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Veronica Mars' New BFF is the Zelig of Peak TV

Kirby Howell-Baptiste is taking over television, one beloved show at a time.
  • Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (Hulu)
    Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (Hulu)

    It's not easy for a newcomer to stand out among a sea of regulars and returning favorites in the revival of a beloved series, but Kirby Howell-Baptiste manages to do just that in Hulu’s Veronica Mars. Veronica (Kristen Bell) reminds audiences in her signature voiceover that she doesn’t trust easily, but clearly there's something about Howell-Baptiste's Nicole that Veronica warms to in an instant. It might be the way she uses jokes as armor, or her zero-tolerance bar policy on creeps taking advantage of drunk girls, coupled with the sap gloves she keeps on hand for such occasions. Veronica can spot a kindred spirit when she sees one -- and apparently so can Kristen Bell.

    Fans of Bell's NBC series The Good Place will recognize Howell-Baptiste as Chidi’s (William Jackson Harper) neuroscientist girlfriend Simone, but the first time Bell worked with the British actress was back in 2015 on Showtime’s House of Lies. During a recent cast interview with Conan O’Brien at San Diego Comic-Con, Bell explained why she is drawn to Howell-Baptiste as a performer: "chemistry is chemistry." (For her part, Howell-Baptiste jokes that the universe clearly wants them to be together.) Whatever the reason, she brings charm and bite to her Neptune bar-owner character; fitting right in from the moment she first appears on screen, sporting a "Get Your Duck Wet" T-shirt.

    Howell-Baptiste and Bell in The Good Place (NBC)

    Veronica doesn’t have a lot of time for fun in the new season, juggling investigating a serial bomber with more personal matters. And although it's never been easy for her, the deck is particularly stacked against Veronica now she that she's no longer a teen masquerading as an adult. Enter Nicole, here to help her blow off steam, providing the shots of booze and other choice narcotics in her spring break bar haven, Comrade Quacks. Later, she shows up to rescue Veronica from Wallace’s (Percy Daggs III) housewarming party and his "boring yuppie" friends, sneaking off to vape in the bathroom before exiting to shoot bottles with Veronica’s gun.

    Fans of Killing Eve may recognize that this is not the first time Howell-Baptiste has played opposite a character who's good with firearms. Playing Elena in the acclaimed BBC series, Howell-Baptiste’s quick dry-wit was once again on full display. Sadly she did not reprise her role  in the series' second season, her absence explained away by the high body count of the previous season. "She’s worried about getting murdered," Kenny (Sean Delaney) tells Eve (Sandra Oh) when she asks if Elena is returning. In reality, a scheduling conflict is the most plausible reason. After all, Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is not the only assassin in Howell-Baptiste’s professional life.

    Sandra Oh with Howell-Baptiste in Killing Eve (BBC)

    An alum of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Howell-Baptiste got her initial break in 2014 in Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, followed by the aforementioned House of Lies appearance the following year. It wasn’t until 2018 when the jobs starting stacking up, as it seemed each and every casting director had discovered a secret. But appearing in not one but two (albeit very different) shows about professional killers was just the start of her TV-takeover. In Barry, she plays Sasha, one of Barry’s (Bill Hader) classmates, as he unsuccessfully tries to quit the killing biz for another cutthroat industry. Hader and co-creator Alec Berg could easily make a successful spin-off focusing on the students of Gene Cousineau’s acting lessons. Baz, as Sasha affectionally calls him, is also her Lululemon co-worker, but he should probably lay off mimicking her British accent. He is deadly with a weapon, but she ices him when it comes to his sloppy attempt.

    Howell-Baptiste with Bill Hader in Barry (HBO via GIPHY)

    Quick wit isn't Nicole's only weapon as she comes under suspicion in Veronica Mars. She’s not as good with a gun as her new pal, but rage bubbling beneath the surface toward the men who have hurt her reveals itself on a number of occasions. In Episode 5 when they play target practice, she somehow turns this particular indictment into snappy rage-laced poetry, "Sam Hicks, who said I completed him and then completed in my roommate's mouth," before getting to the rage portion of this shooting gallery. This scene exemplifies why Bell is drawn to her as a performer (and Veronica as a friend).

    In September, The Good Place returns for its fourth and final season with Howell-Baptiste returning as an obstacle to the great Eleanor and Chidi love story. But first, another stop on her TV domination tour: starring in Marc Cherry’s forthcoming dramedy Why Women Kill, dropping August 15th on CBS All Access.

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    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Hulu, The Good Place, Killing Eve, Veronica Mars, Why Women Kill, Kristen Bell