The last time I told you about an underappreciated gem on streaming, it was Jury Duty. Well, now I have a new under-the-radar streaming recommendation and it’s Killing It, a very dark comedy about capitalism and the American dream starring Craig Robinson and Claudia O’Doherty (of Our Flag Means Death fame and also the criminally underseen Sarah’s Channel). Created by Brooklyn 99 alums Luke Del Tredici and Dan Goor, Killing It stars Robinson as Craig, a perpetually down on his luck entrepreneur, and O’Doherty as Jillian, his equally unlucky BFF (for the no-romance crowd, this platonic ride-or-die male/female friendship is for you!). This review is specifically for the second season of Killing It, but just know season 1 is a lot of fun though there are also a lot of snakes. Season two only has one (1) snake, making it automatically the better season.
You can read a recap of season 1 here, but the first few minutes of episode 201 do a good job catching new audience members up—Craig won $20,000 in the Florida Python Challenge, a real thing that exists because Florida is a wormhole of weird. He used the money to buy a saw palmetto farm with Jillian, with intent to raise the berries and sell them to supplement companies. The only catch is that Craig had to betray his shady brother, Isaiah (Rell Battle), to win the python challenge. Season two opens with Craig handling a python while telling a photographer there is more to his success story than snakes, and then the whole season is a flashback to what happened once Craig and Jillian opened their berry farm.
Though Craig was finally able to buy a farm, his luck continues to be horrible, as an agricultural quarantine forces him into business with the Boones, a Florida crime family about on par with Justified’s Crowes. Matriarch Jackie (Dot-Marie Jones) is the only Boone with any sense, and what she really wants from her arrangement with Craig is health insurance for her family. Similarly, Jillian, after a lifetime of being downtrodden, is determined to treat the employees of their farm with kindness, though she is blind to her own toxic positivity and incapable of dealing with genuinely sh-tty employees. On top of all of that, Craig is trying to provide for his daughter and his ex-wife Camille (Stephanie Nogueras), who is acting as a gestational surrogate for a wealthy couple.
Killing It is very much about the multitudinous failures of the American dream, particularly during the Trump years (the show is set in 2017-18), when it felt like backstabbing, scamming, and outright lying were rewarded while anyone trying to be halfway decent got junk-punched for it. Tim Heidecker stars as Rodney Lamonca, a shady Florida “businessman” who hijacks Craig and Jillian’s berry operation and it seems like no amount of sincere effort or legit business will best him. Despite their good intentions, Craig and Jillian are constantly dragged down into the muck with worms like Rodney Lamonca and his equally hideous daughter, Prada Lamonca (Anna Mae Quinn).
And yet! Killing It is VERY funny. Yes, the humor trends dark, but Luke Del Tredici comes from the worlds of Brooklyn 99, 30 Rock, and Bored To Death, while Dan Goor also includes Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Parks & Rec on his resume. These are people who know how to balance the light, the dark, and the absurd in their humor. Killing It is laugh-out-loud funny, with fantastic visual gags, running jokes, and even product placement is turned into one of the best recurring bits in the season. There are shots taken at the eat-or-be-eaten mentality of late-stage capitalism, the inherent exploitation of surrogacy, the reality of toiling your whole adult life for bosses who don’t know you exist, and the difficulty of succeeding through honest hard work when the entire system is tilted against you. But there are also Florida wildlife jokes, a great shark gag, and a genuinely good, thrillery subplot in the back half of the season.
But tucked inside Killing It is also a poignant story about defining community in a world that punishes collective action. Jillian, who has no family, is trying to uplift everyone around her through the berry farm, but Craig has his ex and his daughter to look out for. At the end of the day, this creates a fundamental difference between them and their priorities. They both want to succeed, but they define that success differently, and have differing views on how to get there. The underlying pathos of Killing It is pretty bleak, and as funny as the show is, it does not shy away from the darker realities underpinning the Florida jokes.
I wish the season had at least one more episode to let a major decision made by a main character breathe a little, but besides the final episode feeling a bit rushed, Killing It’s second season is an incredibly funny and secretly very shrewd examination of the state of the American dream. It’s dark, it’s hilarious, it’s delightful to see Craig Robinson and Claudia O’Doherty have such meaty roles to dig into after being consistently reliable supporting players elsewhere. And while I did go back and watch season one and can recommend it as also very funny if a lot more snakey, season two cuts to the quick with its stark realities contrasting with borderline absurdist humor.
In its sophomore season, Killing It is a sharper, harder, meaner show that still delivers plenty of laughs, though it might hurt laughing through some of the bleaker observations about America’s dying dream.
This review was published during the SAG-AFTRA strike of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of actors. Killing It is now streaming both seasons on Peacock.