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Outlaws: series one
cast: Phil Daniels, Ray Emmet-Brown, and Georgia Mackenzie

creator: Steve Coombes

360 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Theodore Gulliver (Ray Emmet-Brown) is a newly qualified lawyer - black, middle class, idealistic and strictly by-the-book. When he joins a small firm, whose previous partner literally died of boredom while listening to a client's confession, he's in for a big shock.

The firm survives on legal aid cases - petty theft, assault, and small-time drugs dealing - and its illiterate, socially inadequate clients treat the law, and their lawyers, with contempt. Abrasive, grasping Dunbar (Phil Daniels) is more interested in stringing out cases to earn as much as possible than with obtaining any kind of justice - and when you're dealing with a mentally subnormal kid who likes setting fire to things, or a battered wife who won't testify against her husband, justice has precious little meaning anyway...

The cynic-and-idealist pairing may be an old idea, but Outlaws is a cut above the usual predictable legal drama. The focus is never on winning cases, but on the backroom deals and the ludicrousness of a legal system that rewards the innocent for pleading guilty, and the guilty for admitting to additional crimes to help the police with their clear-up rate. It also focuses on the way the lawyers become drawn into the hopeless, helpless lives of their clients; as little as they want to be.

It's also honest about racism - though Gulliver actually gets more abuse from young black clients, who see him as an Uncle Tom. One of the sharpest episodes involves Gulliver being assigned to defend a woman arrested handing out racist leaflets, only to discover her sat in the interview room with a white stick and a guide dog... Her defence is that she thought she was leafleting for Greenpeace: but then, refusing to believe that her well-spoken lawyer is black, she lets her guard down, leaving Gulliver with a professional dilemma...

Ray Emmet-Brown and veteran British actor Phil Daniels play off one another marvellously, avoiding clichés with the aid of some extremely fine writing. Georgia Mackenzie, as the career-oriented prosecutor who frustrates their legal scheming and doomed their attempts to chat her up, is also terrific. This witty, hard-hitting, moving series is one of the best British TV creations in years, has won endless awards - and, of course, was shown in a 'graveyard slot' late on Sunday nights, and cancelled after one season. So track it down now, while you can.

DVD extras - an 'on set tour', with the designer escorting you through the main set; the poor chap looks rather uncomfortable on camera, and most of what he says is self-evident. The deleted scenes are more fun though, and often add interesting nuances to the episodes they were excised from.

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