Perhaps the reason that Prime Video seems to have struggled with how to market its new crime caper The Outlaws is that it's a show that isn't anything like what you'd expect it to be. (In the best possible ways.)
The six-episode series, which dropped on the streaming service last week, looks like it ought to be an edgy dark comedy (or possibly a messy superhero drama if you too can't stop thinking about the awesomely underrated Misfits every time you see the title card). Yet, it's one of the strangely sweetest, most offbeat joys of the spring season, a charming romp about found family, second chances, and embracing one's true self.
The premise is super simple: Seven strangers are all assigned to the same Bristol community service group after committing a variety of petty crimes that range from shoplifting to check forging and solicitation. They've got little in common and no one is exactly looking to make friends. But when they find themselves caught up in a dangerous plot involving a bag of money they find on their clean-up job, they'll have to trust and count on one another like never before.
And, yes, everyone manages to learn some important personal and emotional life lessons along the way. (Albeit in a much more delicate and thoughtful way than any of us likely would have predicted.) Truthfully there's nothing terribly groundbreaking about The Outlaws, but what makes the comedy so appealing is the way it combines familiar character tropes and story beats in a way that still manages to feel fresh.
Every member of the show's main cast initially seems to be little more than a stereotype: John (Darren Boyd) is a right-wing blowhard; Myrna (Clare Perkins) his militant left-wing counterpart; Lady Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson), is a shallow Insta influencer; Frank (Christopher Walken), a seasoned old con; Christian (Gamba Cole), the bad boy; Rani (Rhianna Barretto), the nerdy good girl; and Greg (Stephen Merchant), a socially awkward lawyer, who is also the designated weirdo of the group.
In the real world, none of these people would have likely ever even talked to one another. But, thanks to the trials and tribulations of their new reflective vest reality, they're not only all forced to not only get to know one another, they eventually form a charmingly dysfunctional found family.
A comedy that is unafraid to deal with serious social issues like racism, gentrification, privilege, and class, The Outlaws takes a surprisingly hopeful tone about our ability as a species to overcome the prejudices and preconceptions that divide us.
And though we see the group doing everything from painting over graffiti and clearing out dead animal carcasses to running from various denizens of the local drug cartel, The Outlaws is at its best when the group's misadventures force each member of the main septet to confront the personal failings and poor decisions that have led them to community payback in the first place. (And perhaps learn a bit about themselves along the way.)
Con man Frank's life of petty crime has estranged himself from his daughter and grandchildren. Lady Gabby's social media fame hasn't filled the hole in her heart left by an uncaring and interested father. Greg's life is a mess in the wake of his divorce. But it is perhaps through the character of Christian that The Outlaws has the most surprising things to say.
A young man of limited means who is struggling to care for the younger sister he believes can have a brighter future than the working-class life they know, Christian finds himself embroiled with a local gang, which is how the bag of money that eventually becomes the thing around which the entire season pivots comes into the picture. But the show smartly deepens and subverts our expectations of where a story like this is going, using Christian's arc to introduce us to a darker and more desperate side of Bristol, and illustrating how a bevy of bad and worse choices might leave someone in a position with no good options, no matter how much they might wish that were otherwise.
Granted, some of the series' secondary subplots border on the patently ridiculous (almost anything to do with Greg), and Rani's overprotective, respectability-focused parents are repetitive to the point of exhausting, but for the most part, The Outlaws' humor is brisk and entertaining enough to paper over most of its flaws.
The series' cast is excellent across the board, but special praise goes to the offbeat pairing of Merchant and Tomlinson, whose strange chemistry makes them the most charming pair on the screen. The always incredible Christopher Walken also appears to be having the time of his life in every scene, tossing off hilariously lines like "he's not the coolest beer in the fridge" and singing karaoke to The Pussycat Dolls. (There has to be an outtake of this scene somewhere, right?)
The Outlaws isn't a groundbreaking piece of social commentary or anything. But it is genuinely fun---and frequently laugh out loud funny---enough to make up for it.
Season 1 of The Outlaws is now streaming on Prime Video.