Oh, good, the adults have arrived.
Amid the stew of castoff cable properties and vanity projects, a few new shows in the digital world are distinguishing themselves as clever, original, and produced with a specific audience in mind.
One of those is The Wrong Mans, Hulu's half-hour action-comedy… thing, co-produced with the BBC and starring creators Matthew Baynton and James Corden as Sam and Phil, a pair of guys with unimpressive careers in public works in a little English town who just happen to wander into a hostage-taking and handle it about as well as you'd expect.
Part of what makes the show so much fun to watch—apart from very high production values, which, again, are a giant relief given the way the rest of the "premium content" on the market looks—is that the leads are perfectly matched. Baynton's Sam is one of those uniquely British sad sacks to whom everything bad seems to happen, all the time. At one point his ex, who is also his boss, finally thaws to him enough to invite him over, and he gets a call on a phone that has only been used thus far to communicate terrible threats about what will happen to an innocent woman if Sam doesn't comply.
Corden has already been the subject of quite a few "here comes the next big thing" articles, and it could be good for both the actor and Hulu if The Wrong Mans (which also airs on the BBC Two in the UK) manages to drive subscriptions and find a real, TV-sized audience. He's great in this—the comic to Baynton's feed, with the kind of sad, too-old boyishness most people recognize from life, rather than from comedy. During a scene in the pilot, Phil casts about for a friend to ride go-karts with over the weekend, and finally settles on one guy who's pointedly not looking at him as he looks around desperately for volunteers. "Clyde?" he asks. "Clyde? Clyde? Clyde? Clyde?" He pauses. "Clive."
What makes the show work so well is roughly the same thing that makes the great Edgar Wright's genre mash-ups like Sean of the Dead and The World's End such hits: the realistic parts of the show are very, very realistic. Dead-end job, girl you keep just missing, no respect, one really annoying friend and no non-annoying friends—we've all been there, man. Sorry, mans.
Between Sean Saves the World, Two Broke Girls and the Seth McFarlane Minority-Bashing Hour, there's not that much funny on broadcast these days (high hopes for the new season of Community, but apparently I'm the only person who watches that show). With The Wrong Mans getting a lot of attention, television programming execs shouldn't just take note; they should batten down the hatches.