New Tricks, BBC1

by | Mar 27, 2003 | All, Reviews

Go on then, make a series. This pilot almost failed to take off – the opening was too slow and the Shallow Grave-style interviews were too clichéd – but Roy Mitchell’s drama got more and more enjoyable as it went on.

The cast is a blast from the past (except for Amanda Redman who, thanks to Alison Braithwaite, is bigger than ever). James Bolam with his wonderful moon face played Redman’s deputy in a new unit of retired cops assembled to investigate old crimes. Alun Armstrong played a Rain Man-like detective, anxious to clear up a stain on his own character as well as get to grips with a tasty new case. Dennis Waterman was a little too George Carter but he served a purpose, providing a link with an old-school gangster and his porn queen missus.

The old dogs were all just a handful of pills away from insanity but it was fun to see their fascination with new technology (although all relied on tape recorders which, surely, weren’t widely used in their 1970s heyday) and their disgust at the fact that the old bill now regards itself as a service to customers.

Students of Female Senior Police Officer drama (there’ll be a degree in it soon, no doubt) could do worse than set their VCRs for 9pm on Thursdays, where the Battle of the Amandas is currently raging. In the ITV1 corner is feisty, ex-LA Law Amanda Donohoe, partnered with Kris Marshall in Murder City, a show which tries just that bit too hard to be cutting-edge. Newly arrived in the BBC1 corner is feisty, ex-At Home With The Braithwaites Amanda Redman, partnered with three terrific old faces of TV drama in New Tricks, a show which steadfastly refuses to get edgy about anything.

New Tricks is based, like so many cop shows these days, on an unlikely premise, namely that Redman’s Det. Superintendent Sandra Pullman has hauled a squad of old dogs (sorry, retired detectives) back into action to help her solve tricky cases. But the codgers in question are played by the top-grade trio of Dennis Waterman, James Bolam and Alun Armstrong, so it doesn’t really matter. The show is really about a driven career woman managing a bunch of grumpy old men, and on that premise it works just fine.

Pullman bullies and cajoles her charges, and in response they display all sorts of quirkiness, fall asleep in the afternoons, and solve crimes that the callow youths of regular CID can’t fathom. They also display a depth of character that would render a cutting-edge ITV dramatist blank with incomprehension.

Brian Lane (a marvellous-as-always Alun Armstrong) is the thinker of the group but has mental health problems which are pushing his marriage to the brink. Bolam’s Jack Halford, widowed but still conversing with his wife, is the bedrock who keeps Lane on the right side of sanity. And Waterman’s Gerry Standing is, in fact, George Carter of the Sweeney brought on to pensionable age, multiple divorces and a career of tough policing behind him.

There’s depth to Redman’s character too, although with the schedules already swamped with high-achieving, emotionally dissatisfied female cops, she struggles to find anything new to say about her (a problem that also affects the other Amanda). And there is some fairly good policing, with this week’s case involving the 17-year-old murder of Pullman’s former colleague, friend and love rival. Sometimes not trying too hard can produce the best results.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

27/03/2003

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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