The Outlaws

3 out of 5

Created by: Stephen Merchant, Elgin James

covers season 1

This is on the verge of being very smart, and very good, but overplots itself a little, shortcoming some of its potential.

The Outlaws is an intersection of misfits of various types, come together in a community service program for their various grievances, ranging from petty theft to assault and recklessness and etc. The “joke” is that these misfits – stereotypes of left and right politics, a celebrity, a nerd, a straightlaced student, a criminal, and a thug – are not misfits, but just as varied and normal as anyone else, thrust partly into their stereotypes by others, and then partly by themselves. Co-creator (and playing as the nerd, Greg) Stephen Merchant pushes this into somewhat obvious territory at first, painting the characters as broad strokes, but that’s kind of the point. Once the initial har-de-har odd coupling, butting heads of putting them all together to clean up trash has passed (led by the always amusingly droll naivety of Jessica Gunning’s supervisor) – about an episode in – the show can start to peel back the layers a bit, beyond just showing us the inciting acts that brought everyone together, but also beginning to pick at their personalities a bit. What works about this is that it doesn’t take an easy route of showing that everyone is secretly good and relatable behind their surface: they are all flawed, and not without attributes that lend themselves to their stereotypes.

However, this is where The Outlaws starts to lose its balance a bit: certain storylines are more of a joke than others; certain storylines are more sympathetic than others. Rhianne Barreto’s Rani (the student) and Gamba Cole’s Christian (the thug) take centerstage as a meet-cute, and their backgrounds are more clearly painted as victims of circumstance. Favoring this isn’t a bad thing, exactly, as both Barreto and Cole are very engaging, and their POVs are individually represented with balance, and they also provide some interesting conflict in a modernized Romeo and Juliet kind of way; but, The Outlaws is meanwhile shifting to a crime caper involving a stolen bag of money, and it uses this as a way to further link everyone together, throwing our focus into disarray. The back half of the show wants to play catchup with the other characters – and tons of greats there as well, with Christopher Walken and Darren Boyd amongst the cast – while trying to maintain a believable hook with this money, while still developing the meet-cute, while still exploring the various stereotypes. And then give Jessica Gunning’s character a small arc as well.

None of this entirely derails things, but it also never allows the show to completely shift into any one gear, undermining the comedy, the drama, the characters, and the commentary. That said, the talents of the cast make it eminently watchable, and Merchant and his co-writers do maintain a consistent tone throughout, masking the plotting problems.