BBC Video // 2003 // 437 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 12th, 2009
Back on the job...the old dogs who won't roll over.
Space Cowboys by way of Scotland Yard, New Tricks: Season One brings a new (well, old) twist to the British cop drama: old people.
After an unfortunate public blunder involving the shooting of a dog, career-minded cop Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman, Little Dorrit) finds herself unwillingly reassigned to a dead-end position: leading up UCOS, the unsolved crimes team. Her boss convinces her to tap into the wealth of experience of ex-cops, retired or formerly disgraced officers to assist as civilian contractors. Sandra isn't quite convinced.
Pullman's crew consists of grieving widower Jack Halford (James Bolam, Born and Bred), obsessive/compulsive ex-Inspector Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong, Little Dorrit), and ex-Sergeant Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, The Sweeney). They all have a wealth of experience, but times have changed, and this trio of eccentric dinosaurs soon discovers that the game is no longer what it used to be. So can you teach an old dog any new tricks?
New Tricks: Season One contains the pilot and all six episodes from the first season across three DVDs.
Cop dramas are nothing new on the BBC. New Tricks plays its card early, standing out from the pack by stacking its deck with geriatrics -- retired cops coming back as consultants to tie up old, unsolved crimes. The gimmick sounds lame, but it executes itself surprisingly well. I never thought I'd find particular joy in watching a show about retired detectives struggling with old age and modern crimefighting techniques, but New Tricks sells itself with a charming wit and easy blend of comedy and catharsis.
Each episode unfolds with a new "whodunit" scenario, a case reopened for a fresh perspective similar to the way Cold Case operates. On re-examination of the evidence, the team ends up cracking the case through a combination of new forensic techniques (DNA evidence and such) and good old-fashioned moxie, grit, and gumption. Much of the tension and comedy comes from the clash of old versus new; the three retirees enjoy solving problems the old-fashioned way, much to the horror of their keeper, Sandra. Not every episode ends with a happy note, but the show is better for this touch of realism.
With far too much time on their hands, the new (old) recruits are anxious to get back into the field. The majority of the show is firmly rooted in the tried-and-true formula of police procedural drama, with twisting and complex cases that unfold at a measured pace, and the payoffs are always satisfactory. Having all these old cases dug up from the annals of history ends up causing some anxiety for the police, as past indiscretion and police mishandling of cases long buried get dragged back into the light by UCOS. Susan, ever the career-minded women, hopes to impress the brass with her success, but finds unexpected resistance. Suffice it to say, the brass aren't always happy with how UCOS solves its cases.
Some of the old folk jokes get a bit tired after a few episodes -- yes, they're old, we get it -- but New Tricks does a solid job at fleshing out the back story of its characters quickly and effectively. It doesn't take long before we're quite attached to our motley crew of retirees. Jack reveals a particular habit of talking to his dead wife, Gerry keeps surprisingly close ties to a gaggle of ex-wives and daughters left behind in his conquests, and Brian struggles with mental illness, OCD, and an obsession with a conspiracy that cost him his job. All the cases leave tiny breadcrumbs of information for audiences that give us insight into their past. The cast is tight and at ease with one another, with excellent banter and chemistry all around. It's tough to single out a favorite performance -- everyone gets equal billing in making New Tricks a success. The show's strength comes in how well it makes audiences care about its cast and their successes and failures. Like any good cop drama, the secondary character development is as important, if not more so, than the actual whodunit being investigated.
Presented in an anamorphic transfer, the image is dark, muted, grainy, and a bit soft -- exactly what you would expect from a BBC cop drama. The pilot episode (shot a year before the series) looks the grimmest of the bunch, with an especially steely gray color palate that obliterates all color it touches. The series proper is a bit cleaner and less grainy, but still retains the show's stylized grit. Audio comes in a simple stereo presentation, and it serves the job well, although dialogue levels are often hit-or-miss. I found myself adjusting the volume too often, trying to find a perfect balance between audible dialogue and ambient noise. The score is jazzy, light, and upbeat, and suits the show well. Bass response is above average. English subtitles are included.
There are no extras included on this set, which is always unfortunate. Unless of course, you count the mandatory trailers crammed into the start of every...single...disc. That's a "feature," right?
There are good theme songs, and there are bad theme songs. A third, previously undiscovered category is actually a kind of mnemonic infections that goes into your brain and lay waste to your cerebral cortex. Sung in country style by cast member Dennis Waterman, "It's Alright," the theme to New Tricks, is unequivocally the most annoying theme song in the history of television broadcasting. And it gets reprised during the credits at the end, just for good measure. And you can't get it out of your head, save with a bullet.
New Tricks offers up just enough variation and originality in a tired, well-established genre to remain a viable recommendation. This isn't the grittiest cop drama or the most hilarious comedy, but it strikes a healthy balance between both elements. It's not hard to see how six seasons later, the show is still going strong in the U.K.
Worth a rent if you're in the need for something new. Now, get off my lawn!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 437 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site