The Outlaws (new Stephen Merchant comedy thriller)

Started by Ballad of Ballard Berkley, October 20, 2021, 09:42:17 PM

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Ballad of Ballard Berkley

This starts on BBC One on Monday 25th October. I've seen episode one, and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.

The premise is straightforward: while doing community service in Bristol, a bunch of mismatched strangers form an unlikely bond. You get the picture. But it's surprising in the sense that Merchant has contrived it as a piece of social commentary about Modern Britain, with the gang representing a cross-section of society. The characters are all archetypes in one way or another.

So you've got an obnoxious Daily Mail-reading businessman (Darren Boyd, who's just so great at playing twats); a middle-aged socialist black woman; a damaged reality TV star; a studious Asian teenager who feels stifled by the expectations heaped upon her; and a black kid from a high-rise estate who's in trouble with a local gang. Plus Merchant playing a variation on his usual character and, well, here's the the most perplexing part: a roguish ex-con played by... Christopher Walken. What?

Walken's presence is clearly a sop to the American market, but it makes no sense for this sort of ageing Goodfellas bottom-feeder to be mooching around Bristol (his daughter lives there, but it still feels like a stretch).

However, as terrible as that all sounds, I actually found episode one quite funny and sweet. The whole thing is fraught with potential embarrassment, and that may turn out to be the case, but Merchant and his co-writer Elgin James (co-creator of Mayans MC) are obviously coming from a good place.

The received opinions of Daily Mail bloke are repeatedly mocked (this goes out at 9pm on BBC One*), the left-wing character is witty and likeable, and everyone else is treated sympathetically. I mean, imagine if Gervais wrote this. You can easily imagine what that would be like.

So, yeah. A long post, sorry. But I guess I'm just intrigued by the fact that Merchant - who sometimes came across as quite reactionary in those shows he did with Gervais and Pilkington - has co-devised something that basically amounts to a sincere, albeit contrived, celebration of social inclusivity.

* So you can absolutely guarantee that the Mail will attack it as part of their Culture War bullshit, but fuck 'em.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Here's a trailer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_-6-hYP7Dk

Yeah, I know. Merchant's bumbling character makes a racially insensitive assumption while speaking to some black lads! But at least with Merchant's solo stuff, the joke is always on his character. He doesn't swan around like Gervais in After Life, being all morally superior and owning everyone.

And here's Merchant talking a bit about the show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFHtWIcKCfk

bgmnts

Saw the trailer and saw Walken and I was floored.

dead-ced-dead

Sincere if contrived sums up a lot of Merchant's solo writing. Fighting With My Family is that completely. He's more Hollywood-ized than Gervais (he went there as quickly as his legs could carry him). And while that leads to moments of contrivances in his work, it also means proper character arcs, three act structures and proper plotting, which is more than I can say for After Life or Derek.

His sweetness and sincerity (usually) makes up for the contrivances.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: dead-ced-dead on October 20, 2021, 10:01:52 PM
Sincere if contrived sums up a lot of Merchant's solo writing. Fighting With My Family is that completely. He's more Hollywood-ized than Gervais (he went there as quickly as his legs could carry him). And while that leads to moments of contrivances in his work, it also means proper character arcs, three act structures and proper plotting, which is more than I can say for After Life or Derek.

His sweetness and sincerity (usually) makes up for the contrivances.

I agree. Merchant understands how to structure a story populated by characters and events you can emotionally invest in. That's the bare minimum we should expect from anyone who writes and directs for a living, but it's something that eludes Gervais completely.

Rolf Lundgren

Quote from: bgmnts on October 20, 2021, 09:57:48 PM
Saw the trailer and saw Walken and I was floored.

Same here. And baffled as to why he doesn't have a line in the trailer. Has big Hollywood star appearing as a regular in a British sitcom been done before? Closest I can think in recent years is Cuckoo and that depends on your definition.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Rolf Lundgren on October 20, 2021, 10:16:24 PM
Same here. And baffled as to why he doesn't have a line in the trailer. Has big Hollywood star appearing as a regular in a British sitcom been done before? Closest I can think in recent years is Cuckoo and that depends on your definition.

Matt LeBlanc in Episodes? Although that was a British/American co-production. Either way, it's obviously not the same as Hollywood legend Christopher Walken appearing in an episodic BBC comedy. That's bizarre.

PlanktonSideburns


Claude the Racecar Driving Rockstar Super Sleuth



Ballad of Ballard Berkley


Bad Ambassador

One of Rutger Hauer's last roles was in Porters, a sitcom on Dave that no one remembers.

bobloblaw

Quote from: Rolf Lundgren on October 20, 2021, 10:16:24 PM
Same here. And baffled as to why he doesn't have a line in the trailer. Has big Hollywood star appearing as a regular in a British sitcom been done before? Closest I can think in recent years is Cuckoo and that depends on your definition.

He does but only in v/o - "We found it, we're entitled to it".
So he's playing the Americans then

studpuppet

Quote from: Claude the Racecar Driving Rockstar Super Sleuth on October 20, 2021, 11:52:50 PM
Makes a change from Memphis.

Strictly speaking, to be fully CaB-compliant that really should have been a 'Marc Cohn considers rewrite' post, but, y'know.

mrClaypole

Quote from: Rolf Lundgren on October 20, 2021, 10:16:24 PM
Same here. And baffled as to why he doesn't have a line in the trailer. Has big Hollywood star appearing as a regular in a British sitcom been done before? Closest I can think in recent years is Cuckoo and that depends on your definition.


Although never really A list Hollywood.  I seem to remember Lee Majors did a sitcom with Mark Addy that was shown late night on BBC 1. The name of which escapes me now.

Shit Good Nose

I really really disliked Fighting With My Family (in a parralell universe there's a decent out-and-out comedy about Nick Frost running a low-rent north of England wrestling club) and have heard that The Outlaws will similarly be 75% drama and 25% comedy (can you confirm Ballad?).

That being said, it was all filmed where I grew up and where I live now, including partly in an old packaging factory a minute's walk from our house (all the principal cast members, including Walken, were filming there for a few days in the summer [I never saw any of them though, just the beefed up security which was previously - and is now again - just one man and a dog]).

Note that Walken has worked in Bristol and the surrounding area before (he's been in stuff at the Theatre Royal in Bath several times over the years).

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Shit Good Nose on October 21, 2021, 06:41:37 PM
have heard that The Outlaws will similarly be 75% drama and 25% comedy (can you confirm Ballad?).

Pretty much, yeah. Episode one is primarily comedic, but the funnies take a back seat once the
Spoiler alert
Violent Drug Gang
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storyline kicks in. Merchant does more or less manage to maintain a consistent tone, but he's clearly more interested in making a character-based thriller with a few jokes thrown in (as you'd expect, his own character effectively functions as sad-sack comic relief).

Alberon

Merchant and a co-star was pushing this on The One Show. Apparently they've filmed two series back to back.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley


Ballad of Ballard Berkley

Quote from: Alberon on October 22, 2021, 07:27:58 PM
Merchant and a co-star was pushing this on The One Show.

Just watched that. At the start of the segment, Merchant chats briefly to Hillary Clinton about the Bristol accent. This isn't an original observation, I know, but The One Show is fucking nuts.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0010s7n/the-one-show-22102021

Mobius

I'm probably going to sound like some comedy simpleton or knuckle dragger, but I wish more things would just be comedy and not comedy drama.

neveragain

I quite agree. As good as these shows can be, I long for a new sitcom that doesn't have an ongoing drama narrative (usually about overcoming trauma).

Quote from: Shit Good Nose on October 21, 2021, 06:41:37 PM
I really really disliked Fighting With My Family (in a parralell universe there's a decent out-and-out comedy about Nick Frost running a low-rent north of England wrestling club)

Same, couldn't get into it at all. I thought Click & Collect with Chabuddy from People Do Nothing  around the same time was good fun though (I know SM only starred in that and didn't write it).

Shit Good Nose

Quote from: Mobius on October 22, 2021, 10:11:53 PM
I'm probably going to sound like some comedy simpleton or knuckle dragger, but I wish more things would just be comedy and not comedy drama.

Agree 100%.  I've long had a problem with 99% of British "comedy" films for the same reason.  A lot of them are basically a soap with a few jokes thrown in (Fighting With My Family being a perfect example).

the science eel

Ian McKellen full of praise for Extras on Graham Norton last night. And Merchant's Springsteen anecdote was funny.

neveragain

Nice little dig from Sir Ian as well: "Ricky Gervais - who takes the credit for everything".

beanheadmcginty

While totally disagreeing with criticism of Fighting With My Family (I fucking loved it, but at no point thought of it as a comedy film. It's as much a comedy film as The Great Escape or The Italian Job) I do agree that there is a problem with modern BBC comedy and for me it is because it is filmed too well. Perfect lighting, with HD 4K cameras, on location whenever necessary and with perfectly constructed sets simply isn't funny. The Cleaner and King Gary are recent examples that really suffer from this. I'm sitting in my actual grimy dark flat watching something that looks like it is beamed directly from heaven it is so bright, crisp and clean. The shitty dank sets of Bottom, Red Dwarf and Blackadder are so much more conducive to making us laugh. We need to see that the characters exist in a universe that is as shit or even more shit than ours.

j_u_d_a_s

Think it was Joel Morris who quoted something along the lines of execs and commissioners being too nervous around anything that's out and out funny because humour is subjective whereas comedy-drama is always a safer bet because it'll get good write ups in the guardian for covering a worthy topic no matter the execution.

Pure on Channel 4 for example was really thin stuff but got positive coverage for tackling a form of OCD that enabled C4 to get some nudey bits on screen. Feel Good was another show that appeared better than it actually was because it had a main character suffering from addiction and a same sex couple. Never mind that they were both really paper thin characters and the lead's relationship was utterly unconvincing (I know this is slightly too close to the mythic "you can't get a show unless there's black disabled lesbians involved" argument but Feel Good's biggest problem was that it was severely underwritten tripe). Meanwhile Kate & Koji on ITV, a decently plotted trad sitcom with rounded characters was compared to a UKIP rally in the guardian by someone who most likely only saw the trailer.

neveragain

How someone can say Kate "Eeh am a racist eeh now I'm not" & Koji was better written than Feel Good fair boggles the mind. Even though the former does come from the pen of two sitcom veterans, it was still an uncomfortable mess.

j_u_d_a_s

Quote from: neveragain on October 24, 2021, 06:18:09 PM
How someone can say Kate "Eeh am a racist eeh now I'm not" & Koji was better written than Feel Good fair boggles the mind. Even though the former does come from the pen of two sitcom veterans, it was still an uncomfortable mess.

It was infinitely more convincing than that self indulgent load of twaddle.