To the vast irritation of James Corden-haters everywhere, last year’s The Wrong Mans, co-written and co-staring Horrible Histories’ Mat Baynton, was a surprising revelation in British comedy, transporting the aesthetic of a cinematic thriller – the car crashes, explosions and elaborate chases – into an ordinary sitcom setting where two unassuming council workers from Bracknell become embroiled in the murky and violent world of organised crime.
We pick up right where series one left off – with Phil (Corden) and Sam (Baynton) trapped in a baby pink Nissan Micra that has a ticking bomb strapped to it. Without giving too much away, the pair obviously survive, and when we next meet our hapless heroes several months later they’re hiding out in a Texan mailing house under new identities.
But while Phil loves his new life as Ian, finally finding the popularity and female attention he has always craved, Sam is less thrilled being Terry, taking miserable sips from his hip flask and trying to avoid the attention of his sexually aggressive supervisor.
Though this clever role reversal gives Phil and Sam’s friendship some much-needed conflict, it isn’t quite enough to perk up a tepid opening that feels padded out to fill the hour-long runtime, with very little of the fish-out-of-water shenanigans on which the show thrives.
It isn’t a permanent problem, and Corden and Baynton quickly regain their footing once the situation escalates when an attempt to sneak back into the UK sees the pair dragged into an FBI investigation into a powerful drug cartel. A swift change of setting to an American prison returns the show to its ‘ordinary guys in an extraordinary situation’ dynamic that proves far more entertaining – especially when they come into contact with a white supremacist gang led by a glass-eyed sociopath (played by a brilliantly unrecognisable Bertie Carvel).
Corden and Baynton continue to skewer action movie tropes throughout, following the sequel-formula by raising the stakes and upping the ante with the spectacle. The globe trotting scope doesn’t quite rival the budget-busting work of the first series, but the boys are never far away from a high-octane chase or fight sequence, and one suspects The Wrong Mans is saving its most explosive moments for tonight’s concluding chapter.
It isn’t all about the action, of course, and there are plenty of funny moments, mostly drawn from Phil and Sam’s bungled attempts to conceal their identities – which memorably sees the pair sport some hilariously atrocious American accents: “You’re goddamn right I did! I put my clothes all up in that suitcase!”
The most impressive development since the first series, however, is the stronger sense of pathos running through the story as it explores the profound effect the boys’ apparent deaths have had on their lives and loved ones. The scenes where Phil sweetly calls his mother on a payphone just to hear her voice and where he and Sam recall fond memories of Christmases past particularly stand out for the tear-jerking potential. This emotional throughline compliments the humour and action, making the quest to return home the little bit more desperate.
With Corden heading off to America in March to replace Craig Ferguson as host of The Late Late Show, this will likely be the last The Wrong Mans for some time, and while it doesn’t quite match the feeling of fresh invention of the first series, this two-part special is a funny, exciting and original crime caper that provides a fitting farewell to a truly innovative comedy.
Click here to watch The Wrong Mans on BBC iPlayer