NYTVF: Hulu Debuts British Comedy-Thriller Hybrid 'The Wrong Mans' for First U.S. Audience
"What if the CIA wanted to get ahold of Jason Bourne so they called his cell phone, but he'd left his phone in a toilet cubicle and the janitor picked it up and said, 'Hello?' " joked director-producer Jim Field Smith at the U.S. premiere of his new show at the New York TV Festival on Saturday night. "That's what this show is -- The Wrong Mans in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The main men of The Wrongs Mans are Sam Pinkett and Phil Bourne (played by Mathew Baynton and Tony Award-winner James Corden), two lonely civil office rejects who (quite literally) walk into a multitiered criminal plot. What results is an eclectic blend of blockbuster action, serialized thriller, office-cubicle comedy and buddy film, already a U.K. hit via BBC2 and available on Hulu come Nov. 11. Baynton, who first discussed the idea with Corden during a guest arc on the beloved British sitcom Gavin & Stacey, hopes to push audiences' expectations of television's genres.
"We were just saying to each other, why doesn't comedy go there? Why is it only the domain of drama to do cliffhangers at the end of episodes, to have big cinematic visual ambition, to have continuing stories and thriller elements and so on?" he said alongside Smith in a panel moderated by New York magazine's Margaret Lyons at Tribeca Cinemas in NYC (Corden couldn't attend due to Disney's Into the Woods filming), and citing Homeland, Lost and 24 as top American box-set influences. "We had talked about it so long that we just had to get off our ass and write something."
Though the show premiered on BBC2 in September (the network enjoyed its highest comedy launch ratings in eight years and has already asked for a second season), Wrong Mans tries to steer clear of specific cultural references. "That's not going to travel, and that's a good practice to have anyway because those [jokes] are quite cheap," Baynton told The Hollywood Reporter.
In the U.S., the hybrid series will inevitably stream on Hulu's many platforms, from big-screen desktop computers to four-inch smartphone displays.
"I think for program-makers and filmmakers, this is something that everyone's trying to wrap their head around," Smith told THR on the red carpet. "It is a little bit frustrating sometimes when you see someone watching this thing -- that you've spent hours and hours of your life crafting down to the last bit of perfection -- on an iPhone. But the way I look at it is: They're watching the show -- someone who might not be watching it otherwise, and that's surely the goal. I think if you get caught up in the art and the aesthetics, you've lost sight of why you make a show in the first place. We're just excited for it to be seen on as many screens as possible."
While each episode is packed with hilarious moments, Smith, who also directed 2011's Jennifer Garner indie Butter and 2010's romantic comedy She's Out of My League, approached the project primarily as a thriller.
"We never wanted the comedy to come from the choices the guys were making on the show," he explained, noting that Wrong Mans doesn't use CGI, and Baynton and Corden perform most of their own stunts. "We wanted the action and villains and the plots to be moderately believable, and the comedy to come from the chemistry between these two and how they react to these very real and dangerous situations they find themselves in.
"Action movies are all about framing out the reality that surrounds any adventure you might go on," Baynton elaborated. "If you're in a Bond movie, and he's in London and then he finds out someone's about to get assassinated in Rome, cut, he's in the streets of Rome. If it were The Wrong Mans, you'd cut to them in front of a computer screen, booking their flights. That has to happen; it's just looking for the reality and trying to mine those details. There is something funny about that juxtaposition of really tiny detail against an epic thing. You're not even writing jokes; you're just looking for moments."
Smith also seized moments throughout the panel to critique comedy's current ceiling. "I feel like there's a lack of ambition in a lot of comedy, because it's just, write what you know, write about relationships and people working in offices, because that's what people know," he said. He also praised Wrong Mans editor David Webb for his help. "I don't know why there aren't more awards for comedy. … Editors never win awards for editing comedies, but you can be the editor of Finding Nemo and win an award, but the editor of Finding Nemo is simply assembling shots delivered to him by the animation team, whereas comedy is incredibly hard to edit."
The first two episodes of The Wrong Mans premiere on Hulu on Nov. 11, with weekly episodes released thereafter. Hulu Plus subscribers will have access to all six episodes on Nov. 11.