He’s been going about it quietly, but Stephen Merchant has been in the form of his life in recent years.
While former comedy partner Ricky Gervais has been making all the headlines (some good, plenty bad), it’s Merchant who’s been putting out the most interesting work since they last worked together in 2013.
The excellent Fighting With My Family saw him step into the director’s chair to helm one the best British films of recent years. He also played Caliban in gritty superhero epic Logan, took on the role of Nazi Gestapo leader Captain Deertz in the Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit and co-created the delightfully daft Lip Sync Battle.
He’s back with a brand new British comedy series packed with star names, and it’s immediately clear that his purple patch isn’t over just yet.
Compulsive crime caper The Outlaws focuses on seven strangers thrown together to complete their community service, while a criminal gang threaten to throw them all into grave danger.
The likes of Eleanor Tomlinson, Darren Boyd, Clare Perkins, Richard E Grant, Jessica Gunning, Claes Bang, Nina Wadia and Ian McElhinney are all along for the ride and there’s also a little known actor by the name of Christopher Walken among the cast – yes, the Christopher Walken. The Hollywood legend takes centre stage in one of the most unexpected, but glorious bits of casting of the year so far.
He and Merchant strike up the unlikeliest of odd-couple dynamics in the first instalment of the series, with Merchant’s cringe-inducing comedy so familiar to the fans of Extras and the Office playing nicely off Walken’s wonderfully off-beat delivery.
In fact, it’s worth tuning in just to see Walken being driven around Bristol with six other misfits in a shabby community bus. How did he get here? We have no idea, but we’re certainly not complaining.
He plays charismatic conman Frank who, thankfully, looks and sounds an awful lot like Walken in real life – after his attempt at Irish in Wild Mountain Thyme, we should be grateful he’s not trying out a Bristol accent here.
Elsewhere, Jessica Gunning shines as the belligerent officer in charge of whipping the titular outlaws into shape, while Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’s Eleanor Tomlinson is excellent as the vacuous influencer and reality star Gabby.
Merchant shares the gags around but saves a plenty for himself, bringing the kind of awkward comedy chops he’s shown throughout his whole career by the bucketload. One memorable moment from episode one sees him confuse a gang sign for Mr Spock’s Vulcan salute from Star Trek, bringing a deliciously uncomfortable energy to the fore.
The first episode is strongest when cracking wise rather than trying its hand at light cultural commentary, but the sharp script and the A-list performances in has set this up to be one of the strongest new comedies of 2021.
Episode one had us Walken in a cringe comedy wonderland. More of the same, please.
The Outlaws episode one is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now. New episodes are released weekly on Mondays at 9pm.
Credit: Original article published here.