What happens when a stylish, gripping suspense-thriller crashes into an awkward British office comedy? You get The Wrong Mans, the BBC’s newest sitcom starring Mathew Baynton and James Corden. Sam (Baynton) works for the local council, and seems slightly scared and bewildered just by everyday life in general, so when he becomes entangled in a huge, increasingly convoluted web of mystery and violence, he adopts a permanent wide-eyed look of complete terror. Phil (Corden) is an unpopular co-worker who relishes the chance to live out his fantasies and go on a mission to save a beautiful woman from evil kidnappers.
The trouble begins when Sam witnesses a car accident while walking to work. After hyperventilating into a paper bag for a bit (which he does so often it’s practically a hobby), he calls the emergency services. After the road is clear and the driver’s on his way to hospital, Sam finds a phone ringing in the snow. He answers it, and we’re off! You see, the man on the other end of the line has taken someone’s wife hostage and unless her husband turns up at 5pm that afternoon with a lot of money, she’s going to be killed. The kidnapper doesn’t know that he’s talking to the wrong man.
Sam has other problems to deal with, like looming deadlines, being late to work, a co-worker mocking him and a boss who recently became an ex-girlfriend. These problems get forced onto the back burner as he tries to find the man from the car accident – he must be the owner of the phone in the snow, surely? And, surely, that man will know what to do, he can sort things out and make everything okay, right? Right?
With the kidnapper warning him not to call the police, Sam confides in the mail room worker, Phil, who could not be more enthusiastic about the horrible situation Sam finds himself in. Where Sam sees a stressful hassle, Phil sees an opportunity to do something extraordinary. Where Sam would rather give the phone to someone else and let them deal with it, Phil insists they take matters into their own hands and negotiate with the kidnappers face-to-face. Of course, as the series progresses and the odd couple realise they’ve landed in some pretty deep shit, Phil becomes less gung-ho about the whole thing, borrowing Sam’s paper bag as panic sets in.
Some people react to the sight of James Corden like vampires do to sunlight, but I quite like him. His loud, brash confidence works well when playing Phil, and he can also do smaller, subtle moments of comedy that made me burst out laughing. And if you do find him irksome, well, in this show at least, his character is supposed to be a bit annoying at first.
Baynton, meanwhile, is the best thing about The Wrong Mans. He’s gawky, awkward and exceedingly polite even when confronted with some very nasty characters. As I mentioned earlier, he also has this wonderful deer-in-headlights look that is hilarious.
Or perhaps I just like him because while watching The Wrong Mans I often thought, ‘Yeah that’s probably how I’d react too.’
It also helps that the supporting cast is packed full of familiar faces. Hey, that’s Jamie from The Thick of It as a menacing copper! Hey, isn’t that Dawn French? Hey, the kidnapper looks so familiar, oh, what is he from?
I did have some reservations at first. Some of the jokes in the first episode fell flat, or felt a bit forced – e.g, the hospital bed mix-up. And would Sam really wait that long to call the police after picking up the phone? But, after a little suspension of disbelief, I thoroughly enjoyed the first four episodes (There’s two more, one this Tuesday, and one next week). Positive reception from critics and viewers, as well as high ratings, make a second series very likely, which is great news.
The Wrong Mans is also surprisingly gripping at times. There’s a tricky balance between comedy and drama that the show has to make, and it usually does it quite well. After a lot of silly jokes and awkward cringe comedy, there’ll be a sudden shock, a twist, a ‘What?!’ moment, and the episode will lurch back into action-thriller mode. Every episode also ends at the best possible moment, leaving us desperate to find out what happens next. It’s really good fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends. How much worse can it get? Will Sam ever regain his dignity after episode 4? How many more twists and turns can there be?
The BBC have clearly sunk quite a bit of money into it. Before the first episode aired, adverts were everywhere and media hype was high. It also has the all-star cast and stylish cinematography of a big-budget action movie, but with British comedians instead of Tom Cruise. It’s well worth a watch.
P.S. Speaking of stylish things the BBC have spent a lot of money on (yes, that’s a very tenuous link, but I really want to mention this), have you seen this? In anticipation of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary special next month, the BBC have made a special trailer celebrating the show and its history. All eleven doctors (though some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them), plenty of monsters and a couple of companions pop up during the minute-long trailer, which also includes a creepily-realistic colour version of the first Doctor, William Hartnell. There’s no footage of the actual special, which may sound like a bad thing, but, frankly, after watching this I don’t really care. Have a look!