As much as I prefer to read or do things that require my brain to do some work, I do love a good TV show. With the internet and Netflix as they are now we have the opportunity to see more shows than we did say when I was a kid: when there was a maximum of thirteen channels and at least two of them were dedicated to news and/or sports.
My mother recommended a show she had found on DVD at her local library: New Tricks. She said it was funny because it was about three retired police officers who were hired to solve cold cases. What she didn’t tell me – and I imagine she knew I’d figure it out for myself – was how awesome the show was in other ways.
For one, the show is a BBC One production which bumped it up a notch before I even started watching and for two, said retirees are overseen by a woman. What’s awesome about this, is that she’s an epitome of a strong female character: Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman has moved up the ranks on her own merits which is obviously respected by her superiors and as the show progresses increasingly by her charges. Her appointment to UCOS: Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad was due to a mistake on her part which could otherwise have resulted in a demotion. The fact that her superior gave her the opportunity spoke volumes for his confidence in her abilities even though she was unwilling to take the project on to start with. Now it could have been very easy for the show to turn this into a gimmick or a joke and while they do have fun with it, it never becomes campy or pedantic which just speaks to the quality of the writing – and to the chemistry of the cast.
Gerry Standing is very obviously the product of his upbringing and the boys-only club that the police force was when he was in his youth. Having three ex wives and an eye for the ladies just tops the cake. He’s still on good terms with all his wives even though he complains about how much the kids cost him. He owns an old flashy car an a taste for gambling, which prompted him to apply for UCOS. He’s a bit crass and opinionated, but there’s no arguing that his sleuthing skills are top notch.
Ex-Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Halford reminded me of one of my uncles. By turns cantankerous and clever, he seemed to be the team’s straight man but his sense of humour often got the better of him and of everyone else. Having been Sandra’s mentor and superior in the murder squad, he is the unofficial second in command.
Brian ‘Memory’ Lane is far more than his remarkable memory, OCD and recovering alcoholism. His altruism and his obsessive need to figure things out often gets him into trouble. I have to say that Brian has been one of my favourites from the start.
What I like about the show is that it goes beyond the run of the mill police drama. All the characters have flaws: Sandra’s love life is one of the things she sacrificed for her career, Jack is haunted by his wife’s death, and the other two struggle with addictions. (And they do struggle – it’s not just a plot device or something tossed in to make a character more interesting!) Each of the characters undergo an arc as the series progresses and they still manage to solve crimes – sometimes with questionable old school tactics – but solve them they do. It’s not like the characters just walk in every morning and start a new case either, there are narrative threads that go through the series and they even refer back to things they’ve solved already. I used to hate when the writers of a show would essentially do the same story but with different people and places just to have the culprit be slightly different. The audience is not stupid and this show, for the most part, knows that. Where it’s received criticism from the cast that the writers play it too safe, it’s done well for the past 11 seasons.
Even though Gerry’s the only cast member still on the show, I’m not disappointed with the replacements, which is usually a death sentence for a show. Each character left in a reasonable manner; it wasn’t like they just suddenly disappeared with a silly expository scene in a single episode and then everyone forgot they even existed. The remaining characters are affected by the loss too – for example Brian refuses to let Steve McAndrew sit at the desk that used to be Jack’s and that just makes the whole thing that much more poignant.
Random facts: Apparently the show began as a one off episode, but people loved it so much they completed the season. Dennis Waterman, who plays Gerry, also sings the theme song. The woman who plays Brian’s long suffering wife Esther, is James Bolam (Jack)’s wife. Amanda Redman (Sandra Pullman) has nasty scarring on one arm from an accident when she was less than two years old. Not once in the series does anyone make mention of it and I think that is a sign of how far we’ve come in terms of the beauty standards. The show is not interested in looks and don’t bother to goop on makeup to hide what might be considered an imperfection. Denis Lawson (McAndrew) was in the original Star Wars trilogy as Wedge Antilles. Alun Armstrong (Brian) is the only other one to have had parts in some pretty big movies: Eragon, Van Helsing, The Mummy Returns, Sleepy Hollow and Braveheart. He was also in the original version of Get Carter. Also, it seems all of them have done something related to Dickens or Shakespeare.