Wild Bill, episode 1 review: Rob Lowe's fish-out-of-water drama is a strange beast

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Bronwyn James and Rob Lowe in  Wild Bill
Bronwyn James and Rob Lowe in  Wild Bill Credit: ITV

Rob Lowe has cropped up in a few strange roles in recent years, from a chain-smoking priest in Sky’s You, Me and the Apocalypse to an egomaniac actor in Fox’s The Grinder (where he played an actor who used to play a TV lawyer who believed that a decade on a hit show qualified him to practice law). Lowe’s script in-tray appears to consist of three tiers: wacky, borderline nutso and OK, I’ll take it.

In Wild Bill, a new comedy drama on ITV, Lowe plays Bill Hickson, “America’s top metropolitan police chief”. Bill is a cop who gets results by following his own proprietary algorithm, and on the back of his number-crunching he has been parachuted in to Boston, Lincolnshire, the Brexit capital of Britain, to try and get the murder rate down (the joke being that this Boston isn’t quite… that Boston).

Predictably, the square-jawed new broom goes down about as well as a second referendum when he arrives. Fish-out-of-water comedy duly ensues, as does the inevitable slow-but-sure acceptance of Bill by the grouchy locals. The humour varied from the gently droll to the roundly execrable, with several jokes about those funny things that Brits/Americans say which should have stayed in an end of the pier show, whence they came.

Yet Wild Bill wasn’t all vile bilge. Just when you thought it was a story wholly designed to get American film star Rob Lowe to appear on an ITV poster campaign, it would suddenly shift into a subtle exploration of how small communities are affected by bureaucracy delivered from on high. Bill, it emerged, was sent to Boston to oversee swingeing cuts. Immigration and its effects was his number one problem – while also being an unwanted immigrant himself.

Let’s not get carried away – Wild Bill wasn’t Panorama. At the very least, though, it was wild. In the final 10 minutes alone, Bill quit, came back, crashed his car, made enemies with the Polish mafia and solved a case by announcing that nobody was responsible. Then he stopped a suicide attempt on top of a wind turbine. There were more plots and sub-plots than a medieval strip farm, which means that daft as it was, if the show can work out what it’s actually about then there’s reason to stick around.