After co-creating The Office with Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant has had a versatile career, starring in HBO cringefest Hello Ladies and directing 2019’s underrated Fighting with My Family. After breaking through with the Sundance developed film Little Birds, Elgin James has gone on to co-create and run the FX Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans M.C. Now, as reported by Deadline, these two disparate forces are teaming up for a new Amazon/BBC show with the working title The Offenders.
The series, taking place in Bristol, will follow seven strangers completing a community service sentence. While their initial archetypes at first seem well-defined, they all start to crumble as they get to know each other, their newly burgeoning friendships culminating in a need for protection after one of them is threatened by one of Bristol’s most dangerous gangs. The hour-long crime drama will take place over six episodes (classic British TV!), airing simultaneously on BBC and on the Amazon Prime service, just like hit series Fleabag before.
While this may seem like a departure for Merchant, it’s actually a long-gestating passion project for him — and a chance to work with someone new and iconoclastic like James.
My parents used to work in the Community Service world and I was always intrigued that the many and varied people they dealt with only had one thing in common: they’d committed a crime. Ever since The Office, I love finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together and watch the sparks fly. As a writer, I always include humor but with The Offenders, I also get to add drama, pathos, crime genre thrills and say something optimistic about the common humanity that unites us all, whatever our background. The Offenders’ mix of light and shade, dark and comic, middle-class angst with inner-city grit, reflects the unlikely partnership of me and Elgin. I grew up in suburbia whereas Elgin spent his early life building a national street gang until a police investigation landed him in prison. Despite coming from different sides of the tracks, Elgin and I share a love of convincing characters and authentic, engaging, human stories.
We’ll have more details on The Offenders as it develops. For more on Merchant, check out our hilarious Jojo Rabbit interview with him. And for more on James, here’s our Mayans M.C. interview with him.