Wednesday, 25 September 2013


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

What's it about? BBC2's comedy-drama The Wrong Mans concerns geeky council worker Sam Pinkett, who answers a ringing phone at the scene of a car crash and becomes embroiled in a kidnapping with his energetic friend Phil Bourne.

Who's made it? The writers are the two lead actors, Mathew Baynton (Horrible Histories) and James Corden (Gavin & Stacey), and the six-part series is directed by Jim Field Smith (Episodes).

Who stars in it? The aforementioned Baynton and Corden are joined by Sarah Solemani (Him & Her) as Sam's boss and ex-girlfriend Lizzie, with Nick Moran (Lock, Stock), Benedict Wong (Sunshine) and Dawn French (Psychoville), Emilia Fox (Silent Witness), Rebecca Front (The Thick of It), and Dougray Scott (MI:II) yet to appear.

What's good about it? The intention behind The Wrong Mans is to bring a humorous British perspective on the American action TV genre that's been a booming success with the likes of 24, Heroes and Prison Break in recent years. It's not the first time this has been attempted, because horror-mystery Psychoville took similar inspiration from the "box set phenomenon". The Wrong Mans has a concept you can well imagine occurring in a modern Alfred Hitchcock thriller, and for the most part managed to sustain itself over this half-hour introduction. It helped immensely that Mathew Baynton is our guide through the crazy situation, because he's incredibly sympathetic and engaging. Physically he reminded me a great deal of the animated lead in Arthur Christmas, and this was a really good showcase for him outside of Horrible Histories and his thankless supporting role in Spy.

It also looks really good, courtesy of Jim Field Smith—best-known for directing Showtime/BBC comedy Episodes, but who also made the under-performing 2008 rom-com She's Out of My League. The Wrong Mans clearly isn't a very expensive show, but whatever money they had was used wisely. The opening car crash was impressively staged, and the episode's snowy landscapes gave the show a beautiful look (although it may have just been blind luck, given the British weather last winter).

What's bad about it? It was amusing, but I wouldn't say it was especially funny. I loved the scene where Sam had to take a phone call from a creepy Chinese villain threatening "his wife" with torture unless he makes a rendezvous at 5pm, and having to maintain the conversation as if it wasn't a life-or-death situation in front of his oblivious boss. But that was the only scene that really seemed to tap into the comic potential of a story where the extraordinary and ordinary and colliding. Tolerances vary on James Corden, who effectively reprises his 'Smithy' character from Gavin & Stacey with slightly less shouting and arm-flapping.

Oh, and the grammatically incorrect "funny title" is just irritating.

Is it worth sticking with? Each episode's only 30-minutes and it's only around for six weeks, so what have you got to lose? If you have no compulsion to keep watching by episode 3 or 4, I wouldn't begrudge you giving up, but with so many great actors yet to appear I'm hopeful the story's going to take some fun and unusual turns. A sense of unpredictability and plenty of twists-and-turns is certainly what's required to make this work in the long-term; together with a lot more laugh-out-loud jokes.

Anything else worth mentioning? This is a co-production with Hulu in the US, who are most likely chasing another Misfits-sized hit for their service. I doubt this is it, but it's interesting to see that cooperation at work. It was also fun to see small roles in this first episode for Jason Watkins (Being Human, Trollied) and David Harewood (Homeland) as hospital surgeons about to perform a leg amputation... on the wrong man(s?)

Where and when does it air? Every Tuesday on BBC2/HD at 9pm, and streaming via Hulu Plus in the US from 11 November.