The first season of Prime Video's misfit comedy The Outlaws was one of the more unexpected television delights of 2022, a charmingly offbeat crime caper about found family and second chances centered around a pack of hilariously bizarre central characters. Season 2, which arrives on our screens just four months after its first, subsequently feels more like an extension than a sequel and takes the story to the next level, with darker themes, more complex choices, and smarter twists.
In many ways, The Outlaws Season 2 is even better than its inaugural outing: The narrative is tighter and more cohesive, the relationships between various pairs within the larger group are stronger and more complicated, and the story's twists are bolder. If the show is less overtly comedic than before, that shift seems like a natural outcome of the story, which involves much darker themes and sees its characters cross much more uncomfortable lines, morally speaking. So much so that its occasional return to cringe humor (mostly involving Stephen Merchant's Greg or Jessica Gunnings' Diana) feels increasingly out of place as the season continues.
However, the show's dedication to the character at its center continues to pay dividends. Each of the titular Outlaws gets fleshed out in new ways this season, with subplots illuminating how they've been changed by their experiences together. (Not always for the better.) Darren Boyd's John and Claire Perkins Myrna are allowed to become three-dimensional people rather than stand-ins for liberal or conservative ideology; Eleanor Tomlinson's Lady Gabby slowly grows into something more than a shallow social media influencer. But it's Rhianne Barreto who steals the show as Rani who forges herself into the leader the group needs — even if it's not the person she always thought she'd (or wanted to) become.
In the most basic sense, the show follows the story of seven strangers assigned to work together in the same Bristol community payback group as part of their sentencing for the various petty crimes they've each committed. But while they're all paying their debts to society, they become much more like friends, especially after they accidentally find a bag of stolen money and find themselves entangled with a local drug gang.
Season 2 picks up almost immediately where the first ended, though the group's brief sense of triumph doesn't last long. Because the notorious drug kingpin known as The Dean (Claes Bang) is well aware of who they are and what they did, and he wants his money back. Desperate to keep him from killing Ben or hurting their families, Rani agrees that they'll make all the money back for him within eight weeks — with interest.
But given that most of the group has spent or lost their shares (Frank's teen grandson has stolen his), their options are pretty limited. That is, naturally, how they accidentally become drug dealers themselves, taking over Christian Taylor's operation while he's in jail because it's the only way that any of them will be able to make back the money quickly enough. Hijinks, naturally, ensue.
The idea of this particular group of misfits dealing drugs is initially played as the joke it so obviously is. John comes up with a marketing structure for their product targeted at college kids and bougie suburbanites based around coffee orders; Rani infiltrates a local university student union looking for buyers. Myrna includes flyers about the dangers of drugs for the corner runners to hand out with each order. But the crux of the season revolves around the fact that their criminal lifestyle suddenly starts becoming all too real and damaging. From physical threats, shakedowns, and near-misses by the police, it becomes increasingly clear that the characters we once thought were the heroes of this story aren't doing a good thing...and might not even be good people.
Smartly, The Outlaws doesn't try to pretend that what Rani, Ben, and friends are doing is no big deal or that their dealing is a victimless crime. These people are selling drugs—hardcore products like cocaine and crack—to young, often marginalized people. They're using a network of teens to move product and recruit runners based on whether or not they're old enough to face real jail time if caught. They're lying to their loved ones, using their day jobs to launder funds, and making deliberate choices to hurt others to benefit themselves. And worst of all, they all know that what they're doing is wrong, and yet they keep right on doing it anyway, with varying degrees of willingness.
Their criminal behavior is necessary: To keep themselves alive and protect the people they care about. But the fact that the show acknowledges the damage our supposed heroes are doing along the way is just one of the many intelligent things that set The Outlaws apart from other shows of its ilk. It allows us to root for our slippery, too-clever faves to find their way out of multiple impossible situations through the power of teamwork, trust, and occasionally some blind luck, even as it reminds us that there's a cost to their actions.
The series' ensemble cast is better than ever in Season 2, and virtually everyone gets multiple moments to shine. But Baretto steals the season as Rani, a former overachieving high schooler now turning her A-student brain to running a criminal empire and discovering that she likes doing it much more than she's supposed to. The sudden rise of her dark and rebellious side makes a certain amount of sense, given how much of her life to date has been spent focused on others' dreams for her instead of her own desires. However, there are certainly moments where it's difficult to watch her obvious enjoyment of the rush that comes with breaking the rules (and, in some cases, the law.)
Christopher Walken also deserves a shoutout for his performance as gruff con man Frank, who's trying to become the family man his daughter deserves even as he uses a series of overly complex cons to solve many of the group's problems. (These involve him pretending to be everything from an FBI agent to a The Sopranos-style American gangster, and Walken is having a blast.)
Season 2 of The Outlaws is a very different beast than Season 1, complete with a much darker story and far fewer good choices for any of its characters. But it works, even during its most unbelievable or ridiculous moments, due to the believable relationships this show has built between this oddball group of characters. Their stories shouldn't have anything in common and probably never have intersected in the first place, yet they somehow combine to form something wonderful and weirdly true. Outlaws forever, y'all.
Seasons 1 and 2 of The Outlaws are currently streaming on Prime Video.