I really didn’t want to like The Wrong Mans because I intensely dislike James Cordon, but this first episode was actually a little promising. It’s lacking in jokes, has one core annoying performance (guess who), and has a tendency towards wackiness, but there was enough to suggest the show might be worth watching.
Episode one set up the show’s premise; everyman Sam witnessed a car crash and picked up a mobile phone left at the scene. The man on the other end assumed he was the owner, and drew Sam and his work colleague into a conspiracy involving a kidnapping.
The Wrong Mans doesn’t have the most original premise; the parodying of an Alfred Hitchcock conspiracy film (in this case, The Wrong Man) was done previously in the Bill Murray film The Man Who Knew Too Little, which, like this TV show, involved an ordinary person drawn into a conspiracy and a series of ludicrous events.
The show owes a bigger debt though to Shaun of the Dead and the other films in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. Those films are clearly a huge influence on this show, with their portrayal of the mundane in a world of Hollywood fiction, and their contrasting of ordinary British life with action movie tropes. And a big chunk of the humour in The Wrong Mans comes, as in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, from undermining those movie tropes. ‘You get here at five o’clock and this all ends,’ the bad guy said at one point. ‘You’re not leaving early today,’ Sam’s boss told him.
Despite the lack of originality, there is enough to like about the show. Though it’s been done many times before, the ordinary reactions to action movie set-ups is still pretty funny, like Sam talking to the bad guy on the phone in such a normal way: ‘Okay. Bye now. Bye-bye.’
The directing is quite cool, understated and quietly menacing at times. There is a very likable tone to the show. The Radio Times described it as like the Coen Brothers and while I certainly wouldn’t go that far it is pretty enjoyable. And the directing, aided by the writing, has a good grasp of comedic tone and timing.
The comic acting is also good, from Tom Basden as Sam’s colleague, Sarah Solemani as Sam’s boss and ex-girlfriend, and Paul Higgins, showing up briefly and making an immediately funny impact as an unjustifiably suspicious policeman.
Then there’s Corden, playing Sam’s friend. I don’t like Corden’s shtick so I find most scenes he is in annoying. He’s pretty much playing the same obliviously obnoxious comedic character he always plays though, so if you like him in others things you’ll probably like him in this. And to be fair, his performance was funny in places, for instance, slamming down £2.20 on a nurse’s desk as an attempted bribe.
The major misstep in the episode was a scene where Sam nearly got his leg amputated after a mix-up at a hospital. I really hope the series isn’t peppered with such whacky hijacks that stretch believability; Sam, for instance, falling asleep this episode at a key moment, and some doctors later trying to amputate his leg against his will. There needs to be an element of farce in a show like this but there’s a fine line between enjoyable fun and annoying wackiness
It was a promising start for the show though, and I thought the episode was okay overall, from the quiet and arresting opening car crash through to the cool little animation that accompanied the credits. Despite my James Corden hating instincts, I think The Wrong Mens looks like it might be half decent.
- ‘You know what danger doesn’t do? Call ahead. Unless it’s the IRA.’