You don’t have the perfect recipe for friendship if you combine a businessman with a left-leaning activist, a social media star who is heavily dependent on cocaine and a tough-nosed businessman.
Stephen Merchant’s new TV series The Outlaws may not be what it appears. This series features diverse characters that are brought together in community service.
The American thief is played by Christopher Walken and Merchant plays Merchant’s geeky solicitor. There are no obvious connections between them, except for a few acerbic jokes about each other.
It seems that the comedy started out as light-hearted, with Merchant’s trademark observant humor. But soon, it becomes a suspenseful story of unsettling terror when the group is accidentally involved in a gang warfare.
Merchant claims that the inspiration for BBC One’s drama was derived from his parents’ experiences with community-service recipients.
“My mom would be there… painting or building a playground area. She’d talk about who was coming through, and how it was so interesting.
One of my friends noticed that there was an elderly man who kept coming back month after month. He was always taking things from allotments, such as cabbages. She realized that he was lonely, but he liked doing community service. I found that so odd and sweet.
And an American businessman who was caught drunk-driving and these children on the wrong track. It was the idea that an unlikely group must be able to work together.
Merchant’s newest series is full of humorous one-liners. However, the show also features a dark edge that was influenced by Merchant’s “go to” TV style.
He says, “I have always loved thrillers. I love them when there is humor in there and still thrills or drama or dark.”
“I love that mixture of both and Succession and The Sopranos does that beautifully.
“After the last few years, all of us have struggled to see very gloomy stuff constantly. So I admire them.” [those shows]But… But…
Merchant co-created The Office and Extras with Lip Sync Battle. This was a meeting of minds. Elgin James is a US producer, writer, and producer.
Elgin now hosts a program called MayansMC. Elgin had previously been in prison and was involved in gangs while a young man. He’s very funny. We created The Outlaws together. Interesting was the collision of these worlds. My friend has come from Boston, and has made a great recovery.
His conversations would be about funny things, including the fact that he loves books. Because he didn’t want other gang members knowing, he secretly kept the details from the others when they came around.
Merchant went beyond just signing up a US television producer, and began to sign up Hollywood actor Walken.
The actor, who is a veteran, plays Frank, a petty theft victim with a lot of bridge building to do for his family and his daughter.
Merchant managed to persuade The Deer Hunter (and Pulp Fiction) actor to make his TV debut in a UK series.
His only phone number is an old landline and he doesn’t have email. It’s extremely difficult to reach him. He sent me the script and I called to ask if Christopher could be there.
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“Someone had told me before that Chris was very comfortable in silence. He’s now in his 70s and has nothing to prove. Chris’s also very reflective. If he asked a question about someone, you would give him an answer, but he wouldn’t think of it.
“And so I would sit there also… and think about that. Thus, the meeting lasted for four hours.
We seemed to be able to get along by the end, he loved the idea, and he liked my character, and we sold Bristol. There are many great places to eat and great culture in the city. He came but couldn’t view any because it was locked down.
Walken calls Bristol “terrific” despite that.
There is a strong counterculture in this area. There were also riots and lots of outside noise the first time that I was there. “The second time I was here, it was very noisy outside. However, this was probably due to the soccer.” he said.
Frank has a fractured relationship to his dearest and closest friends. It is common for most characters to suffer loneliness, even within their own families.
Merchant was also interested in challenging the divisive rhetoric surrounding former US President Donald Trump and Brexit. It created strain in families, friendship groups, as well as contributed to this isolation.
It was their idea. [the characters]All types of them. This was back when Trump was at power, Brexit was taking place and it was very difficult to feel like we were becoming compartmentalised on either side of the Atlantic. Everyone was reading social media and confirming their views.
John (Darren Boyd), a anti-woke, un-PC middle-class businessman, meets Myrna Clare Perkins (left-wing activist). A blossoming romance is also found between Rani, a straight-A student who shoplifts (Rhianne Barrreto), and Christian Cole (Gamba Cole), a security guard trying to rescue him and his younger sibling from the gang at his estate.
Merchant mentions that “it felt like everyone was becoming homogenized into types in media and just generally,” so it is interesting to take these stereotypes back, then peel them off and see what makes each tick as well as force them to interact with other characters.
“The concept was to show that people have much in common and there is something to be gained from talking with those who don’t share your views.”
Merchant is Greg himself, a lawyer who meets up with an indiscreet sex worker and ends up joining the motley crew to clean out an old community centre. Unexpectedly, he also makes a connection to social media superstar Gabby (Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson).
“It was just fun. It’s kinda useful because I already exist here. [in Bristol]However,
Did he feel compelled to write the most flattering lines possible?
“I believe I’ve been extremely generous!” People have given me a lot of my funny stuff. Being the straight man on the scene makes me happy.
“I could probably have given myself a more difficult role, but let’s face it, you may need an awkward and nerdy man to play the part.
BBC One’s The Outlaws will air Monday, 25 October at 21:00 BST.
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