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

lIn season two, episode one, of The Outlaws, a Sunday night comedy (BBC One) about a group of losers who do community service together, there is a scene where gnarled old villain Frank is about to disappoint his family again by selfishly skip the country. A line of dialogue simply requires him to tell a friend that he will take a taxi to the airport later, but reading the line is extraordinary. “Have a few hours to kill!” says Frank, with a flaming charisma that hints at unimaginable disaster at the time. “Then CABBEN! Direct to Heathrow airport!”

That’s because Frank is played by Christopher Walken, whose demonic brilliance is one of the many reasons The Outlaws is much more than a bare-bones synopsis suggests. Co-created and largely written by Stephen Merchant, it continues a trend for widescreen comedy thrillers that began in 2013 with The Wrong Mans, the success of which inspired smaller impersonators – Witless on BBC Three, Bounty Hunters on Sky One – to pitch bumbling sitcoms. put them in danger, making them incompetent against dangerous criminals. Many of those shows were annoyingly wacky and painfully contrived; Blessed with the writing style and Hollywood punch that comes with an A-lister like Merchant, The Outlaws is the first in a while to get the right mix of little jokes and a twisting, propulsive, cinematic story.

In the days before sitcoms evolved into sitcom thrillers, the characters would have just stood talking in the show’s central location, a run-down Bristol community center that a bunch of lonely strangers must renovate as atonement for petty crimes. But in the first season, Christian (Gamba Cole) committed another, much more serious crime by stealing a bag of cash from his drug dealer employer. A few unlikely events later, not only had the group all become involved in the theft, but had laundered and shared the money before resuming their sentences, apparently publicly.

Along the way, they were interrogated by the police and chased down alleys by men with machetes; they frequented party yachts and mansions in their attempt to hide and preserve the loot. Often there were big coincidences, as people arrived at a place easily or made a decision at the right time to keep the story going, but the story kept going pretty well. In any case, the thriller element is only half of what makes The Outlaws an improved sitcom. We’re really here for the sweet, mellow drama of watching the characters learn that their obvious differences aren’t an issue, as they all share the same secret: they’re alone and lost because they don’t know what to do with their lives.

From Darren Boyd, who uses his gift for suppressed mania as brusque but floundering businessman John, to Eleanor Tomlinson as Gabby, the daughter of an earl whose Instagram fame and champagne lifestyle belie a lack of meaningful relationships with friends or family, we’re going cherish these cartoonish figures . In a series that serves as a show of solidarity with the lonely, the bullied and the disenfranchised, they all have love to give but no one to receive – until they find companionship as the West Country’s most inexperienced crime syndicate.

While he and his co-writers have sometimes inelegantly infused trauma into the characters’ backstories, Merchant’s tolerant compassion for his diverse creations is apparent and, of course, he makes them funny. He’s especially good at summoning bathos by naming just the right celebrity, brand, or city, an old Victoria Wood trick that works well when we pit high-stakes criminals against ordinary Bristolians. And even before he had enough credit to lure Christopher Walken to British television, one of Merchant’s strengths as a writer-director has always been that his shows could draw on at least one hysterical comedic performance, by Stephen Merchant. Here’s everything he does as Greg, a physically disastrous divorcee, hilarious or heartwarming, or both at once, like when he gets up too fast at a nightclub and locks his head in a chandelier.

In the season two opener, Greg — who once mentioned that his ex-wife said life with him was “like being caught 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, because the area of ​​Avon and Somerset has no desert. “Well,” Greg says, “Minehead Beach.” He’s rightly concerned, as the episode’s ending poses another threat that suggests the show will become the British sitcom’s answer to Ozark. (“Ozark ate ee,” as the locals might say.)

Until then, there’s not too much tension in the comeback episode of The Outlaws, which is fine, because we’re content to just hang out with the characters for a while. We are happy to be part of their gang.

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