Acorn Media // 2006 // 463 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // February 9th, 2011
"Can this curmudgeonly trio of crime busters learn new tricks to crack tough crimes? Or are old-fashioned hunches and footwork still best?"
If you've been watching a lot of British TV, the names Alun Armstrong (Get Carter), James Bolam (The Beiderbecke Tapes), and Dennis Waterman (Minder) might mean something to you. Even if not, you may have seen Bolam in a couple of things that got to Mystery on PBS or seen Armstrong in The Mummy.
The three veteran actors come together to play veteran policemen who come together as a police consulting team in New Tricks. Bolam plays Jack Halford, who gathers his thoughts by talking things over with his late wife in his back garden; Armstrong plays Brian Lane, a computer whiz whose thoughts seem to be completely ungathered, even with meds; and Waterman plays Gerry Standing, who has enough ex-wives for a major gathering. Amanda Redman (Sexy Beast) plays Sandra Pullman, the actual current cop who leads the team. Fans of British TV will spot a few more familiar faces, like Patrick Malahide and Gareth Hunt, among the guest stars.
New Tricks: Season Three has eight episodes:
* Sandra's suspicious when a widower requests the return of the wrecked car his wife died in. This sends the team looking for a man with a rugby tattoo on his buttocks.
* The gang takes a second look at the 1975 murder of a labor leader. Jack visits an old friend with a grudge, and Brian tries natural remedies instead of his regular meds. Maggie Steed (Pie in the Sky) guests.
* Old dogs (actual canines, not the three detectives) are targeted by a serial killer, which leads to an anti-animal rights group and a strange Egyptian ritual. Actually, one of the old dog detectives could be the serial killer's next victim. If that's not enough, Brian's dog dies, and the rescue group doesn't think he's a worthy owner for a puppy. Richard Briers (The Good Neighbors) guests.
* Jack gets an invitation to a funeral, where he meets up with an old enemy. This reopens an old case and sends Brian undercover with a pretty partner; his wife (Susan Jameson, Z Cars), disappointingly, is not jealous. Patrick Malahide (Alleyn Mysteries) guests.
* Although the main witness has memory gaps, the gang reopens the murder of a warlock and starts investigating a witches' coven. Jack sees a shrink when he actually starts seeing his late wife.
* An informant, still wanted for a prison escape, flees again after leading Gerry to a shotgun and a voice recording of an old robbery. The trail leads to a notorious gangster, now a popular author. Gareth Hunt (The New Avengers) guests.
* The gang breaks up a fight between ice cream vendors, and Jack gets tapped to resolve the dispute. One of Gerry's exes wants to send his daughter to live with him, and Gerry gets the dubious idea of using her as an undercover agent. Brian looks into cookery. Joe Duttine (Doc Martin) guests.
* A convicted school arsonist says he didn't do it, so the gang reopens Jack's last case as a cop. Brian returns to an old addiction (toy soldiers), Sandra is offered a promotion, Jack gets a lead in his wife's murder, and Gerry meets a woman who may be his long-lost daughter. Joe Absolom (Doc Martin) guests.
Remember the ads for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ("Two great tastes that taste great together")? New Tricks feels like two shows -- a police procedural and a USA Network character comedy drama -- welded together. Thus, it feels like a standard police procedural interrupted by comic bits at first, but I got into it as the season progressed.
I believe the season's third episode did it, with Alun Armstrong's Brian imitating the walk of a dog as he traced the last moments of a canine murder victim and an interesting relationship forming between James Bolam's Jack and a retired dog protection officer played by Richard Briers, with a few scene-stealing touches. With the first two episodes, the stories were standard procedural drama, with the comic bits seeming like interruptions. This one was just a sharp episode throughout, with an intriguing hook, great suspects, and moments both touching and laugh-out-loud. There probably were a few rough spots in subsequent episodes, but they were easily overlooked. It could also be that I was seeing how the characters shaped up:
* Armstrong gets most of the outrageous comedy, whether balancing his marital insecurity with a rehearsed bravado as a shady character while undercover or cooking up a disaster in the kitchen at home. A lot of the character bits involve reining in Brian, whether it's with gentle commiseration from Jack or tough love from Dennis Waterman's Gerry. At the same time, his technological skills make him a valuable part of the team.
* Gerry's a gruff guy who's really a softie, as you'll see when he deals with his daughters (one definite, one possible). He's also fond of a good brawl. Waterman gets the juiciest dramatic moments in this season.
* Jack's the voice of reason, someone who can even talk boss Sandra down from a mistake. He may be spending too much time out in the garden with his late wife, but he's perhaps the most sensible one of the bunch. He's also driven by principle, which gets him into awkward situations at a mob funeral and a summit of warring ice cream factions.
* Amanda Redman's Sandra turns out to have no personal life, something you'll see as she hosts a dinner party for folks who don't bleed blue, and then drops by Gerry's for a team pasta dinner; Sandra snaps at her team, but she doesn't fit in with anyone else.
New Tricks is a recent 1.78:1 drama. The picture and sound quality are solid, but don't stand out. There's a behind-the-scenes piece which mostly features guest stars. It's just people talking about what a great show this is, but there are a couple of standout moments: footage of actors working on a stunt; Susan Jameson, Bolam's real-life wife, talking about how she could never deal with anyone like her TV husband Brian; and a kid guest actor who seemed more excited about an earlier gig on Doctor Who. I wouldn't watch it before you've watched the episodes, since spoilers abound.
These stories about police reopening old cases are a bit standard and familiar. After a couple of them, you should be able to spot the villains easily.
This season of New Tricks ends in a cliffhanger, meaning that you'll almost have to spring for the next series.
I'll have to partly counter Judge Adam Arseneau's opinion of the show's theme song in a review of a previous volume. Dennis Waterman's singing is definitely on the kitschy side, but I admittedly have a higher tolerance for kitsch.
The DVD blurb, given in The Charge, might suggest that New Tricks is all about the characters. True, New Tricks has some interesting characters, but in the end, it's a procedural. Perhaps another phrase in the blurb ("retired cops solve cold cases") tells you all you need to know. It's probably more for fans of shows like Cold Case and Law and Order than anyone else. If that's you, the team of Alun Armstrong, James Bolam, Amanda Redman, and Dennis Waterman is about as strong -- and as entertaining -- as you could get. I lean more toward shows like Psych or Bolam's absurd The Beiderbecke Trilogy, so this wouldn't be a must-buy for me, but I still liked New Tricks.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 463 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated