Wild Bill, episode 2, review: surrender to the strangeness and there's golden moments here

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Rob Lowe as Bill Hixon
Rob Lowe as Bill Hixon in the ITV comedy drama

Wild Bill (ITV), with Rob Lowe as crimebusting American-in-Lincolnshire Bill Hixon, continued to push boundaries, although not always in a good way: the serio-comic mood still jarred, its characters frequently behaved bizarrely and it featured probably the first recorded juxtaposition of “Fraggle Rock” and “F---ing”. But surrender to its strangeness and there was gold here.

Craig Parkinson, Line of Duty’s Caddy, propped up a creaky plot as the so-called Piano Man, a taciturn, haunted-looking amnesiac whose obsessive piano-playing on Boston’s railway station concourse was ostensibly to block out The Voices. His crumbling sanity was neatly evoked both by Parkinson’s considered turn and a soundtrack of radio phone-ins, a source of derangement for even the most level-headed.

Lowe with Rachael Stirling as Mary

Through a combination of dodgy policework, lucky guesses and desperation to keep his job, Bill managed to link Piano Man to the Boston Bandit, an armed robber and killer still at large. What followed was a bewildering plot encompassing a precipitous bunk-up between Bill and the local Crown Court judge (Rachael Stirling), evidence of blackmail between local crook Oleg Kraznov (Aleksandar Jovanovic) and Bill’s most capable officer Muriel Yeardsley (Bronwyn James), and Piano Man’s eventual exoneration; the Boston Bandit, it transpired, was a corrupt cop and Bill’s biggest enemy on the force.

Lowe is a master of quick-fire funnies, but was clearly straining for a depth the script only occasionally afforded him. When the plot did slow down, he was genuinely affecting as a man wracked with guilt over his late wife and his own parenting. But such moments were rare, with Bill instead lurching from ostentatious acts of kindness to draconian policing, his behaviour as erratic as the series’s tone. Wild? Perhaps. Woolly? Certainly. But its very oddness is what makes Wild Bill worth watching.