenly discovering she has a son. This was the plot from ‘TransAmerica‘ (2005). It also reminds me a little too much of the documentary ‘My Dad Dian‘ (2005) which follows a son of a transwoman living on a small holding in Ireland – this could be the same location (having just taken a look at our archives to compare).
This series was created by Paul Abbott who not only created such shows as ‘Shameless’ but also created ‘Mrs In-Betweeny’, without even realising it was the same creator when I first heard about this series. I immediately spotted the similarities in his style, in some instances, carbon copies, he clearly has seen some value in transgender characters, but they are all much of a sameness, even the episode in ‘Shameless‘ where Transgender ‘Bobbi‘ turns up, we again see this rather hard look at transgender people as rough, quite sinister characters. His roots are very much in a gritty urban confrontational style. So it’s pretty clear ‘The Waltons‘ need not apply. But it would have been nice to have seen something different here, rather than Mrs In-betweeny with a gun.
The obvious relationship is with ‘Mrs In-Betweeny‘ to quote the summary of this drama from BBC Three in 2008, I quote, “After the death of their parents, three children are put into the care of their aunt Brandon [hmmm that name again (Brandon Teena)] – unaware of the fact she is a trans-gender.”
Spot the difference?
And Hit and Miss has almost the exact same plot. Some parts appear forced, when she cannot find her hormones, and the next morning when she is handed them swallows them like some junkie, shaking, this is quite frankly daft and misleading.
She is rolling in cash from all her ‘hits’ I assume, the loft apartment she trains in would make Donald Trump blush – money is hidden in bundles everywhere, yet there is this apparent poverty about her(?), so for me there just is something not quite right about this set up. I think it should have shown her struggling to make money rather than being handed wads of notes for this angle to work. Later in the series her boss mentions the money was for her ‘operation’. Well, I think she could do with another quote from the surgeon – as she is going to the wrong place.
After just ‘popping a cap’ into someone we then have to believe her being a ‘normal girl’, anyone who could do that would be a sociopath. Later she slits the throat of unsuspecting man in the afternoon watching his big screen TV – as you do. There is blood dripping down a window in the opening credits of episode 2, she suffocates a man to death in a telephone box with a carrier bag in episode 4 – he must have been a bit of a pudding really as he gave in a bit too easily! I mean I have seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil than on Mia.
I personally struggled to take a non-transperson (impersonating Mrs-Inbetweeny and then murdering people) seriously. There is an almost surreal situation that simply does not gel well together. And just as we saw at the end of Mrs In-betweeny the prosthetic wobbly willy [image G-rated] – well we do not escape that here either, which kinda adds to the nonsense, Every episodes has her either in the bath or in the shower with a camera panning down her torso until we get the ‘money shot’ – once in episode one was enough but every episode? It’s almost as if they need to remind the new viewer – “Oh and she’s got a penis you know LOOK!”
I think this could have made a good black comedy with some script tweaks and given us a bit of a laugh. A village which would feel at home in ‘The Wickerman‘ (1973) and the local pub is straight out of ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981), but this pub is worse than that, with it’s two customers and no lighting one wonders if the owner should call Gordon Ramsay (‘Kitchen Nightmares’) for some tips on how to increase business. And even then in episode 1 one of the customers wants to fight her! But that doesn’t stop her from getting drunk and ‘seductively’ dancing and doing some karaoke for the one remaining customer :).
In episode 2 of the series we see yet another full frontal nude shot of the actress again with her ‘latex prothesis penis’, but this time she has one tied with elastic around her head on her nose and whilst hitting the prosthesis between her legs she keeps saying, “I am a real boy!” “I am a real boy!!!”
Pinocchio? I am not making this up! See for yourself! Image has been made G-rated for this blog, but you get the idea. Maybe that’s a spare? 😉
Cliches come in spades!
From that first look in the mirror with the lipstick, her wandering around in a dress she finds in her ex’s bedroom – we are supposed to buy into this crossdressing moment of ‘escape’, this from a woman who looks so passable as a woman she (well she isn’t transgender) defies logic, someone who has a case full of banknotes who has clearly been living quite sometime as a woman in a metropolis in a fantastic loft apartment (or abandoned warehouse either way it would not be cheap) – and she has never seen a dress before? I don’t know who did her feminisation surgery but can I have his number? She has lived as a man, well the actress was born in 1974 so by that reckoning she is 38 deduct he son’s age from that 11 years we have her as a male at 27, at least. Thus she did not have early intervention and delayed puberty, so it is very unlikely she would sound and look as she does – so this is a bit of a fail.
We also hear quite early on, “I was born in the wrong body,” Any excuse to repeatedly hear everyone around her relentlessly call her ‘freak’. In fact this abuse began to get tiresome after a while, it was seemingly being scripted in for the sake of it. “Mia you look nice!” “Thank you!””Yeah not bad for a c*ck in a frock!” This sort of thing was happening in ‘Moving Wallpaper’ (ITV1) and this resulted in a complaint to Ofcom and founded media pressure group ‘Trans Media Watch’ as a result – that didn’t feature an actual transwoman either. So the use of language in this series is more justified how? In episode 3 she is called ‘tranny’ twice and we also hear, “My step-mum is a tranny…”. “Yeah a c*ck in a frock.” This was now just gratuitous rather than plot-led. Sadly it is this that turns a drama into something offensive.
There is this constant hope that ‘something is going to happen’ but it never seems to. The tension is to be fair, ‘there’, but I think we create that with anticipation of great things to come rather than it being intentional – which is a great shame.
There is a will with transgender viewers to ‘please be good’, almost willing it to succeed, and this can cloud the judgement somewhat before it is watched in it’s entirety.
Mia’s son trying on her bras and makeup when she was not around after seeing her penis in the bath tub (again in episode 2) could send out the wrong message that children can somehow be ‘damaged’ by transparents, or become trans themselves as a result. He then comes to the party in a dress, and even though this is patched up by Mia, it was still unfortunate, especially when there is no shortage of male role-models in the home already.
No transgender drama is complete without the man coming onto the translady not knowing what is between her legs. This exact same thing happened with ‘Mrs In-Betweeny’ where she used her seductive charms to humiliate a teacher who used to bully her as a boy. In this, Mia has to have her knight in shining armour, and he arrives in the shape of local ‘hunk’ Ben (played by Jonas Armstrong).
“Don’t, I am not like other women…”
This is where it is crucial to have a transgender person in the role. Just as it is important for a gay men to kiss – John Barrowman in ‘Torchwood‘ for example passionately kissing another man was amplified merely by the fact he is gay. When we see cisgender women (non-trans) playing trans roles kiss men, there is no ‘frisson’, no ‘risk’, as its it lacks that authenticity and is perfectly ‘safe’, as is the case with Hayley in Coronation Street. This is where Candis Cayne worked far better with her intimacy in ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ see for yourself. In episode 3 we see the awkwardness that Mia feels with wanting Ben but knowing it is not going to work with her body identity issues, so rather than play this out, it is oddly cut short to her turning up in a basque and giving him a oral sex, we see it again in episode 4. The shy and unnerved situation to this ‘full-on’ sexual act just didn’t flow. That said we have already seen this type of thing in ‘The Runaway’ only a year earlier, where a similar situation occurred spot the difference [image G-rated].
Was Hit and Miss a hit or a miss?
How could it have been made better? I think by realising that the infrequency of good transgender related programmimg means what is on offer is easily remembered, logged, saved, DVDs purchased. So when something ‘new’ comes along it can quickly disappoint when all the connections begin to be made.
As a concept, and seeing it for what it actually is, a woman and her kids struggling to pay the bills, her teaching her son to deal with a bully – as she does when she knocks her landlord out for threatening the kids she now cares for. The impact of child-care on her ability to find work (assassinate targets with children) – it kinda works, and would make a half decent kitchen-sink estate drama. There is a little bit of a Irish Gypsy fighting as an angle too, reminiscent of Snatch (2000) with Brad Pitt in the shape of the raw violence. It is just taking ideas from everywhere and squishing them together and then bolting on a transgender identity hoping this will be sufficient to make up for this – it isn’t enough. In episode 3 we have Mia’s abilities as an assassin being impaired by her growing love for the family she has never had. This was a nice twist and although expected, it then had the odd situation where she missed a ‘kill’ on a dockside, then had to runaround atop of the containers where she finally finished him off after falling off the top of one together. Fine so far – could happen?! But then she is knocked over not far from this killing in the open space. Almost the same identical footage we saw where transgender Jason Costello went over the bonnet in Hollyoaks.
In reality the dead body would be found, her unconscious, lying there holding a gun – the police must be brain dead for her to just wander out of the hospital – she would be in a private room with a guard! There was an interesting moment where she has just woken up on a man’s ward and was embarrassed being told out loud by a nurse that she will need the catheter removed from her penis before she can go to the ‘Gents’. I guess this ‘worked’, but these moments were thin on the ground.
The other issue was the frequency of the hits she has to carry out, this boss of hers must have a lot of enemies, even the IRA or even the Krays at their peak where not operating at this volume. So this in itself just began to become a tad ridiculous.
It’s not all bad of course, episode 5 held together very well and was perhaps due to the inclusion of other characters in the Mia narrative. The ‘step-daughter'(?) Riley, who is pregnant (and killed the father in episode 4 who was trying to strangle her), more of Mia’s fella Ben and he boss becoming a father-figure to one of her clan against her wishes added some tension, and no prosthetic wobbly willy – despite the opportunity with her showering after disposing of the body – was good. This episode alone shows the importance of an ensemble piece, one that Mia is part of, rather than the actress trying to carry the show alone – as she has been until now.
This and episode 6 was to leave the series with a ‘bang’ [groan!].
In Episode 6 the pace picks up – I have been waiting! Here we see her mother and violent brother at the fairground that they work for, that just happens to be in town – as Harry Hill would say, “What are the chances of that eh?!” Her son wins a teddy bear with four shots of a pellet gun – what fair is this? Try ten tokens 🙂 A little nod to the suffocation as the bear is in a plastic bag – nice touch.
After meeting her mother and brother again in a caravan there is an altercation which results in Mia being knocked unconscious, her hair is cut off with a knife by her abusive brother. But because she is not actually trans and so feminine she still just looks like a woman with short hair, unlike Alan Cumming in ‘ The Runaway‘ this time last year, who without a wig looks – well like erm … Alan Cumming. And her short hair still looks like something Vidal Sassoon happened to do – this just didn’t work, and had no shock value. The threads of fraternal abuse does at least explain some of the self-hate, and he called her a ‘freak’ too – must be something in the water around there.
This is the best they could make Alan look in ‘The Runaway’ (last year’s 6-parter.), and that is the worse they could make Mia Look 🙂 Who are they kidding? Who is the biggest taboo when kissing? It is not rocket science – and Alan ain’t trans either!
It ends with Mia missing a shot because a butterfly lands on the barrel off her rifle, a butterfly at night? She then abandons her very expensive rifle, returns home in a panic, the idea being if she doesn’t leave now then her boss will kill her. Her boss turns up after being threatened it seems in his club with a baseball bat, and he holds a gun to Mia’s head and says, “If I don’t kill you, they will kill me!” This seems odd because if she did Kill the target wouldn’t they still kill him? After all in gangland no man is an island! That said, he clicks the gun hammer back on her porch where she has gone for a quiet smoke, then out of the corner of his eye he spots her son Ryan with a shotgun aiming at his head.
It ends in a Mexican stand-off, leaving it open for another series I guess, so don’t pack the prosthesis away just yet! 😉
When we take all the ingredients of the 6 episodes we can clearly see thas this has substance, but it was too stretched out with very thin padding to be this long. Were this crushed into 3 episodes it would have been exciting and dynamic – it just didn’t work in 6, and I just didn’t buy Mia as a transwoman. Cos no matter what she does, she still a biological female and a very obvious one at that. Maybe she needed to be more androgynous? But any erotic thrill is lost based on this alone, after all, women kiss men all the time, so whats taboo about that?
The actress does a good job considering its pace (akin to a unedited reality show), and the children, especially the youngest two, are very good and easily steal the show. The older girl who is pregnant was impressive when she was being strangled, and had to reach for a gun to kill the village bad guy who wanted her to abort their baby (barren Mia will bring that up it seems). But this is not an ‘arthouse’ film to satisfy transgender people, its a bit of low budget Tarantino with a transgender angle and some nudity to titillate the non-trans viewer.
In this it succeeds, the tension as she goes about ‘bumping people off’ is tangible. But I think this series is trying to be too many things to too many people. It is a Quentin Tarantino assassin flick, it is a ‘coming of age’ drama with a mother son/children relationship that is fractured, it is a transgender drama, its a gangster movie. It is just pulling in too many directions to flow correctly. Her ability to jump from a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to her gangland boss giving her instructions would defeat the Star Trek transporter room – after all we assume Mia lives just next door to her ex who she last saw 12 years ago so unlikely. It is quite literally all over the place and a continuity nightmare. The frequency of hits made it a bit silly, and it was quite difficult to connect and sympathise with Mia, who to be honest is just a brutal murderer at the end of the day. Expecting the viewer to buy into having a local landlord appear to be the baddie works a lot less when the victim (Mia) is actually far worse and her boss even more so. After all all Mia’s targets have families too and she kills them in cold blood..
It has drawn on too many popular artistic works that were great because they stayed on track. A bit like how J.K Rowling pinched the best of magic from every film and television show growing up, but she had a lot longer to tell the story 😉 (10 years).
I mean, when we compare another non-trans actor doing something similar also for Sky last year (and rather glossy it was too!) Alan Cumming for ‘The Runaway‘ (by Martina Coles) – ‘Desrae’ (transvestite) – Sky1 HD won our ‘Best Drama Performance’ in our Television Awards. So I am not down on ‘Hit & Miss’ because of the miscasting – I do give credit where credit is due! But compared to ‘The Runaway’ this is night and day as far as a storyline goes, and how it hangs together.
I do not know what the budget was for this series, but it did suffer from having to escape the metropolis and be in the middle of nowhere, even her warehouse is empty of life apart from the sound FX of a metropolis added in post. The roads are empty, it felt more like an apocalyptic zombie film. Where is everyone?! But this could probably work well as a play as it only needs two sets – three at most (Bosses office table, Interior farm and her loft workout punchbag – oh and a shower obviously! [Groan].
It is one good 90 minute programme (movie-film length), 3 episodes at best, that has been stretched and stretched to be a 6 part series. This simply does not have enough content to manage it without it becoming boring, it therefore becomes very ‘slow’. It just seems to take forever for anything to happen. Even watching it on double speed it is still endless! As a one hour – like a Doctor Who ‘length’ special or a two-parter, it may have been far better.
The pedigree of Paul Abbott is without question, he would not have achieved what he has were he not creative. But in this I just felt he was a little out of his depth.
The only original opportunity they had here was to hire a transwoman for the role, and they blew it – maybe next time?
In fairness though I feel even with a transgender actress this would still would have struggled as a drama in its current form, but it would have at least been a first for the UK.
Would I have watched past episode 1 of this series had it not been for the fact I had to because it was a transgender character? No, I think I would have stopped there. After all once we know the score and have seen her kill a couple of people I just began to get bored.
I suspect he will be back with another script at another time on the same subject in a few years, so at least give a genuine transwoman (or man) a job next time. It would at least bring something new to the table.
Transgender Media Critic – Ice Maiden