Stephen Merchant on The Outlaws season 2: ‘It’s like Ocean’s Eleven!’

Stephen Merchant as Greg in The Outlaws holding his hands up and wearing a dark suit and striped shirt
Greg (Stephen Merchant) is in a lot of bother in The Outlaws season 2. (Image credit: BBC)

The Outlaws placed a rag-tag bunch of community service offenders center stage in the first season of Stephen Merchant’s comedy-drama and now they are back for more trouble in a The Outlaws season 2.

The new six-part season, premiered in the UK on Sunday, June 5 and heads to the US on Prime Video on August 5. Once again the show is co-written by Stephen and sees him as awkward lawyer Greg, who is still carrying out his community service sentence in Bristol, alongside an eclectic group of fellow criminals including veteran crook Frank (Christopher Walken), aristocratic influencer Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson) and troubled Christian aka Ben (Gamba Cole).

But while The Outlaws season 1 saw the group help Christian/Ben after he became embroiled with a brutal gang, they are now all in hot water when sinister crime lord The Dean (Claes Bang) wants them to repay a mountain of cash…

What To Watch caught up with Stephen Merchant to find out more about the new run of The Outlaws

The Outlaws was such a hit in its first season. What feedback did you get?

“We had lovely feedback on social media. I got messages from people who had done community service and people engaged with the mix of thriller and humour. What’s fun about season two is that people know the world and are hopefully on the characters’ sides cheering for them.”

Tell us where we find the gang…

“Any headaches that occurred in the first season, we magnify them. Everything comes back more scary and dangerous than they could have imagined. Then it’s about how they get themselves out of it. We are also leaning into the tragedies of each character and we turn the screw with that. But it’s also fun because there’s a big heist sequence and we see Frank more as a con man. It’s like Ocean's Eleven!” 

The community service offenders in orange hi-vis jackets in The Outlaws - John (Darren Boyd), Greg (Stephen Merchant), Rani (Rhianne Barreto), Frank (Christopher Walken), Myrna (Claire Perkins) and Christian/Ben (Gamba Cole).

The community service offenders - John (Darren Boyd), Greg (Stephen Merchant), Rani (Rhianne Barreto), Frank (Christopher Walken), Myrna (Claire Perkins) and Christian/Ben (Gamba Cole) - have to come up with a money-making plan in The Outlaws season 2. (Image credit: BBC)

Do they come together even more as a group this time?

“Yes, the thing that seemed interesting to me about the idea of community service is the unlikely friendships that occur with people from different walks of life. Greg and Gabby are very different and would probably never have a friendship except for this situation. Now they become this odd couple and even share a flat. And John [the businessman played by Darren Boyd] and Myrna [the activist played by Clare Perkins] who were at loggerheads in the first season are finding comradeship.” 

Eleanor Tomlinson as Gabby in a shiny pink dress in The Outlaws.

Upper-crust offender Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson) has to make big life changes in The Outlaws season 2. (Image credit: BBC)

The last season ended with Frank painting a wall as part of his community service and covering up a genuine creation by anonymous Bristol street artist Banksy. Was that fun to film?

“There was quite a lot of outrage! The reaction was a mix of, ‘There's no way that’s real,’ and ‘How dare they destroy a Banksy!’ But Banksy has destroyed his own work in the past in fun ways, so we found a go-between and he was up for the idea. He must have come over the fence one night because we didn’t see him and then one morning we came in and there was a Banksy!”

Were you able to hang out much as a cast in between filming?

“I did manage to go to Stonehenge with Christopher Walken! If you had asked the 14-year-old Stephen growing up in Bristol, would he one day go to Stonehenge with the Oscar-winning star of The Deer Hunter, he’d have said, ‘It’s unlikely!’ But there I was.”

You write, direct, act and do stand-up. Is there anything you would love to do more of?

“I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. I’d like to direct a European arthouse film and win an Oscar but also direct a Marvel movie. And I’d like people to say, ‘He’s one of the greatest stand-ups of all time!’ I started dabbling in serious acting when I played a serial killer [Stephen Port in BBC One’s Four Lives] so I’d like to do more. Then people can say, ‘We thought he was just a gangly comedian but look at the depth!’ My dream is to become a national treasure, but my anxiety is that I don’t make it into the In Memoriam film at the BAFTAs when I’m dead. Everything I’m doing is to make sure I’m there!”

You’re always very self-deprecating about your height - 6ft 7/2.01m - and make jokes about it in The Outlaws. What reaction do you get in real life?

“For me, my height is sort of normal and a bit boring. But people find it endlessly amusing and fascinating! I was in a pub not long ago, and I ordered a drink and a bloke said, ‘That's a tall order’, and everyone laughed. I get that constantly. And the number of times I've been asked if I play basketball. Unless you're recruiting for a basketball team though, why are you asking?! But I'm in LA at the moment and you always forget when you see other actors around that most of them are very short. So maybe that's the reason, there aren't actually that many of us in entertainment. It’s me and Vince Vaughn and Jeff Goldblum!"

All episodes of The Outlaws season 2 are available on BBC iPlayer — the first season is all on BBC iPlayer too. The new season air in the US on August 5, on Prime Video.

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.