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TV review: The Outlaws isn’t afraid to look at the dark side

The Outlaws blends laughter and pathos.

Although Ricky Gervais may have grabbed the lion’s share of the headlines, the contribution of Stephen Merchant to the success of The Office shouldn’t be underestimated.

The writing duo went their separate ways after 2013’s Life’s Too Short and since then Merchant has made a series for American television (Hello Ladies) and a movie (Fighting With My Family).

The Outlaws – a six-part crime comedy that started on Sunday – is very much in keeping with his (and Ricky’s) brand, in that it blends laughs with pathos and feels decidedly British.

The sitcom, if you can call it that, is set in Bristol and sees seven mismatched low-level criminals thrown together for a stint of community service.

Christopher Walken in The Outlaws

There’s straight-laced A-level student Rani, “anti-woke” businessman John and his polar opposite, lefty-liberal Myrna, social media influencer Lady Gabby, awkward solicitor Greg (played by Merchant), elderly career criminal Frank (Christopher Walken!) and Christian, a young man whose links to a drug gang put his new community service chums’ lives at risk.

The Outlaws lays its cards out from the start and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that these seven strangers are going to form a tight bond and take on the criminal elements that have started to circle the wagons by the end of the first episode.

But despite the predictability of the plot, Merchant and co-writer Elgin James’ skill is bringing these archetypal characters to life and making us care about them.

As we explore their backstories and find out what led them to crime, the life and death stakes ramp up simultaneously and before long Merchant’s light sitcom has taken on a much darker, poignant tone.

Brain-melting stuff

Professor Brian Cox is fast becoming the David Attenborough of the heavens.

Just as the sound of Attenborough’s soothing warm voice is enough to convince you that what you’re watching is quality, it’s the same for Cox and his Lancashire lilt.

Professor Brian Cox

Universe (BBC2) is his latest attempt to fry our brains with a CGI-heavy journey through the night sky and beyond.

I loved every mind-expanding second of it – although the programme-makers really should have considered interspersing 10-second-long blank screens throughout so that viewers can take a moment to really wrap their heads around some of the more brain-boggling facts.

Green expose lacked bite

Maybe it’s because I live in a part of the world dominated by the North Sea industry, but Joe Lycett vs The Oil Giant (Channel 4) didn’t feel half as hard-hitting as he thought it was.

He set out to expose the hypocrisy of Shell’s green credentials by making an advert that would lampoon the company’s ‘greenwashing’ and environmental claims.

Joe Lycett

A big deal was made about how outrageous it was that the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn’t allow Joe’s ad to air – a point slightly undermined because it was shown in full during this very programme.

Does this mean that Joe’s employer, Channel 4, will now refuse to take advertising money from companies that are bad for the environment? I’m going to guess not.

They’re milking it

While I appreciate not all programmes have to appeal to all people, there’s some that you just shake your head at in despair and wonder who on earth commissioned them.

Monday night’s line-up on Channel 4 had a prime example of a show that was surely only made for shock value and not because it has anything valuable to say.

It was called Breastfeeding My Boyfriend and I don’t think I need to say any more.

Film of the Week: Halloween (Netflix)

With the woeful Halloween Kills stinking up cinemas this witching season, it’s worth reminding ourselves that it wasn’t always bad.

The Halloween films started with this 1978 classic by John Carpenter and even after all these years it has lost none of its power to scare.

Michael Myers

After decades of imitations and sequels, what’s remarkable about the opening entry is how relatively bloodless it is.

Sure, escaped psychopath Michael Myers doesn’t hold back on his stalking and slashing, but this isn’t the graphic bloodbath that you might think.

Instead, Carpenter relies on suspense, his own killer score and gliding camerawork to ramp up the tension and put the audience behind the mask of one of cinema’s most iconic monsters.