The Wrong Mans preview: a slow start before James Corden and Mat Baynton get back to their best

The comedy thriller returns to BBC2 tonight - but is the magic still there, asks Huw Fullerton

Last year James Corden and Mat Baynton’s The Wrong Mans was a breath of fresh air in British comedy, skillfully skewering the tropes of action thriller movies by applying them to two under-motivated council workers from Bracknell who found themselves caught up in an increasingly complex and dangerous conspiracy plot.

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Having taken on double agents, Russian hit men, organised crime and more in series one, viewers might wonder where exactly Sam (Baynton) and Phil (Corden) could go next – and they’ll find their answer when the series returns tonight for a two-part Christmas adventure. 

Last time we saw Sam and Phil they were in imminent danger from a car bomb, and the new series quickly examines the repercussions from that event. It’s not giving too much away to reveal that the pair survive, but the attack has an extreme effect on their lives and loved ones putting both in a different kind of difficult position altogether.

This new starting point isn’t wholly positive – while it’s nice to see the series examine the logical consequences of taking down a large-scale conspiracy rather than just have Sam and Phil embroiled in another plot, it rather removes the “ordinary guys in extraordinary situations” bedrock that makes the series work so well. Their experiences have made them less ordinary, and more like action heroes – and that’s not as fun to watch.

Still, this isn’t a permanent problem. As the Bracknell boys’ situation escalates and they get caught in increasingly complicated deals with more dangerous groups, a little more of the old magic returns – and the second episode is the Wrong Mans at its best, if not even better.

The stakes are higher this time around, with a truly global scope and more ambition to match. One stunt in particular is hugely impressive, especially on a BBC comedy budget, but to say more would give away some of the appeal – so I’ll just leave it in the words of co-creator Mat Baynton.

“In series one, the action culminated in us jumping off a bridge onto a moving train,” he explained to RadioTimes.com. “In series two, we jump off something a hell of a lot higher – so watch out for that.” 

It’s not all action, however – there are plenty of funny moments (usually involving Phil and Sam’s attempts to assume alternate identities), and there’s also a little more emotional oomph to go with the laughs this time around. Dawn French in particular wrings a surprising amount of heart from her role as Phil’s (Corden) mother, culminating in a touching scene in episode two that may actually make you tear up a little. 

Both Corden and Baynton say that this edition of The Wrong mans is probably their last (as least for a while), and if that’s true then it’s a worthy send-off for a truly innovative show. While the new episodes lack a little of the conceptual purity of the original series, they progress the story in a logical and entertaining way that’s true to the spirit of the older episodes.

If tonight’s instalment doesn’t fully convince you, stick with it until tomorrow – it pays off nicely just in time for Christmas.

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The Wrong Mans is on BBC2 tonight (22nd December) at 9.00pm