Friday, March 01, 2024

The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin, on Apple

Historians are convinced the legend of highwayman Dick Turpin was significantly enhanced by sensationalistic writers (including Daniel Dafoe). He wasn’t even considered a Robin Hood-figure until his image was tweaked again for a late-1970s TV series. Arguably, that makes him fair game for any new revision, reboot, or re-conception that comes along. A new Turpin should still at least make sense or get laughs. The first does not apply to this spoof, but, unfortunately, the humor is often rather iffy in creators Claire Downes, Ian Jarvis, and Stuart Lane’s six-episode The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin, which premieres today on Apple TV+.

Turpin is still the son of a village butcher, but instead of a life of crime, he aspires to be an artist or a designer. However, when the ruthless leader of the Essex Gang essentially kills himself through freak misadventure, Turpin gets the credit and thereby inherits leadership of the gang. The burly Little John-ish Moose Pleck immediately takes to Turpin, identifying a kindred metrosexual soul. The frustrated poet Honesty Barebone also immediately accepts Turpin, because he is an idiot. However, the most competent member of the gang, Nell Brazier resents Turpin for taking the leadership role she deserves—while simultaneously hating herself for being attracted to him.

Naturally, the Essex Gang quickly falls in the official Highwaymen standings, even though (or maybe because) they have an aspiring pamphlet scribe documenting their misadventures. Turpin also alienates Jonathan Wilde, the corrupt Thief-Taking General, by refusing to pay his hefty kickbacks. Instead of feeding them tips, Wilde is now determined to apprehend the Essex Gang. Left to his own devices, Turpin has a knack for picking the worst possible targets, like the “Unrobbable Coach,” a riff on England’s phantom coach lore, in episode two.

Episode four, “Curse of the Reddlehag,” also has a supernatural theme, in which Turpin unleashes chaos after he unwittingly releases a witch from her prison coach. Arguably, this is the funniest episode. Perhaps not coincidentally, Turpin gets the least screentime in this installment, thanks to the spell that turns him into a chicken.

Hugh Bonneville is aptly pompous as Wilde, but Tamsin Greig is even more fabulously villainous chewing the scenery as Lady Helen Gwinear, the leader of Wilde’s secret criminal society. Throughout the series, Ellie White probably gets the most laughs as Brazier, because she is the only one who regularly undercuts Turpin’s impractical dandy stylings and his complete lack of common sense. Everyone should be ripping on Turpin, but usually it is just her.

Indeed, a little bit of Noel Fielding as Turpin goes a long, long way. (With a name like Fielding, he should feel right at home in the 18
th Century.) There just is not enough edge to his mugging or his comedic chemistry with the rest of the gang. Marc Wootton’s shtick as Pleck is awkwardly cringey, while Duayne Boachie has yet to find a strong hook for Barebone. However, Kiri Flaherty is a charismatic scene-stealer as Little Karen, the young proprietor of “The Ruin,” the Essex Gang’s home tavern.

The Completely Made-Up Turpin
is no Black Adder. It also lacks the goofy charm of the early 1980s fantasy sitcom Wizards and Warriors. It is not sufficiently rude or sarcastic, nor is there sufficient legit swashbuckling to fill the void. If you want to sample one episode, definitely cherry pick the “Reddlehag,” but, in general, The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin is not funny enough to recommend, when it starts streaming today (3/1) on Apple TV+.