What on Earth is going on with ITV’s bizarre “comedy drama” Wild Bill?

Rob Lowe stars as an out-of-place American police boss in East Lincolnshire – but whatever mark this drama was trying to hit, it's missed

Wild Bill

It’s morning in East Lincolnshire. Alone in his bedroom, Wild Bill‘s high-flying American police boss Bill Hixon wakes up and hits “pause” on a high-tech tablet playing soothing “rain sounds for deep sleep.” But the noise of the rain does not stop with the press of a button.

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Chief Constable Hixon (Rob Lowe) pulls his Apple AirPods out of his ears, sighs deeply, and looks out of the window at the pouring rain. And just in case you didn’t get it – just in case the point wasn’t crashingly obvious – he then observes out loud: “Who needs an app,” before adding, entirely pointlessly: “This is my life.”

I think it’s meant to be amusing but frankly I’m not 100% sure.

Wild Bill

That’s the problem with ITV’s Wild Bill. Three episodes into a painful six-episode run and I still haven’t worked out what it’s trying to be. Is it a police procedural? Is it a farce? Apparently it is meant to be a “comedy drama”, but like Bill himself driving through a field of cabbages in pursuit of a car thief, the tone veers all over the place and rarely gets even close to funny.

So far, we’ve seen American Bill Hixon arrive in Boston, Lincolnshire (like Boston, Massachusetts – geddit?) to take on a new job as Chief Constable, dragging along his sarky teenage daughter as well as some Emotional Baggage in the form of a dead wife. Since arriving, he has ruffled feathers, thrown tantrums, quit and un-quit, had inevitable sex with local barrister Mary (Rachael Stirling), and quickly become sucked into local life.

But the more I see of Wild Bill, the more baffled I become – and I also have BIG questions. I can see why it might have been green-lit (police procedural + Hollywood star Rob Lowe). But given the oddity of the finished product, why has it been given a primetime 9pm slot on ITV?

American actor Rob Lowe is usually full of charisma, but in this fish-out-of-water drama he has all the charm of a blobfish (and he can’t really blame anyone else for this damp squib seeing as he’s also executive producer).

Wild Bill

Anjli Mohindra (from Bodyguard and Dark Heart) also stars, as do Tony Pitts (Line of Duty’s Lester Hargreaves) and Bronwyn James (The ABC Murders), but none of them get to really flex their acting muscles. At least a beardy Craig Parkinson livened things up in episode two with a cameo as “The Piano Man”, a musical amnesiac and suspected “Boston Bandit”. But oh, what a waste of a brilliant cast.

We’ve had some really ludicrous storylines so far, but episode three really took the  biscuit. Wild Bill (SPOILER ALERT!) introduced us to Alma, a secretly-dying librarian who was trying to frame her long-lost criminal father by staging burglaries and murders of elderly men in the hope that police would track him down and arrest him – at which point he’d finally be reunited with his daughter and hopefully agree to save her life by giving her a much-needed transfusion for her very rare h/h blood group. A foolproof plan!

But of course (of course!) her dad had actually gone off the radar and become a monk, and the only way he could be tracked down was if DC Muriel Yeardsley (Bronwyn James) struck a dodgy deal with a corrupt cop over a DNA-covered coffee cup, conveniently feeding into the show’s überplot about villainous Russian businessman Oleg Kraznov. Riiiiiight.

Aleksander Jovanovic plays Oleg Kraznov in Wild Bill

Shows like Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders can get away with these sorts of left-field storylines because they have charm, and because they give viewers a puzzle to figure out without getting too deep. But Wild Bill cannot. It also struggles to pack the serious emotional punch of a crime drama like Shetland or Unforgotten.

The show walks the tightrope between serious drama and comedy – and simply falls off.

Even Lincolnshire police has been poking fun at poor ol’ Bill Hixon. Examining Lowe’s character and his antics, they pointed out that a brand new American Chief Constable probably would NOT be “randomly” awarded a medal, and that this senior police figure would NOT single-handedly try to crack a decapitation case by going door-to-door.

And as for the events of episode one, when the mother of a murder victim was allowed to babysit the Chief’s troubled teenage daughter? Lincolnshire Police simply wrote: “…No.” That says it all.

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Wild Bill continues on Wednesdays at 9pm on ITV