The Outlaws review: With Christopher Walken, crime pays
It’s a near-universally held truth that Christopher Walken makes everything better. Whether it’s a music video, a sketch comedy bit, or a feature-length film, everything is a little bit cooler when the Oscar-winning actor is involved. The Amazon series The Outlaws proves that’s as true for British crime comedies as it is for every other genre.
Co-created and directed by Emmy winner Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras), The Outlaws follows seven strangers forced to perform community service together in Bristol, England. When they discover a bag of money in the building they’re cleaning, it sets off a series of events that tests whether they can overcome their differences long enough to survive.
Walken joins an ensemble cast in the series, and portrays con artist Frank Sheldon, who rejoins his daughter’s family after a stint in prison. The crew of misfits paying off their debts to society also includes bumbling lawyer Greg (played by Merchant), kleptomaniac Rani (Rhianne Barreto), businessman John (Darren Boyd), activist Myrna (Clare Perkins), influencer Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson), and local troublemaker Christian (Gamba Cole), who’s serving out his sentence while caring for his teenage sister.
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Although he’s the most high-profile actor in the series (and just as entertaining to watch as ever), Walken never overshadows the talented cast around him. Each member of the titular group of ne’er-do-wells gets ample amounts of backstory-nourishing attention, making it hard not to cheer for them as the series rolls along — that even goes Boyd’s character, whose casual racism makes him a tough sell even on his best days.
Still, while Walken is captivating and each cast member shines in their own way, they’re at their best when they’re together — whether in small clusters that contrast their personalities or larger groups that have them bouncing off each other in unexpected ways. Merchant is a master of small exchanges that yield big laughs, and those moments propel the series forward every time it starts to feel bogged down in drama.
Over the course of the season’s six episodes, The Outlaws occasionally seems desperate to establish its dramatic cred, but tends to stall when it lingers too long on the main narrative thread — one involving a drug kingpin’s stolen money, local law enforcement’s investigation, and the moral quandary faced by the group.
Fortunately, the strength of the humor makes up for any rough plot threads, because when the primary crime narrative does wrap up, the resolution isn’t an entirely satisfying one. Instead, seeing the characters finally overcome their differences ends up being a more rewarding culmination to the story arcs at play in the series, regardless of who ends up with the money.
The series’ talented, endlessly entertaining cast is ultimately the biggest selling point of The Outlaws, and how much enjoyment you get from it will likely depend on whether you’re looking for a crime drama with a dash of comedy, or a character-based comedy with a dash of crime drama. If it’s the latter, you’re in for a treat, but if it’s the former, you might have to work a little harder to enjoy the series. Even so, there’s plenty to like about The Outlaws regardless of your expectations, and the show’s talented cast — including, of course, Walken — makes a good series even better.
Season 1 of The Outlaws premieres April 1 on Amazon Prime Video.