Stephen Merchant has said that he would "never" have ended his early television hits so early if he'd known the "thrill" that returning for multiple seasons can bring.


The actor, comedian and screenwriter achieved his initial success in collaboration with Ricky Gervais, co-creating workplace comedy The Office, showbiz satire Extras and mockumentary Life's Too Short.

Their first two television projects both ended after two seasons and a special, which was an intentional move on behalf of the creators to ensure that the acclaimed shows went out on a high note.

However, as Merchant's latest series The Outlaws returns for season 3, the star said at a launch event that he'd had a change of heart on the subject of multi-season projects – and would perhaps have done things differently in hindsight.

"Previously, I think we'd ended shows thinking 'you don't want to outstay your welcome'," he explained. "But actually, coming back is a thrill. And when I look back now, I would never have cancelled those other shows so early. I would have kept them going."

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The Outlaws is an ensemble comedy-drama following a group of people, each from different backgrounds and holding opposing views, who are forced together while they complete community service.

Merchant said that his initial idea for the show was to bring in an all-new cast of characters every two seasons, echoing his earlier approach, but ultimately decided against that concept on the strength of his current, ever-evolving cohort.

"We’d had this fanciful idea that you’d do two series and then maybe you'd move and there'll be a new set of outlaws in another town," he said.

The cast of The Outlaws in character standing in a shed, crowding around Rani (Rhianne Barreto) who is holding a smartphone in her hand
Gamba Cole, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stephen Merchant, Rhianne Barreto, Jessica Gunning, Charles Babalola, Darren Boyd and Clare Perkins. BBC / Big Talk / Alistair Heap

"But these people are so good and they’ve brought the characters to life in such a vivid way that the thought of writing more for them was really exciting, because they're up and running and you know them and you know what they can do with it."

Merchant added: "Giving them new energies to play, whether it's giving a romance to Clare [Perkins as Myrna], so that she's like a 16-year-old girl all of a sudden, or Eleanor's character having sobered up, and then what does she do in the next part of her life?

"Rhianne [Barreto, as Rani] started as a kind of girl next door, and by now she's like Scarface. That's the thrill of it in a way."

The Outlaws stars Merchant, Perkins and Barreto alongside Eleanor Tomlinson, Gamba Cole, Darren Boyd, Christopher Walken, Charles Babalola and Baby Reindeer's breakout star Jessica Gunning.

The Outlaws season 3 premieres on BBC One and iPlayer on Thursday 30th May 2024.


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