The Outlaws, BBC One, series 3, review: Stephen Merchant serves up more delicious thrills and titters

Harry Trevaldwyn and Jessica Gunning in The Outlaws
Harry Trevaldwyn and Jessica Gunning in The Outlaws - Alistair Heap/BBC

There are so many joys to The Outlaws (BBC One). Stephen Merchant’s Bristolian comic thriller is both outrageously funny and craftily plotted. Best of all are the characters, a melting pot of lovingly delineated miscreants on community service who get sucked into big-time drug-dealing, only to find that they can hold their own. It might as well be titled Oddballs Assemble.

Its other trump card is the nous not to outstay its welcome. Too many dramas will string things out, resolve nothing and insist you return. Twice The Outlaws has concluded satisfactorily while leaving the door ajar. This third series – another delicious blend of thrills and titters – delivers a resounding finale with no further questions, your honour.

The plot involves a body. Rani Rekowski (Rhianne Barreto), the swot who took to crime like a duck to water, needs help dumping it from her spurned ex Ben (Gamba Cole) and the gang. Thus they are sucked into a gripping conspiracy to keep the satanic druglord known as The Dean (Claes Bang) behind bars.

That it gets the job done in five galloping episodes, rather than the usual six, is to its credit, though the absence of Christopher Walken’s cat thief Frank means one less storyline to follow. His flavoursome cameo, which finds him hustling in a noisy New York bar, is an exuberant nod to those harrowing Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter.

Stephen Merchant writes and stars in the comic thriller
Stephen Merchant writes and stars in the comic thriller - Alistair Heap/BBC

The rest of the cast get along fine without him, each given a bigger emotional arc involving love or family. Indeed, when posh influencer Lady Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson) has a scalding confrontation with her grasping aristo-daddy (Richard E Grant), the tone deepens into something way darker.

Comic relief is always to hand, with hapless lawyer Greg (Merchant) and wannabe detective Diane (Jessica Gunning) ready to drop another sex-based gag, all unquotable here. Meanwhile, failed industrialist John (Darren Boyd) and career activist Myrna (Clare Perkins) produce lovely angry sparks. “We’re not in The Fast and the Furious,” he snaps at her during a suburban car chase. “We’re in Harrow and Wealdstone.”

Thanks to Baby Reindeer, Gunning has become The Outlaws’ most bankable star. If they do contemplate a spin-off, it’s a big yes please to a Cagney and Lacey tribute act with Diane’s strait-laced cop idol DC Lucy Haines (Grace Calder), who in a mic-drop pay-off reveals they’ve more in common than suspected. That can’t be quoted either.