The BBC has another sure fire winner on its hands. Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws got off to a flying start. Co-written with Elgin James this dramedy combines the grit of a suburban gangster movie, the intrigue of a family drama and the laughs of a well written sitcom.
Take seven diverse characters and confine them to a situation where they spark off each other then add an over officious, petty jobsworth to watch over them. Sounds standard fare but in the directorial hands of Merchant it becomes a brilliant hour of television.
Each offender has their story told in flashback, so we find out how they ended up doing ‘community payback’
Merchant plays Greg, a solicitor whose wife left him on pancake day, he makes several jokes around his height in typical self-deprecating style.
Parentless Christian (Gamba Cole) , a young man in his early twenties is single-handedly trying to protect his younger sister from the manipulative gang of on their high rise estate. He takes a shine to Rani (Rhianne Barreto) an intelligent habitual shoplifting student from a rigid, uncompromising home. The shoplifting is an act of rebellion that earns her the same 100 hours of ‘community payback’ as the six other offenders.
It was Merchant who personally coaxed Christopher Walken into playing Frank, a worldly wise American ex-con released from prison on an ankle tag, on condition he stays with his daughter (Dolly Wells). She doesn’t want him there and primes her children to think of him as, “a lying, thieving, selfish old bastard.”
A left wing/right wing conflict is provided by John (Darren Boyd), a failing businessman and Myrna (Clare Perkins) a political activist. These two are polar opposites. Then thrown into the mix is Gabby, (Eleanor Tomlinson) a social media influencer with a glossy surface but a definite undercurrent of emotional angst. Her fixation with creating social media content for her 1.2m followers has an effect on others that she does not consider.
So these seven characters work for 4 hours each day clearing up a derelict community centre supervised by an easily distracted Diane (Jessica Gunning). Working within the Probation Service, having failed her Police entry, she not only stamps her authority on the group with the threat of extra hours of payback if they annoy or disobey her but also stamps her mark on every scene in which she appears.
Merchant never knowingly misses the opportunity for a dad-joke and the script has many causing laugh out loud moments but the drama holds good. This first episode was an excellent opener with more possible exit routes than Spaghetti Junction. It’s a journey you’ll enjoy taking over the next 6 weeks or you could watch episode 2 now on BBC iplayer.