Phoebe Waller-Bridge goes darker on 'Killing Eve,' and more from BBC America at the TCA winter press tour

Aquatic marvels, an assassin hunter and professional darts marked an eclectic slate of programming previewed by BBC America at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena on Friday morning.

And while there was no denying the jaw-dropping visual splendor of the four-years-in-the-making “Blue Planet II” — the undersea counterpart to last year’s stunning nature documentary series “Planet Earth II” that debuts Jan. 20 — “Killing Eve” made an undeniable impression as well.

Premiering April 8 and adapted by “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge from a series of novellas written by Luke Jennings, the series “Killing Eve” centers on Eve (Sandra Oh), a smart but desk-bound MI5 officer who is given the chance to pursue brutal international assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

Though Waller-Bridge’s breakout comedy series “Fleabag” was marked by perversely dark humor (and frequent and wry, wide-eyed asides to the audience), she was grateful to executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle for allowing her to branch out to an eight-part, hourlong thriller.

“It was just a breath of fresh air early on,” Waller-Bridge explained. “I didn’t really have a chance to be pigeonholed.”

Waller-Bridge will not appear in “Killing Eve,” despite talk of her playing one of Villanelle’s victims. While the project marks a tonal shift from “Fleabag,” humor is still a presence, which is only one of the ways the series will diverge from the novellas.

“In the novellas, the character Eve was much more serious. And also, as I interpreted the novella, white. I am not white, I am Asian,” said Oh, who noted that she was “extremely pleased” by the colorblind casting.

Given the current political and social climate, there was also something gratifying in the show’s preview footage, which included Comer’s assassin pitilessly driving a needle into the eye of one of her targets, who until then had been treating Villanelle as a personal gift. The show’s all-female cast upends the usual gender roles for a globe-trotting cat-and-mouse series, which was another detail Waller-Bridge appreciated, especially in writing the assassin’s character.

“It immediately feels naughty, which is really galvanizing when we’re creating it. It’s a shame that it feels new,” she said. “I think every time Villanelle does something so outrageous, it feels sort of glorious, even though there is violence and dominance and a complicated psychology in it. There is something glorious about a woman existing without fear of the consequences of her actions.”

As a closer, BBC America teased its plans to bring Premier League Darts to the U.S. on Feb. 1. Touted as Britain’s second-most popular televised sport (behind soccer, of course), darts may be quirky new territory for the States, but any sport that includes announcer calls such as “Oh, you cheeky little sausage!” can’t be all bad.

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chris.barton@latimes.com

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