The Outlaws series two review – everything Stephen Merchant does is ridiculous Television

men season two, episode one, of The Outlaws, a Sunday night comedy (BBC One) about a group of losers doing social service together, there is a scene in which a knotty old rogue Frank is about to leave his family again by selfishly jumping across the country. A line of dialogue simply requires him to tell a friend that he is taking a taxi to the airport later, but the reading of the line is extraordinary. “Have a few hours to kill!” says Frank, with a flaming charisma that alludes to an unimaginable prank within that period. “CABBING! Straight to Heathrow Airport! “

That’s because Frank is played by Christopher Walken, whose demonic flash is one of the many reasons why The Outlaws is so much more than a naked synopsis suggests. Co-created and mostly written by Stephen Merchant, it continues a trend for widescreen comedy thrillers that began in 2013 with The Wrong Mans, whose success inspired smaller imitators – Witless on BBC Three, Bounty Hunters on Sky One – to throw clumsy sitcom wells into danger, causing them to face ruthlessly. against dangerous criminals. Many of these spectacles were annoyingly mad and anguished; The Outlaws, blessed with the writing nous and Hollywood power, brought by an A-lister like Merchant, are the first in time to get the right mix of timeless jokes and a twisted, propulsive, cinematic story.

In the days before sitcoms evolved into sitcoms, the characters would have just stood around talking in the central location of the show, a dilapidated Bristol community center that a group of lonely strangers must renovate as a penance for minor crimes. But, in season one, Christian (Gamba Cole) committed another, rather serious crime by stealing a wallet of cash from his drug dealer employer. A few unlikely events later, the group not only became involved in the robbery but washed and shared the money before resuming their punishment, apparently in the clear.

On the way, they were interrogated by police and chased down alleys by men with machetes; they visited party yachts and country mansions in their efforts to hide and later preserve the loot. Often, there were big coincidences, as people conveniently arrived at a place or made a decision at the right time to continue the story, but the story continued to go on quite well. Anyway, the thriller element is only half of what makes The Outlaws an updated sitcom. We really are here for the sweet, gentle drama of watching the characters learn that their considerable differences are not a problem because they all share the same secret: they are alone and lost because they don’t know what to do with their lives. .

From Darren Boyd, taking advantage of his gift for repressed mania as an abrupt but faltering businessman John, to Eleanor Tomlinson as Gabby, a countess whose Instagram fame and champagne lifestyle hides a lack of meaningful relationships with friends or family, we come to like these cartoon figures. . In a series that serves as a show of solidarity to the lonely, the bullied and the disenfranchised, they all have a love to give but no one to receive – until they find fellowship as the most inexperienced criminal syndicate in the West.

Although, at times, he and his co-authors have awkwardly inserted trauma into the characters’ backstory, Merchant’s tolerant compassion for his diverse creations is evident and, of course, he makes them funny. He is particularly adept at evoking bathos by referring to just the right celebrity, brand or city, an old Victoria Wood trick that works well when we contrast high interest crime with ordinary Bristolians. And, even before he got enough glories to lure Christopher Walken to British television, one of Merchant’s strengths as a writer-director has always been that his shows could use at least one hysterical comic performance, by Stephen Merchant. Here, everything he does as Greg, a physically disastrous divorcee, is ridiculous or touching, or both at the same time, like when he gets up too fast in a nightclub and gets his head stuck in a chandelier.

In the season two opening, Greg – who once told his ex-wife that living with him was “like being trapped in a well” – is told by the others that no, the drug cartel probably won’t force them to dig. their own graves in the desert, due to the Avon and Somerset area having no desert. “Well then,” says Greg, “Minehead beach.” He is right to be worried, as the end of the episode poses a new threat that indicates that the show will become the answer of a British sitcom to Ozark. (“Ozark at ee,” as local people might say.)

Before then, there aren’t too many emotions in the return episode of The Outlaws, which is good because we’re just content to live with the characters for a while. We are glad to be part of their band.

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