Peacock’s ‘Killing It’ presents a brutally on-point satire of American life

  • April 15, 2022

“Nothing but snakes all the way down.”

You might not get the reference when Killing It star and executive producer Craig Robinson utters that line in the later moments of his new Peacock series. It’s a paraphrasing of the adage “turtles all the way down,” which refers to the mythological World Turtle that carries the Earth on its back. If such a being existed, on what ground would it tread? Would it be another, larger turtle? And then another beneath that one, and so on?

“Turtles all the way down” speaks to the futility of trying to answer big, universal questions about life and existence. Killing It cleverly reformulates the saying around snakes for its 10-episode satire of life in 2016 America. The sociopathic dog-eat-dog capitalism of U.S. society is rife with snakes, the show contends. Peel away as many layers as you want, it doesn’t matter. Nothing but snakes all the way down.

There’s a surprising level of cynicism in that premise given the pedigree of the show’s creators. Dan Goor and Luke Del Tredici come to Peacock fresh off their eight-season run with Brooklyn Nine-Nine (where Robinson memorably appeared in a recurring role as the lovable Doug Judy). While the cop comedy ran longer than it probably should have, it was always guided by a heartfelt sincerity that initially seems like an odd fit for the world Killing It plunges us into.

A still from Peacock's "Killing It." Craig, Jillian, and Isaiah sit at a desk in a small office facing a man who is only partially seen from behind.

Credit: Anna Cook / NBC Universal

We’re meant to root for Robinson’s Craig Foster, and we do, but there’s no question: He’s just as snakey as anyone else. Craig is a perpetually struggling entrepreneur from Florida whose latest scheme depends on $20,000 that he doesn’t have. But a chance encounter with a ride-share driver clues him into a potentially lucrative side hustle.

Jillian G. (Claudia O’Doherty, aka Mary Bonnet from Our Flag Means Death) is that driver, a struggling Australian émigré who lives out of her billboard-toting car. She supplements her income by killing Burmese pythons, an invasive species of snake, for cash. And it just so happens that Craig meets her during the early stages of an annual snake-smiting competition with a $20,000 prize.

The two are an amusing mismatch right away. Craig is serious about chasing that grand American Dream, but his overall demeanor screams “get-rich-quick scam artist.” Meanwhile, Jillian’s sunny disposition and tendency to overshare belies an aching loneliness; she’s clearly unhappy, and she’s just as clearly never grappled with that fact. Jillian isn’t a snake, though. She’s a foreigner, and her perspective is the lens through which all the other snakes are revealed.

It’s not so much a case of “opposites attract” — Craig is riven by unprocessed loneliness, grief, and loss in his own way — as it is a business marriage of circumstance and convenience. He partners up with Jillian to kill snakes for money in an act of desperation, and she’s on board for the same reason. But as the season unfolds and the two co-stars face a growing number of trials both together and apart, a tender friendship forms.

There’s a deep-seated sweetness guiding every major player in the ‘Killing It’ cast.

At a meta level, every episode feels like a satirical exploration of some different aspect of life in modern America. It starts in a pretty grounded place, with a first episode focused on Craig’s unsuccessful attempts to secure a bank loan. He endures a gauntlet of meetings with older white men who defensively deny his application while claiming to not be racist, professing their appreciation for Jamie Foxx’s work as some kind of proof.

Each new episode escalates the absurdity. There’s the half-hour we spend with Craig at the “Dominine Con” conference, a scammy networking event where: “They don’t just teach you how to dominate, they teach you how to dominine.” A few episodes later, a TaskRabbit job turns into a deranged take on Cyrano de Bergerac when a house-sitting Jillian invites a man over, prompting the mansion’s performatively “woke” socialite owner (D’Arcy Carden!) to insert herself into the situation with the help of some very high-tech home monitoring equipment.

Along the way, Craig and Jillian encounter a string of colorful characters who shape their journey together in ways large and small. Brock (Scott MacArthur) and his son Corby (Wyatt Walter) make regular appearances as a competing team of snake hunters who also happen to be aspiring YouTube influencers. Craig’s brother Isaiah (Rell Battle) is a petty criminal who is perfectly comfortable taking advantage of his older sibling when an opportunity presents itself.

There’s also Camille (Stephanie Nogueras), Craig’s deaf ex-wife — he learned American Sign Language for this role, and the two use it regularly to communicate — and their daughter Vanessa (Jet Miller). They both live with Camille’s new beau Marco (Arturo Del Puerto), a constant antagonistic presence in Craig’s life. And that’s not even mentioning a string of one-off appearances by the likes of Carden, John Early, Amy Davidson, Tim Heidecker, Lily Sullivan, and others.

A still from Peacock's "Killing It." Brock sits at a table looking at a laptop screen while Corby stands next to him, also looking at the screen.

Credit: Anna Cook / NBC Universal

It’s hard to say much about any of these roles without giving away the qualities that make Killing It so special. But just like the unique perspective we get from Jillian’s understanding of the world, all of the characters we meet along the way highlight and heighten the underlying exploration of modern American life. All of them are snakes in their own way, even Craig’s sweet and well-meaning daughter, Vanessa. You’ll love some and hate others, but they’re all bound together by the societal forces that have shaped their station in life.

That’s not all, though. For all the base cynicism fueling this story, Goor and Del Tredici didn’t leave their tender hearts behind on the set of B99. There’s a deep-seated sweetness guiding every major player in Killing It‘s cast. Craig and Isaiah, Jillian, Camille and Vanessa — for any missteps they commit, it’s abundantly clear that they’re all trying their best as the world tries to beat them down again and again.

That’s really the point here. Craig’s rags-to-whatever-comes-after-rags journey is never really about the $20,000 he wants to spend on building a business. The journey itself is what matters. Craig reads as a scammy conman up front on purpose. It’s an essential setup for the eventual flip that brings us into his corner. There’s trauma in Craig’s past, Isaiah’s past, Jillian’s past, Brock’s past.

We come to realize over time that none of these people are inherently bad. They’re just fighting to survive in a world where being good often feels like an impossible dream. Killing It throws up new barriers to success in each episode, and every one is a systemic byproduct of life in America. It’s a place where even the happy endings leave you feeling a little bit broken. Snakes on top of snakes, all the way down as far as anyone can see.

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Peacock’s ‘Killing It’ presents a brutally on-point satire of American life