Creators: Elgin James, Stephen Merchant
Stars: Rhianne Barreto, Darren Boyd, Gamba Cole
The Outlaws 2022 makes no secret of the fact that its protagonists fit into easily recognizable types. In fact, she has a character: Rani (Rihanne Barreto), the self-described “good studious Asian girl,” only comes out and says so in the first episode. “You’ve got your right-wing braggart, you’ve got your left-wing militant, celebrity, wily veteran, and whatever the hell it is,” she explains to Christian (Gamba Cole), whom she jokingly calls the “bad guy.”
The goal of the comedy-thriller series from Stephen Merchant and Elgin James is to go beyond these types, find common ground between very different characters and build bridges between them that transcend the usual divisions of class, politics or social status. And while its results on that front are mixed at best, a likeable cast and a terrific sense of humor nonetheless make for a generally enjoyable moment.
Initially, his core gang of strangers comes together by semi-random circumstances. Each has recently found himself in legal trouble over one unrelated matter or another, and consequently each has been assigned community service: more than 100 hours cleaning up an abandoned building under the watchful eye of Diane. But a series of events involving a gun and a duffel bag full of cash raises the stakes significantly, binding the outlaws more closely than they ever could have imagined at first.
It’s an appealing premise for a series, especially if you like shows about misfits who form unlikely friendships. The series is more enjoyable when their relationships are more endearing, such as when the characters dance at work to Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.” ” or scheming to beat Diane as if they were in a much less glamorous version of Ocean’s 11.
But even with six one-hour episodes to go, the series seems able to delve only so far into its seven main characters, not to mention the family, friends, and co-workers that surround each one. His attempts to develop familiar tropes too often build on even more familiar tropes. Obviously, the influencer (Eleanor Tomlinson’s effervescent, impulsive Lady Gabby) craves attention from her because her rich father (Richard E. Grant) didn’t love her enough. Of course, the aging con man (Christopher Walken’s handsome Christopher Walken-y Frank) is trying to mend a relationship with the daughter (Dolly Wells) whom he has let down too many times before.
Some never stop feeling like stereotypes. Clare Perkins brings sensitivity and self-awareness to her role as the acid-tongued activist Myrna, and yet the character, as written, seems like little more than a figurehead. She is a Daily Mail reader’s idea of the over-awakened social justice warrior type who will denounce others as “race traitors” or “puppets of capitalism” for daring to like Michael Bolton or work part-time at Ikea, respectively.
Unsurprisingly, Myrna is most often paired in scenes with a Daily Mail fanatic, conservative John (Darren Boyd), so other characters can brag that they’re “just two angry peas in a pod.” Her dynamic feels like it’s rooted not in mutual interest or feeling between the characters, but in Merchant’s and Elgin’s desire to make it clear that both sides of the political spectrum can be unreasonable and uncompromising. The show’s other stabs at cultural commentary don’t go much deeper.
If The Outlaws 2022′ narrative can seem too orderly, to the point of making Bristol, a city of more than 400,000, seem as insular as a small town, its tone tends toward disorder. Maybe there’s just no way to put together a life-threatening criminal threat and a light-hearted teen house party subplot in a single episode without emotional whiplash. But it doesn’t make the experience of trying to go from one to the other feel more organic.
Still, when The Outlaws works, it works. Rani and Christian’s flirtation walks a well-trodden path of young romance, with disapproving parents, late-night escapades, and a spiel about how a sheltered girl like her just can’t understand her real-world problems. But when swinging with Khalid or posing in a party photo booth, Barreto and Cole gaze at each other with an affection so sweet and pure it makes those plot points feel fresh again.