When The Wrong Mans first aired last year on BBC Two, it was like nothing else I’d seen before. James Corden and Matthew Baynton’s fusion of stereotypical British comedy with big-budget thriller traits was both visually spectacular and wonderfully funny.
After what seemed like a very final ending, it was unclear if The Wrong Mans would ever return, and more importantly, if it should…
The announcement that the show would return for a two-part special was met with both joy and trepidation by yours truly as I didn’t know whether Baynton and Corden would be able to match the quality of the original series.
I think it’s hard to judge the latest episode against the first series, primarily as we haven’t had the conclusion yet, but during tonight’s hour-long instalment, I found myself getting a little bit bored; something that never happened during last year’s run.
I do feel that The Wrong Mans works better as thirty-minute instalments as it allows the writers to deliver a memorable cliffhanger that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. There were very few moments like that during this hour-long feature, and I personally believe the running time made the pace of the episode lag significantly. The fact that the episode title is split into two suggests that Baynton and Corden originally intended this to be a four part series, which I think would’ve improved the overall pacing of the piece.
As Corden and Baynton had an hour to work with, I felt that the episode also took a while to get going as we followed Sam and Phil to a trucking firm in South Texas. The highlights of the opening ten or so minutes of the episode were in seeing Phil adjusting to his new life a lot quicker than Sam. Although Phil is missing his mum, he appears to be loved by his co-workers and is in quite a steamy relationship with the attractive Rosa. Phil’s willingness to adapt to his new surroundings is counter-balanced by Sam’s need to return home and particularly to reunite with Lizzie.
An incident at home is enough for Phil to get on board with Sam’s plan to journey home, and they use their company’s people trafficking sideline as a way to fulfil their dreams. They soon come close to leaving the States, however, unbeknownst to them, they are smuggling drugs out of the country and as a result are sent to jail.
If tonight’s Wrong Mans had been split into two parts, that’s where I would’ve ended episode one as the prison part of the story was strong enough to hold up on its own. As Phil and Sam are incarcerated, the writers use every prison movie cliché they can, although not all of them hit the mark. But it’s the wonderful chemistry, coupled with references to Ross Kemp’s Extreme Prisons, that makes this part of the episode worth watching.
As Phil and Sam realise that there are forces working against them, they receive an option that will allow them to escape. However, this option involves befriending and finishing off the deranged Neo-Nazi Nathan Cross. The scenes in which our hapless duo try to ingratiate themselves with Cross’ gang are a little weak and I found them uncomfortable to watch. Ultimately it’s the work of a corrupt prison guard which allows them to both finish off Cross and escape from the prison. However, the escape is tinged with new terror for Phil and Sam as they find they have certainly swapped the frying pan for the fire.
It was this intriguing final scene that gave me hope that the concluding half of The Wrong Mans would have a better pace than tonight’s episode. One thing that was lacking in my opinion was any big laughs, as Corden and Bayton employed plenty of broad humour that I didn’t find particularly funny. Where The Wrong Mans was at its most hilarious was in the smaller moments in which Sam and Phil’s Britishness was employed to full effect. I was a big fan of the scene in which Phil talked up Sam’s accomplishments to Cross’ gang, as well as his reminiscences of Christmas dinner at home.
The small subplot in which Sam’s former colleagues talked about where to have their Christmas party was a lovely little diversion from the central action. It was also one of the most well-observed strands of the entire episode as office bore Noel tried to convince his workmates that they didn’t have to have the party at work every year.
What makes The Wrong Mans work so well though is the interplay between real-life friends Baynton and Corden, who are just wonderful as Sam and Phil. Baynton plays the straight man throughout, whilst Corden utilises his funny man role to great effect, especially in the early sequences as Phil pretends to be a retired heart and brain surgeon.
The sequence at the airport, in which they attempt to convince an agent that they’re an American folk band, equally plays to their talents as both struggle to master a Yank accent. In the later prison scenes, they are similarly endearing with Baynton’s pained expression being well-utilised as they find themselves jumping from one scrape to another with very little to show for it.
There are also some great supporting turns throughout the piece, including one from Samantha Spiro as the boys’ flirty boss Maria. Meanwhile, Bertie Carvel almost steals the show as the maniacal Cross; a character who is possibly the most memorable element of tonight’s opener.
Whilst tonight’s episode of The Wrong Mans was a lot better than the majority of the BBC comedy output in 2014, I was still left feeling slightly underwhelmed. I think this is mainly due to the fact that my expectations were so high for the continuation of one of the most original series of the last ten years. In its favour, The Wrong Mans has two brilliant central performers who bounce off each other wonderfully, and this episode featured several well-observed sequences. However, I believe that if tonight’s piece had been cut into two half-hour episodes, then I would’ve enjoyed it more than the hour-long instalment that we received.
I’m just hoping that we get a satisfying conclusion tomorrow night that offers more laughs and thrills than tonight’s story provided.
Were you happy with the return of The Wrong Mans? Do you agree that tonight’s instalment could’ve been split?
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