The Wrong Mans (BBC, 2013) is the brain child of James Cordon (see: Gavin and Stacey) and Matthew Baynton, who you may recognize from The Horrible Histories (a great TV series for all ages).
The Wrong Mans is about Sam (Baynton) who finds himself witness to a car crash, in which he picks up a mobile phone which is not his own and finds himself embroiled in a criminal plot. Confiding in his colleague – although he only works in the building – and ‘friend’ Phil (Corden), they decide to take care of it themselves rather than go to the police. Despite Sam’s intentions to do the right thing, the pair find themselves in over their heads and repeatedly in danger.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
This series is charming, and really, can be put no other way. It is obviously taking the mickey of Television Crime Dramas (particularly American ones) and seems to function in a similar way to Simon Pegg and Nick’s Frost’s films, where the hapless duo blunder into situations they only ever make worse. Seemingly, a very British trope.
Baynton steals the show, Corden is good – he has a lot of coverage at the moment, and his career is really booming, however, in this I felt that Baynton as Sam was brilliant. Sam is a very likable character, if a bit of a wet blanket, but absolutely the voice of reason (voice of niceness, perhaps?) in the show. Phil on the other hand, is irritating – this is, of course, part of his character – and hyperbolic to the point of being unbelievable. This serves to put the emphasis back on Sam and Baynton’s performance, In short, not the best performance of Cordens’.
The use of humour in the series is what really stands out. The comedic undercutting of situations creates a very subtle comedy that is undeniably British.
One of the best example of this is perhaps the scene in the getaway car (one of many, to be fair. This is the second episode I think). They make their escape and dash to the car, Sam launching into the driver’s seat and Phil struggling with a stowed away criminal in the back, engaged in an all-out fist fight.
“I’ve never driven a manual before!”, Sam cries out in his undeniably southern English accent. The use of ‘manual’ creating an opposition with the traditional American ‘Stick shift’ showing the irony of these Berkshire Council members occupying this traditional American detective role. Also – how many people in the UK don’t drive a Manual? I feel the implication here is that Sam is unusual in his inability to drive manual as most cars in the UK are manual. It kind of implies privilege: Automatic Cars tend to be expensive as they are more difficult to buy secondhand.
The fast paced action within the car, the camera positioned where the windshield would be, shows the fight in the backseat and Sam erratically changing gears. The scene is fast paced. Cut to the outside of the car, side on. The car screeches and grinds, jerking with sudden movements at about 5 miles an hour. This juxtaposition, the use of the second shot to undercut the first seems reminiscent of traditional European comedy: seen in Lubitsch and other classical films. It is so fantastically British, that you can’t help but laugh. This comes across also in the repeated jokes about working at Berkshire County Council as a town planning adviser. The fact that it is Berkshire – a most unassuming county in the Thames Valley, where wealthy commuters live to work in London – adds to the ridiculousness of the events within the series. The humour in the series is fantastic. It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud when I am watching on my own: this did it.
The story line between Sam and his girlfriend was weak, and perhaps unnecessary. It didn’t really go anywhere, though perhaps you could argue this is part of the undercutting humour – despite the dramatic rescue at the end, the cliche attempt to save the damsel in distress, they still remain separated.
In fact, the whole final episode was a bit of a let down. From Phil’s mum (Dawn French) turning out to be an undercover agent, to Phil’s obvious trick which saves the day, to the way they rescue the green space from the corrupt politician and walk away from their jobs to become something else: it kind of missed the mark for me. I know they were trying to show a hyperbole of these typical crime thriller tropes, but it became to cliche and lacked the irony it needed to show that they were mocking these tropes.
The bottom line is that this is a really great series. It has six episodes at 30 minutes each; will take you less than a week to watch. It is a lovely, gentle chuckle and well worth a watch.
Available to watch on Netflix.