BBC1 comedy-drama The Outlaws returns and Stephen Merchant continues to build his own wonderful world

If you heard a brief synopsis of The Outlaws (BBC1, Sun, 9pm) – petty criminals in gritty inner-city Bristol get embroiled in large-scale drug-dealing – you’d be forgiven for expecting a west country version of The Wire.

By Philip Cunnington
Friday, 10th June 2022, 5:00 pm

What you get, instead, is charm, wit and – unusually for a comedy-drama – lots of comedy and genuine drama.

Now that we’re comfortable with the characters from the first series, writer and creator Stephen Merchant has stepped things up a notch, with our misfit gang of miscreants forced into large-scale drug-dealing in an effort to return their already-spent stolen cash to the smoothly-malevolent drug kingpin The Dean (Claes Bang).

If you’ve seen the Netflix hit Ozark, you’ll sense the direction we’re heading. However, where the souls of the Missouri Macbeths Marty and Wendy Byrde gradually become black holes, sucking everyone they come into contact with to their doom, Ben, Rani and the rest are good people at heart and will not be so easily corrupted.

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The Outlaws hatch a plot in the new BBC series

That’s one of the strengths of this series. The characters are all so well-rounded, each with their own hinterland to be discovered. Even estate drug dealer Christian is more than one-dimensional.

“Look at me,” he tells Rani and Ben, who think he’s rolling in cash. “My crib’s a garage at the end of my mum’s garden… What I earn goes on my fam. Six mouths is a lot to feed.”

Merchant, as hapless yet smart lawyer Greg, is genuinely funny – I defy you not to laugh at a bit of business with a nightclub lampshade – and it’s got Christopher Walken.

This second series takes the foundations of the first and builds its own world; one you love to be part of.

Ben (Gamba Cole) and Rani (Rhianne Barreto) make a life-changing decision in the new series of the BBC comedy-drama The Outlaws

Despite being as far away from the target audience of Everything I Know About Love (BBC1, Tues, 10.40pm) as it is possible to be, I quite enjoyed this tale of millennials experiencing love and heartbreak in a London houseshare. Based on a best-selling memoir by Dolly Alderton, it captures those heady days of mid-20s freedom perfectly.

Having finished Ozark and got to the beginning of the end of Better Call Saul, I have now started in on Stranger Things (Netflix, streaming now). A note-perfect evocation of 80s TV and films, it hits my nostalgia nerve hard, but with enough modern touches to keep my son hooked too. A great show to share.

Bel Powley (left) and Emma Appleton star as best friends Birdy and Maggie in the new BBC series Everything I Know About Love