The Outlaws – Review

Worth seeing: as a comic-crime-caper with a likeable enough bunch of misfits finding that their community service gets them into more trouble than the crimes that brought them together in the first place
Featuring:Stephen Merchant, Charles Babalola, Christopher Walken, Claes Bang, Clare Perkins, Darren Boyd, Dolly Wells, Eleanor Tomlinson, Gamba Cole, Grace Calder, Ian McElhinney, Jessica Gunning, Julia Davis, Justin Edwards, Kojo Kamara, Nina Wadia, Patrick Robinson, Rhianne Barreto, Richard E Grant, Ricky Grover, Tom Hanson
Key crew:Alicia MacDonald, Curtis Vowell, John Butler, Fran du Pille, Nickie Sault, Elgin James, Stephen Merchant
Channel:BBC iPlayer, BBC1
Length:58 minutes
Episodes:Season 1 - 6 eps, Season 2 - 6 eps, Season 3 - 5 eps
Broadcast date:Season 1 - 25th October 2021, Season 2 - 5th June 2022, Season 3 - 30th May 2024


The outlaws of the title are a group of seven Bristol residents, from different walks of life, who all – for one reason or another – find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Greg (the show’s co-creator Stephen Merchant) is a lonely lawyer, whose failed love-life results in him being caught behaving badly in a car-park. Rani (Rhianne Barreto) deals with the stress of her university application by stealing clothes from shops. Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson) is a socialite and social media influencer with anger management issues. Myrna (Clare Perkins) is a left-wing militant activist, with a dark secret from her past, who often finds herself clashing ideologically with the anti-woke, struggling businessman, John (Darren Boyd). Ben (Gamba Cole) gets on the wrong side of a local gang when he tries to help his younger sister. Then there’s Frank (Christopher Walken) an American conman, currently living with his estranged British family.

Run-ins with the law lead this unlikely group to meet while carrying out community service, under the watchful eye of aspiring police officer Diane (Jessica Gunning).

Most of them just want to serve their time – sweeping, cleaning and painting – so that they can stop hanging out with these reprobates and return to their own unhappy lives.

But when the hapless group find a bag of cash on site, their lives are thrown up in the air, as they can’t help themselves getting drawn, way out of their depths, into a life of actual crime.


Over the course of 17 episodes across three series, Stephen Merchant and his co-creator Elgin James have delivered an oddly likeable bunch of misfits, with these disparate lost souls finding solace in the unexpected bonds that develop between them, often under extreme stress.

As well as the overarching story of this group of hapless anti-heroes getting in over their head as they inadvertently find themselves taking on a UK-wide drugs gang, the writers take time to delve into the personal stories of the characters – whether problems with children, parents or partners, personal or professional – even ideological.

But it’s primarily a snappy, fast-moving comedy caper, that becomes increasingly culturally aware as Merchant’s self-confidence grows; the jokes push further at political boundaries, while TV and film references become almost too liberally used to feel like real characters are saying the lines.

The first two series work well as a single story-line, but after a little gap, series three comes along without one of its key characters and with two others no longer involved in the community service that brought them together, making some of the elements feel a little more contrived.

By season three, the freshness of the idea has gone and the writers seem to feel the need to push the plot further and further to stay engaging, but in so doing, it becomes less believable as more effort seems to be going into fleshing out the main characters. Merchant and Co also seem to be more interested in showing off their own knowledge of film and TV quotes than creating a coherent narrative, which doesn’t make it any less entertaining – but it does sometimes feel a little lazy.

One sociological point that comes out of the series is the fact that bringing together people on the edge of criminal behaviour can bring out the worst in all of them – what we often see happening in prison dramas, with criminals coming out worse than when they went in, appears to be the case at the entry point of the criminal justice system too.

There’s a sense of the tension between the different elements of the show – whether its the comedy, drama or crime-caper – with some characters fitting far better into one segment than the others.

It often feels like Darren Boyd’s John has been created to give Merchant an outlet to say words he can’t put into his own mouth – for some of the characters, their own back-story becomes lost in time, while the plots involving others often seems so unrelated to the over-arching plot as to be distracting. Watching Jessica Gunning’s jobsworth community service supervisor is a constant joy.