Cut from the same comedic cloth as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s collaborations with director Edgar Wright, “The Wrong Mans” places a pair of nerdy British leads in a high-concept action scenario. This six-episode co-production between BBC and Hulu could have easily worked as a feature film, but succeeds just as well in 30 minute segments conducive to binge watching. Already a hit in the UK — where it premiered to BBC2’s best comedy ratings since Ricky Gervais’ “Extras” — series looks primed to draw a cult following Stateside and should generate enough buzz and fanboy appeal to justify Hulu’s involvement.
Stars, writers and co-creators James Corden and Mathew Baynton are already established across the pond from their work on sit-com “Gavin & Stacey,” while Corden’s career is on the rise domestically after winning a Tony for “One Man, Two Guvnors” and landing a lead in the upcoming big screen adaptation of “Into the Woods.” In other words, they’re not just a poor man’s Pegg and Frost, and prove more than capable of putting their own spin on a tale of two office drones caught up in an increasingly outlandish adventure.
Equally inspired by contemporary hits like “The Bourne Identity” and classics from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock (whose 1956 noir “The Wrong Man” was an obvious inspiration), the cheekily titled “Mans” opens with recently dumped Sam (Baynton) drowning his sorrows at a raging house party. Hungover on his way to work the next morning, he witnesses a catastrophic car crash and walks away with an abandoned cell phone. One incoming call later and Sam’s life is forever changed: The stranger at the other end of the line demands cash or he’ll kill the wife of the mobile’s true owner.
Too terrified to go to the police, Sam resolves to find the man who lost the phone with the help of nosy, lonely mail clerk Phil (Corden). The action only gets more complicated from there, with a growing body count, no shortage of surprise twists and each episode culminating in a clever cliffhanger that leaves viewers eager for more. That’s perfect for the next generation model of Hulu Plus, which makes the entire series available the same day.
Corden and Baynton bring considerable charm to their broadly drawn roles, and have the natural rapport necessary for any odd couple pairing. They’re surrounded by a game ensemble including the lovely Sarah Solemani as Sam’s ex (who is also his boss, awkward), veteran Dawn French as Phil’s embarrassing mum and a very sly Emilia Fox as a damsel in distress far more resourceful than expected. Familiar faces including Dougray Scott, Nick Moran and Benedict Wong pop up in recurring roles, fleshing out a criminal underworld the heroes never would’ve imagined existing in their sleepy country town.
Production values are solid, and film and TV director Jim Field Smith (“She’s Out of My League,” “Episodes”) opts for a classic style that foregrounds both the action and comedy without any stylistic fuss. Given the intriguing concept it wouldn’t be surprising to see an American network attempt a remake, and even less surprising to see them bungle what Corden and Baynton get right.