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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Bristol’s ‘Wild’ West

Reviewed by Ben Soton

The Outlaws. BBC TV series currently showing on BBC1, Mondays 9pm. Also available on BBC iPlayer.

Created by Elgin James and Stephen Merchant. Directors: Stephen Merchant and John Butler. Stars: Rhianne Barreto, Darren Boyd, Gamba Cole, Jessica Gunning, Clare Perkins, Eleanor Tomlinson, Charles Babalola, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Walken. The Outlaws

STEPHEN Merchant’s Bristol-based sit-com The Outlaws has now been running for the last few weeks on Monday nights. Merchant has been responsible for an array of comedies including: The Office, Extras and Small World.

The focus of his latest drama is a group of Bristolians undertaking Community Payback for a range of minor offences. The characters include a lawyer, a social media celebrity, a small business owner, a civil-rights activist, a student, and an American draft dodger who has been living in Bristol since the Vietnam war.

Merchant takes a non-judgemental view of every member of this highly diverse group. The story includes flashbacks to the offences that led to each of them finding themselves wearing high-vis vests and clearing derelict waste ground. This results in an array of amusing scenes, often depicting sad situations. In one instance Greg, the lawyer (played by Merchant himself), drives into a police car whilst trying to avoid being caught with a prostitute.

In The Outlaws Merchant attempts to show some of the issues prevalent in his home town of Bristol, which last summer hit the headlines when Bristolians threw the statue of the slave-trader Edward Colston into the Bristol Channel.

Another character, Myrna (played by Clare Perkins), is a Black civil rights activist who took part in the destruction of the hated statue. Myrna finds herself doing Community Payback for towing away a police recruitment caravan in Bristol High Street. Her situation shows the price some political activists pay for a lifetime of commitment. She lives alone in a bedsit surrounded by posters and old books and finds herself kicked out of her own organisation by younger activists.

Although some of us have done a bit better for ourselves, many of the issues depicted in the drama could apply to much of the country – the work-place bullying suffered by Greg the lawyer from his cocaine-snorting colleagues; Frank (played by Christopher Walken), the American who lives with his single-parent daughter, struggling to make ends meet on a low income. The drama also touches on the issue of drug-related crime; something not unique to Bristol.

Everything changes when a bag-load of money is found on wasteland. John, the businessman (played by Darren Boyd), needs it to help his ailing business; however Myrna, surprisingly, believes the money should be handed over to the authorities. The consequences of this are likely to give the series an extra edge.