purchase from Amazon: DVD
Call it Cold Case for the retired crowd. The BBC’s mystery series New Tricks doesn’t break any new ground as far as procedural dramas go and the whodunit aspect may not have you on the end of your seat, but the series has an interesting premise and a charming cast of eccentrics that really clicks.
Amanda Redman (so great in Sexy Beast) plays Superintendent Sandra Pullman, an excessively competitive Scotland Yard detective whose career was on the upswing until an unfortunate dog-shooting incident during a hostage rescue. It wasn’t the dog that derailed her career, it was that the hostage leaped from a window and wound up in a body cast. The embarrassment to the police leads to a demotion, of sorts. Pullman is assigned to lead the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad, a new division made up of retired detectives.
The first person she approaches for her new team is Jack Halford (James Bolam) her old boss and mentor. A well respected member of the force before stepping down off, Jack is a widower still grieving over the death his beloved wife, Mary. He lives a lonely life in a big house where Mary is buried in the back yard. After long days Jack can be seen conversing with his dead wife, seeking her advice, needing her comfort. These scenes are touching, but Bolam doesn’t milk them for tears. In fact, some scenes are often humorous as he details the shenanigans of his new crime-fighting endeavor.
After a comical interviewing montage, Pullman and Halford recruit two other members: The first is Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman) a womanizing old-school detective who initially clashes with Pullman. Gerry is thrice divorced with three daughters. He’s a man whose personal life has always been ruled by women and now that he’s rejoined the police force, his boss is a woman, too. Standing has a contentious relationship with his former bosses, one of whom he punched out.Â But with three alimony payments, three daughters and a grandchild on the way, the man needs to be making more money. Standing has my favorite quote from season one. When Pullman commends him for maintaining good relations with his three ex-wives, he replies, “I’m a naughty boy, but I’m not a bastard.” He and Pullman gradually form a mutual respect for one another.
The remaining member of the team is Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong). A once respected detective, Lance’s career ended under a cloud when a prisoner died on his watch. Brian had a nervous breakdown. His wife, Ester, is against him going back into police work, but Brian needs his brain to be solving crimes in order to feel alive. As he digs deeper into cases, Brian becomes more neurotic. He’s convinced that his downfall was the result of skullduggery, and the three other members of the UCOCS must deal with his OCD tendencies and conspiracy theories.
The three new “recruits” have an antiquated way of doing things; their methods are so 20th century. Computers and new technology frustrate them. Luckily they’ve been assigned a young assistant, PC Clark (Chike Okonkwo), to guide them into 21st Century crime fighting. Meanwhile, the team goes about business the old fashioned way: investigating their mysteries through legwork and instinct. Because of their years on the force, they know so many people and have so many contacts that they can usually get any information they need. Furthermore, because they aren’t officially police (they’re civilians working for the police), the guys tend to play outside the rules. Of course, Pullman constantly has to put out fires because of them. But they get results, which makes the bosses happy.
As I said, the mysteries aren’t going to keep you on your toes. New Tricks uses many of the same storytelling techniques you’d see on any American crime show. What makes the show worthwhile is the four leads. Redman is strong and confident as Pullman, but capable of showing the character’s soft side, such as when Pullman goes to a therapist to confront her self-destructive tendencies. Halford carries himself like a proper Englishman, but there are flashes of rage that come out during stressful moments. Bolam handles Halford with a light touch, especially those moments when conversing with his deceased wife. We’ve seen this story device many times in film and television, but it’s very effective in New Tricks. Armstrong is riveting at Brian Lane. As Lane teeters between paranoid delusions and manic sanity, Armstrong keeps him interesting but never has him come off as a parody of a mentally disabled person. My favorite performer is Waterman. He has charm, just the right touch of snarkiness and the bit of devilishness in his eyes that are the hallmarks of a great character.
The Season One DVD of New Tricks is a three-disc set that contains the 90 minute pilot and all six episodes from season one. While there are no bonus features, there is enough entertainment in the show itself to keep you satisfied.