When I saw a new show by Stephen Merchant called The Outlaws was coming to Prime Video, I was excited. Merchant has been a comedian I have loved since I first heard him on The Ricky Gervais Show. He is a master of straddling the line between awkward comedy and a purely uncomfortable experience. From Portal 2 to Jojo Rabbit, I have enjoyed his work, so I was eager to see what The Outlaws had to offer, and it was a much different experience than I expected.
The Outlaws is a show about a group of seven strangers who are forced to work together on community cleanup after being sentenced for a series of unrelated crimes. The show also calls out the stereotypes early, as the introductions in the first episode set the stage for what you should expect.
The characters all play off their type with Rani Rekowski (Rhianne Barreto) calling each person out, describing Frank Sheldon (Christopher Walken) as the crafty old dodger, Christian Taylor (Gamba Cole) is the bad boy, John Halloran (Darren Boyd) as the right wing blow-hard, the left-wing militant Myrna (Clare Perkins), Eleanor Tomlinson as the celebutante, Lady Gabriella Penrose-Howe, “Plus whatever Greg (Stephen Merchant) is”. And let’s be honest here, with a cast like that, you are going to be in for a treat, no matter how the story unfolds.
What starts out as a standard comedy that tackles the different ranges of characters in this cleanup project quickly spirals into an exploration of the characters crimes, and how they all find themselves all working together. From political activism gone wrong, to a run in with the police in a very compromised movement, The Outlaws does a great job at giving a sense of who the characters are, how everyone sits in a morally grey area, andt that there can be a reason for everything. Merchant does a great job using tropes to subvert the audience’s expectations, presenting one-dimensional characters and slowly showing their depth as the show progresses.
By setting The Outlaws in Bristol, there is plenty of room to use the working class town concept to show the disparity between the different characters in the show. The struggle people have to go through to get ahead is an even greater reason why so many turn to crime or illicit acts.
The disconnect between the more well off characters’ view of the world though is shown in stark contrast to how many are struggling to make ends meet or even take care of themselves and the people they love. It was a brilliant move by Merchant and the team behind the show, and shows the struggles all aspects of society will go through just to do what is best.
To break down all the plot points of the show would be doing it a disservice. The Outlaws manages to weave an interconnected story that has all the characters pushing each other to be better, while also allowing for plenty of antics that make even the most serious moments feel a bit less heavy. Even though all this, the story of Christian Taylor and the drug heist he found himself in is the focus of season one of the series.
“The Outlaws is a surprising series that managed to get its claws into me for the full season run.”
Drug dealer Malaki (Charles Babalola) is really the main antagonist for this season, working to manipulate the situation and push Christian Taylor to do what he normally would avoid. But even with this storyline woven through each of the six episodes, the season leaves plenty of room for character development and moments that give equal chances for all the cast to show off their acting chops, and show why it is worth investing in their lives and what comes next.
There are plenty of moments here that touch on many feelings we all have about people we see on a chain gang, from the frustration at our place in life, to the general fear and stress of being relied on, but beyond all of this, the sense of love and compassion is a message that is constant though each of the many storylines told. There is a great sense that anyone can be redeemed, and it is only our own demons that stand in that way.
The Outlaws is a surprising series that managed to get its claws into me for the full season run. While not every moment worked, the majority of what the series brings to the screen is a fantastic take on the concept. It is a great show that blends thriller, drama and comedy well to make something wholly unique. If you are a fan of British dramas, or Stephen Merchant, it would be criminal to let this one slip past unwatched.