SARAH VINE’s My TV Week: All human idiocy is here… and it’s simply superb



I loved every minute of the first season of The Outlaws, a goofy crime caper created by Stephen Merchant and starring, somewhat randomly, Christopher Walken. Set in Bristol (and in many ways a love letter to that city, warts and all), it charted the misfortunes of a group of wildly disparate characters brought together by community service. 

Quite why a Hollywood star of Walken’s stature agreed to play a small-time crook living with his daughter in Bristol is not entirely clear, but I’m glad he did. It’s odd, but it works (like most things Walken does). 

Then there’s the seemingly vacuous It Girl (played by Eleanor Tomlinson of Poldark fame), the brainy but troubled student, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, a loser lawyer (Merchant himself), a civil rights activist, an obnoxious businessman and – last but very much not least – their supervisor Diane, played by Jessica Gunning, who steals every scene. 

Eleanor Tomlinson (pictured) plays the seemingly vacuous It Girl in The Outlaws

While the characters and premise itself are not entirely original, the execution is superb. Great script, great pace, great cast. 

All human idiocy is here: our flawed heroes are all lovable and useless in equal measure. The action veers from silly to deadly serious, addressing a variety of difficult and deeply human issues – drug addiction, dysfunctional relationships, poverty, privilege, prejudice, politics – along the way. 

Sarah (pictured) says Stephen Merchant’s script for The Outlaws is excellent

The humour is dark and bittersweet, in the finest tradition of British comedy shows such as The Royle Family and Rev. 

Much of the success of this show rests on the brilliance of Merchant’s script: he really is all he’s cracked up to be. And it’s just quite cool: the first season finale made headlines for painting over a Banksy – an actual Banksy, that is, not a piece of set design – as part of the plot. 

But then what do you expect from a show that just casually casts Christopher Walken as a deadbeat grandad? 

This second season is even more confident. Not only has it been promoted to the primetime 9pm Sunday night slot (more usually occupied by cads in breeches and swooning heroines), the characters have grown into themselves. 

There’s even more chemistry now, not just between the show’s adorable star-crossed sweethearts Rani and Ben (Rhianne Barreto and Gamba Cole), but, one senses, between the cast members themselves. And things are getting serious: chickens are coming home to roost. 

Pictured: Spencer played by Tom Hanson (left) and Frank played by Christopher Walken

The drug baron, a splendidly menacing biscuit-munching Claes Bang (‘Ginger nut?’ he offers, having just snapped someone’s leg in two) whose cash they accidentally appropriated in season one, has tracked them down and wants it back. Trouble is, they’ve spent it. 

Meanwhile, their lives are collapsing: John (our businessman, played by Darren Boyd) is fired from his own company; Lady Gabriella (our It Girl) is cut off by her father (Richard E Grant). Walken’s character Frank finds himself in the unfamiliar position of doing the right thing – and Rani and Ben are in way over their heads. 

Oh, and the police are onto them. It’s going to be quite the ride.




Oobah Butler and Nella Rose present new show, Catfish UK, on MTV UK

There are some shows that, as a middle-aged mother of teenagers, you just watch open-mouthed in astonishment. And this is one of them. It’s a window into a world of such unfamiliar and frankly bizarre behaviour (well, for me at any rate) that I found myself strangely mesmerised. 

Of course for my generation the idea that one might strike up a meaningful relationship with someone you’ve only ever spoken to online seems bizarre. But for those who grew up with the internet it seems entirely natural, hence the practice of ‘catfishing’, where someone pretends to be someone they’re not, usually for personal gain. 

There are elements of grubby voyeurism here, echoes of Jeremy Kyle. But the situations themselves – in the case of this first episode a young man in love with a young woman who isn’t all she seems – are handled with a much greater degree of tact and understanding. 

The presenters, Oobah Butler and internet star Nella Rose are hilarious in their panoply of young people’s affectations such as interspersing every other word with an ‘ohmygod’. That said, Rose is clearly a talent, and incredibly switched on for her age. Not my cup of tea at all; but useful to watch.

  • The home makeover show is as threadbare as TV formats come, so if you’re going to do it you have to do it well. Sadly, this cannot be said of Sarah Beeny’s Little House, Big Plans (Thursday, Channel 4). It is, in a word, terrible. Beeny – who is normally good – seems to be phoning it in (presumably from her new mansion in Somerset). I mean, she’s barely brushed her hair, and the sum total of her contribution in the first episode was suggesting a couple move a window, which they flatly refused to do. And the ‘transformations’ are questionable to say the least, including one absolute carbuncle, a suspended concrete box attached to a 1930s semi. Why? 

Love Island? I hate it… 

Love Island producers has partnered with eBay, so the contestants wear ‘vintage’ instead of fashion fashion. Pictured: Dami Hope 

At the time of going to press, I hadn’t seen the first episode of the new series of Love Island (Monday, ITV2), but it doesn’t take a genius to know what to expect. 

This year the producers have tried to ingratiate themselves by partnering with eBay so the contestants (including Dami Hope) wear ‘vintage’ instead of fast fashion. Meh. It’s still the usual exploitative trash. 

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