Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why aren't you watching The Wrong Mans?

Note: this was originally written for another website which has been having some technical difficulties, so I'm putting it up here while the show is still on iPlayer

Image: BBC Productions

So, James Corden's on TV again. But we'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now because his newseries, co-starring and co-scripted by Mat Baynton, is something a little bit different. The Wrong Mans takes a familiar modern concept - the inept spy - and drenches it with lashings of local authority jargon, duffel coats and awkward small talk while waiting at lifts. And it works. It so works!

You see, The Wrong Mans exists in the real world; it's just the plot that doesn't. There are spies and counter-spies, kidnappings, blackmail and murder - but the two protagonists are Berkshire County Council workers who happened to pick up the wrong phone. Forced to play along to prevent the death of a woman they've never met, Sam (Baynton) and Phil (Corden) find themselves drawn deeper into a web of conspiracy that actually goes a lot further than it would first appear. As time goes on it becomes clear that the kidnapped woman is not the whole story - somehow, Sam and Phil have embroiled themselves in an old-school Cold War spygame. Spy versus Guy, if you will.

The original pitch for the show was apparently, "What if a toilet cleaner picked up John McClane's phone and answered it?", and the nitty-gritty logistics of how one would actually go about saving the day are one of the show's joys. How can you make peace with a crime boss if you can't find a meeting room free? How can you make a quick getaway when no-one will lend you their car? Applying modern mundanities to thriller clich s surprisingly doesn't get old, probably because it's used sparingly and interspersed with real action that's beautifully shot (one moment in episode two where Sam makes a fiery getaway is a particular highlight).

Generally speaking the filming is excellent - drenched in greys and blues and spattered with snowfall, the Bracknell setting works convincingly both as exactly the sort of place where nothing would ever happen (apologies Bracknell) but also as a kind of atmospheric Scandi-noir setting. It's like The Office's Slough and Wallander's Ystad mashed together with a little bit of The Inbetweener's generic suburbia, with an eye towards Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It's a weird mix, but it works just as well as the contradictions in tone that are at the heart of the series.

With the finished series all on iPlayer there's still plenty of time to jump on board, and if you like comedy and action (and things that lurch around in between) then it's definitely worth a chance. At the worst, it's something a little bit different in British TV Comedy, and that's worth a shot.

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