CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend's TV

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: Slapstick gags, sex, violence… this Merchant caper is a mess

Outlaws

Rating:

Top Gear

Rating:

The writer Kay Mellor, who died last month, made it look easy. Her comedy dramas, such as Girlfriends and The Syndicate, wove thrilling action around cleverly inter-linked characters.

When the technique works, the result is addictive viewing . . . but it’s almost impossible to get right. And The Outlaws (BBC1) proves just how messy it can be when the format blunders.

The comedy in The Outlaws is too broad, the action too brutal, the sentiment too soupy and the dialogue too scatalogical.

We don’t cut between characters, we lurch.

One minute, the show’s lanky creator Stephen Merchant is performing an overlong slapstick gag, as he stands up in a nightclub booth and gets his head stuck in a chandelier.

The next, an informer in a drugs gang is getting his leg stamped on and snapped.

The show’s biggest name, Oscar-winner Christopher Walken, is back for a second series, though he might as well have stayed over in New York and phoned-in his performance

Sweethearts Rani and Christian (Rhianne Barreto and Gamba Cole) slept together for the first time, cuddling up in a sleeping bag. ‘It was worth waiting for,’ she murmured.

Meanwhile, special constable Diane (Jessica Gunning) was describing in pornographic detail, to three men she’d just met, exactly what she was and wasn’t prepared to do in bed.

Surprises and unexpected twists are good. But these swings were so extreme, my stomach kept flipping over.

The show’s biggest name, Oscar-winner Christopher Walken, is back for a second series, though he might as well have stayed over in New York and phoned-in his performance.

Half the time, he looks exasperated by the laziness of the writing. For the rest, he’s plain bored. And you can’t blame him — he had to explain how money laundering worked twice, using the same words in two separate scenes, and he asked three different people: ‘What did they teach you at school?’

The only bright spot in The Outlaws is Eleanor Tomlinson, giving it everything as Lady Gabby, the rich-girl influencer who has nothing real in her life except her cocaine problem.

It’s a great shame we will never see her in a drama serial by Kay Mellor. Chris Harris, Paddy McGuinness and Freddie Flintoff stepped into their own drama as they boarded a clapped out camper van in Florida, on Top Gear (BBC1).

The only bright spot in The Outlaws is Eleanor Tomlinson, giving it everything as Lady Gabby, the rich-girl influencer who has nothing real in her life except her cocaine problem

The only bright spot in The Outlaws is Eleanor Tomlinson, giving it everything as Lady Gabby, the rich-girl influencer who has nothing real in her life except her cocaine problem

‘Fred, this feels like a crime scene,’ Chris muttered.

He wasn’t wrong: the last time we saw an RV vehicle that grotty, Walter White was using it as a crystal meth lab on Breaking Bad. They were in the U.S. to sample America’s unique motorsports, including ‘donks’ — that’s drag racing in limos — and the ‘Dirty Thirty’, a stock car rally in Ford Crown Victoria police cars.

A tug-of-war with monster trucks and a dive into the Everglades for swamp buggy trials kept the hour full and busy. The trio have been slow to gel but the BBC has given them time and their japes no longer feel forced.

Their gags are more good-natured than in Jeremy Clarkson’s era.

But sometimes, the laddish banter gets too real.

During a game of frisbee in a church car park, Chris tripped and ended the episode on crutches.

That’s him and tennis star Alexander Zverev, two elite athletes both twisting their ankles playing top level sport in one weekend.

What are the chances?

Swift exit of the weekend: In the Canary Islands, Chris Horsley and his film crew watched an eruption in awe, on Exploration Volcano (Dave). The next day, they had to grab their gear and flee their rented villa, as the lava changed direction. Time to check out!