Can The Wrong Mans deliver the right amount of laughs?
Exploding into action
A brain-doodle from comedy tag-team James Cordon and Mathew Baynton finds plenty of chortle-worthy moments but ultimately lacks comedy sizzle by leaning too heavily on James Cordon's overworked charisma.It's very much written by Cordon and Baynton for Cordon and Baynton, so if that kind of self congratulatory comedy peppered with in jokes does it for you, then you'll most certainly find plenty of amusement on show with the exaggerated haplessness of the two characters as they blunder their way through each episode. If not, then you'll likely be better off re-watching Spaced, because barring the opening scenes in the first episode, The Wrong Mans is a far cry from the slick and tidy flow of Edgar Wright's style of comedy.
Sam and Phil work for Berkshire council's town planning department. Sam (Baynton) is the estranged boyfriend of his now boss, Lizzie. Phil (Cordon) is the mail room guy. Phil is a happy-go-lucky thirtysomething who, after taking pity on him, Sam befriends. On his way to work one morning, Sam witnesses a car crash and shortly afterwards finds what he believes is the car crash victim's phone. When a mysterious caller instructs Sam that he must do exactly as he's told it becomes lear that a case of mistaken identity has left a woman's life in his hands. Upon reluctantly revealing this information to Phil, the pair embark on a mission to save the woman's life that turns out to be more than they bargained for.
Episodic structure it's undoing?Had this been a feature film, I would be filled with praise for the fact that the BBC turned out a fantastic British action romp that's laden with the clever witticisms and comedy one liners. I'd be buoyant at the fact that we have what feels like a British indie movie that would hold it's own against the likes of Sightseers. Instead, The Wrong Mans feels like a rather drawn out affair that works far too hard to build to a climax at the end of each episode which, ultimately, makes it feel rather rushed and badly written. It opens with impact and strength enough for it to work as a feature, and it would have felt fresh and slick, dark and British, clever and smart. There was enough material for it to have kept a decent pace as a feature too, but as a six part series it feels stretched and thin with more twists and turns than you could shake a stick at.
In fact, this is another area where it falls down; I'm all for a good twist, a sucker punch that you didn't see coming, but the trick with twists is that you use them sparingly. Sadly, The Wrong Mans gets the wrong end of said stick and ends up using those “well I never...” moments so frequently that it feels as though the entire plot is built upon twist after turn after twist. When the “gotcha” moments are coming at you thick and fast, they lose their impact and become groan-worthy. If I'm following the narrative closely, if I'm invested in your story, don't cheapen it by punctuating it with events that are simply random – it makes your audience feel like your storyline is secondary to the action and I'm afraid that The Wrong Mans is very guilty of this.
The Wrong Mans feels like a rather drawn out affair that works far too hard to build to a climax at the end of each episode
Though the script has it's funny, even laugh out loud moments, mostly due to Corden's natural comedy timing and his excellent delivery, it can at times feel like they're asking for the laugh. It smacks of two friends who sat in a pub and literally brain dumped a rough idea for a story and ended up filling in the gaps with jokes. No bad thing I guess, but it's impossible to escape the fact that whilst the comedy duo are thoroughly likeable, they struggle to find a voice that's unique. Instead we're treated to an insight into Baynton and Corden's obvious penchant for movie quotes and their incessant poking fun at pop-culture slang like “roll deep”. It's funny enough to curl the corner of your mouth, but not quite original enough to break out the chuckle chompers.
For all my criticism here it's important to point out that The Wrong Mans is undoubtedly a resounding success. There are many worse things on the television these days and, if I'm not doing it justice with the glowing praise it's received elsewhere it's only because I had such high hopes for it and it came so close. Unfortunately the real issue seems to have come from not Corden and Baynton, but their chosen Director, Jim Field Smith. It feels like Jim perhaps went a little too far with the Hollywood style wrapper for the show, preferring to let the explosions do the talking when all along he had his secret sauce - Baynton and Corden. With a modest budget it's always going to be tricky to pull off a fast paced action show that stands up to the Hollywood formula, and it feels as though his influence on the writer's initial treatment ended up introducing some of the problems I've mentioned above, such as the pacing of each episode and how rushed everything felt – not everything needs to end with a massive cliffhanger, it would have been OK to end an episode with a joke – let's face it, two of the funniest comedians around were on the writing staff!
When all is said and done The Wrong Mans is most definitely a light hearted and wholly watchable affair. James Corden can hardly put a foot wrong these days and I genuinely believe him to be one of life's true funny men. Mathew Baynton is clearly a good writer but sadly here he comes off a little bit prickly and out of his depth. He sets them up really well for Corden though. The supporting cast is great too with an unforgettable performance from Karel Roden as the Dionysian gay russian gangster, Marat. The entire series is worth watching for him alone. With Sarah Solemani playing Sam's ex and now boss, Lizzie, and legendary Dawn French doing her thing as Phil's mum, not to mention a brief cameo from Dougray Scott along the way, in terms of cast, they hardly put a foot wrong.
If you're looking for a comedy that's endearing, mildly amusing, on the right side of ridiculous and doesn't try to take itself too seriously, you could do much, much worse than The Wrong Mans.
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