The Wrong Mans

Sam (Mathew Baynton, left) and Phil (James Corden) get caught up in a case of mistaken identity in "The Wrong Mans." (Des Willie / BBC / November 8, 2013)

Sam Pinkett and Phil Bourne make an unlikely crime-fighting duo on "The Wrong Mans" (sometime Nov. 11, Hulu; 2.5 stars out of 4)

"I'm a town planning and noise guidance adviser for Berkshire County Council," Sam says in the premiere, then adds about his new pal, Phil. "You're a 31-year-old mail distribution assistant who lives with his mum."

They're definitely not as wise as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, or even as sharp as the bumbling crop of FBI and CIA agents working on any number of series this fall. Yet Sam and Phil's comical attempts to solve the mystery they stumble into make "The Wrong Mans" a worthwhile diversion from network TV's crime procedurals.

Hulu's second co-production with British broadcaster BBC, the six-episode "The Wrong Mans" stars actor/writer James Corden as Phil and Mathew Baynton as Sam.

Sam, hung over and regretting the dozen or so drunken calls he made to his ex-girlfriend (and boss) the night before, witnesses a car crash as he shuffles to work. He hears a cellphone ringing at the crash scene, answers and suddenly finds himself caught up in a hostage situation that could result in the death of a kidnapped woman.

At work, Sam confides in office idiot Phil, who believes they are the right men to solve the mystery. "This is our moment," he says, "we have been chosen."

The two leads play off each other nicely, with Baynton alternating between innocence and annoyance while Corden is all gung-ho bluster—until they face danger. Their mismatched buddy dynamic is completely believable.

Americans may recognize only a few members of the supporting cast—Emilia Fox, Dougray Scott, Dawn French—but they're all good.

The ambitious series finds a nice balance of slapstick and suspense. You might feel cheated if you're expecting the usual setup and joke, setup and joke format of many American sitcoms, but there are plenty of surprises and laughs.

The first episode takes a while to get its footing, but the boys are off and literally running by Episode 2 as the familiar case of mistaken identity evolves into a full-on spoof of TV and movie thrillers. It's not perfect, but "The Wrong Mans" is on the right track.



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