It’s hard not to wince while meeting the ensemble characters in Amazon’s new British comedy “The Outlaws.”
“You’ve got your right-wing blowhard, your left-wing militant, celubutante, shifty old-timer and whatever the hell he is,” Rani (Rihanne Barreto) says early in the series, pointing to Stephen Merchant, the show’s co-star and co-creator.
Viewers half expect Merchant, who plays a sad-sack lawyer, to make said “militant” far more agreeable, if only to grovel to Amazon’s woke overlords.
And, in turn, rob the blowhard of his dignity.
Something different happens over six engaging episodes. “The Outlaws” humanizes both stereotypes, but in doing so suggests two radical notions. A straight white male character can grow beyond his biases, and there’s common ground to be had between the decent Left and Right.
That’s subversive to the core.
“The Outlaws” follows seven Brits who committed minor offenses and must pay for them via Community Payback. They’re guarded by Diane (Jessica Gunning), the office grunt with delusions she could be a bona fide cop one day. Gunning steals every moment she can through six boisterous episodes.
Together, these very different “outlaws” bond over their respective woes and a gang threat targeting not just Christian but potentially the entire group.
The show’s casting could not be better. Each actor brings a richness to their part, which is something you expect when casting Christopher Walken as a shady senior citizen. The rest? Pitch perfect.
That’s not why “The Outlaw” matters in modern pop culture, though.
“Right-wing” John (Darren Boyd) isn’t a monster, nor is he prevented from defending his views when questioned. His business is failing, but he genuinely cares about the employees who could lose their job as a result. It’s hard not to appreciate the guilt he feels for failing a company started by his crusty, unforgiving Pa.
Clare Perkins’ Myrna will grate on conservative viewers’ nerves from the jump. She’s every awful BLM-style tic boiled into one insufferable soul. She, too, isn’t cast off as a caricature. She’s suffered for sticking so fervently to her beliefs, alienating family members and allies alike.
One could argue “The Outlaws” misses some comic material by not drilling down into the absurdity of Myrna’s woke lifestyle, and that’s a fair point. Yet the series packs enough humor, as is, undercutting that critique.
The bigger victory is clear. (Very mild spoilers ahead)
Myrna and John develop an uneasy bond, one built on shared trust in the worst of circumstances. “The Outlaws” reveals just how much Myrna sacrificed with her take-no-prisoners activism. For John, it’s about learning to see different cultures through a fresh lens.
Each is allowed to grow in ways modern storytellers often ignore. Depicting Myrna as a deeply flawed soul is brave, full stop. There’s not a drop of Mary Sue in this hard-charging soul.
Letting John have depth and courage is equally so.
The very best part?
At a time when the Left and Right savage each other online and off, here’s a stark example of two opposites uniting to help themselves, and others.
Sure, it’s only a TV series and one found on a streaming service many don’t share. It’s a rare unifying example from a pop culture landscape far too giddy to turn us against each other.