This review contains spoilers.
1.1 The Wrong Mans
“The Wrong Mans” is an annoying title, isn’t it? It’s ungrammatical, and saying it out loud feels awkward, like you’ve turned into a LOLcat halfway through. It’s not hard to work out why they chose it: the show is a gently absurdist spin on the action genre, and the title sounds like the title of an action movie, but with just a touch of daftness added onto the end. It does the job, more or less, of signalling to its potential audience what it’s up to. But it’s annoying.
Happily, the show itself isn’t annoying at all; at least, not if the first episode is anything to go by. Written by and starring Mat Baynton and James Cordon, it’s about a couple of bumbling local government employees who accidentally get embroiled in a kidnapping plot. Sam Pinkett (Baynton) is a town planning officer who’s on his way to work when he witnesses a car crash. He dutifully calls the police, but after the officials have left and the unfortunate victim has been carted off to hospital, he finds a ringing mobile phone by the side of the road.
When he answers, he unwittingly makes himself known to some nasty-sounding gangster types. His attempts to explain the misunderstanding go ignored, and every time the phone rings, he digs himself in deeper. He’s about to hand the phone into the police when his co-worker, the slightly manic Phil Bourne (Cordon), persuades him that solving this mystery is their big chance to do something worthwhile with their lives. Since Sam’s still pining after his ex-girlfriend and needs a way to prove himself to her, he agrees.
Though the episode only runs for thirty minutes, it packs a lot in, including a surprising amount of character development and pathos. Baynton and Cordon are both gifted physical comedians, but the slapstick is minimal; most of the jokes are based on awkward misunderstandings. You sort of get the impression the two of them have written this show to give themselves something to get their teeth into, something beyond the basic comedy viewers have come to associate with both of them. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s got a bit more going on than just that.
It’s well observed, too. The scenes set in the local government offices will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever worked in local government (or any kind of office, really). There’s a decent amount of silliness, and you might want to give your disbelief-suspending muscles a bit of a stretch beforehand, but on the whole, it works.
If you’re looking for something to compare this to, it’s gonna be something by Edgar Wright. It’s a bit like the more action-packed episodes of Spaced, and it’s vaguely reminiscent of Hot Fuzz, too. It uses that Wright-style frenetic editing technique, and if you squint, you could probably map Mat Baynton and James Cordon onto Simon Pegg and Nick Frost without too much effort. But, I mean, that’s not really something to complain about.
Maybe the one time the show drops the ball is in its portrayal of Sam’s ex-girlfriend, Lizzie. She’s exactly that kind of overtly sensible, slightly exasperated woman we’ve seen a million times. To throw in one last reference to Edgar Wright, she’s basically identical to Liz in Shaun of the Dead, right down to, erm, having the same name. Hopefully we’ll get to see a bit more of her character in later episodes, and she’ll get a chance to develop beyond that stereotype.
That minor quibble aside, this was a pretty great first episode, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story unfolds over the following five episodes. It’s just a shame that title is so very, very annoying.
The Wrong Mans continues next Tuesday night at 9pm on BBC Two.
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