The Outlaws: Christopher Walken isn’t doin’ enough talkin’

The Hollywood star seems to have gone walkabout for much of Stephen Merchant’s comedy

The novelty factor around Stephen Merchant's new comedy, The Outlaws (BBC One, Monday), flows largely from the casting of Christopher Walken as a grumpy grandpa. But for much of the series so far it has felt as if Walken, the menacing yet ever so slightly off-centre star of The Deer Hunter and Pulp Fiction, has gone walkabout.

He is, for instance, largely absent from episode three (before turning up for a five-second glorified cameo at the end). It’s almost as if Merchant, who writes and stars in The Outlaws, couldn’t find a way to plausibly place a laconic American in contemporary Bristol, where the show is set (and which is Merchant’s home town).

Merchant has already claimed his slice of comedy immortality as creator, with Ricky Gervais, of The Office. The Outlaws is something different. It's considerably less acerbic and in place of the needle-point cruelty that was a hallmark of The Office has a meditative faith in the decency of ordinary people.

Walken and Merchant star as everyday punters who find themselves on the wrong side of the law and have ended up in community service. But they are very much background characters, with the focus largely on the Gen Zers Rani (Rhianne Barreto), Christian (Gamba Cole) and Gabriella (Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson).


The comedy comes with a bittersweet sting. Each of these “outlaws” is a lost soul in one way or another. Rani is a smart kid stifled by her parents’s ambitions for her. (She started shoplifting the summer she was accepted to Oxford.) Christian is, for his part, a disadvantaged young man drawn against his will into the orbit of a local drug gang. And Lady Gabby is a privileged socialite and influencer.

The group is completed by the middle-aged Myrna (Clare Perkins) and John (Darren Boyd). They are from opposite sides of the ideological divide – she’s a lefty, he’s an anti-woke bloke – yet united in their struggles to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.

Merchant has some fun mocking Gabby’s vacuousness. In part three she abandons Greg, the hapless accountant whom Merchant plays, and who has volunteered to help her plan a music festival, to party on a boat travelling through Bristol. Meanwhile, Myrna has been ejected from her protest group because of her refusal to compromise. And John’s attempts to take charge of the family business continue to be undermined by his domineering father (Game of Thrones/Derry Girls’ Ian McElhinney.)

The police have elsewhere caught up with Rani, who, in part one, stole her father’s van to help Christian escape the drug gang. (Her parents cover for her.)

The criminal plot, alas, continues to feel tacked on, and sits uneasily with the wry comedy. The Outlaws works much better when Merchant puts his characters in a room together and lets them throw sparks off one another. Just don’t tune in expecting to see too much of Christopher Walken.