Not being funny (although the show certainly is), but the last thing we expected to see on the telly this week was a crime-comedy with Stephen Merchant and Christopher Walken as the leading men. But this is 2021 – much, much stranger things have happened, and it’s often the most unexpected pairings which stand the test of time. After all, Melania and Donald have held on after 18 years of marriage…
But onto more important things, The Outlaws is Merchant’s newest project, a comedy which plucks a vibrant set of polar-opposite characters out of the bank, chucks on a couple of high-vis vests and waits for the good times to roll as the characters come together and fall apart over community service.
“From Walken’s ‘selfish old bastard’ to a ‘lefty militant’,” Rebecca Nicholson writes in The Guardian, “Stephen Merchant’s new show…is warm, witty and surprisingly gritty”, reminding her “of E4’s Misfits, only without the superpowers, and with more focus on how people communicate”. “While it can be jarring,” she continues, “to see Walken go full Walken on a show set in Bristol, it does suit the occasionally cartoonish nature of the plot”, which is “wry and silly, [with] a knowing fondness for a dad-joke style gag”.
However, it’s not all fun and games with The Outlaws – Merchant has been careful to invest as much time into creating compelling and cared-for characters as he has the persistent dad-jokes. Nicholson goes on to propose that the show “gives each of the criminals a reason to run, and a reason to stay, and crucially, it made me care which route they chose”.
But The Independent’s Ed Cummings is not so convinced, arguing that whilst “community service is a promising structure…the knowing acknowledgment that the characters are all archetypes is not the same thing as developing them beyond that”. Likewise, writer for The Telegraph, Anita Singh worries that “for every good line, there’s one to make you wince because it feels so out of place” – but then what’s a dad-joke without the wince factor?
It’s unlikely that this one will make it to an awards ceremony, but there is simply no chance of us missing out on watching Walken tawlken New Yawk alongside some gurt-lush Bristolian babbers.
First shown October 2021.