by Deborah Harter Williams
One of the most popular dramas on BBC One for ten years features an eccentric bunch of ex-policemen, brought out of retirement to investigate unsolved crimes. Headed by leather jacket and boot-wearing Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), the Metropolitan Police’s UCOCS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad) is successful but largely unsung. Pullman’s past involves an unfortunate incident with a dog during a hostage situation, which got her shipped off to this backwater of an assignment.
She works with Jack Halford (James Bolam) her former boss and mentor–the one in the suit. Next on the team is Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman), the rock and roll Romeo, cockney-slang slinger, who had a close brush with police corruption in his old unit. Lastly is Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong), the nerdy keeper of facts and memories who rides a bicycle and maintains a regimen of herbs and other strange natural substances. He is married to the long-suffering Esther.
Supervising is Deputy Assistant Commissioner Strickland (Anthony Calf), a by-the-book administrator of the stuffed shirt type (most of the time). He alternately cheers on and distances himself from the squad as they manage to close a high volume of impossible cases in their own anarchic way, frequently bumping up against ranking police and political figures.
The show mixes great characters, who may be outrageous at times but are not caricatures, with cases that evoke both humor and drama. The theme song, sung by Dennis Waterman, is a rollicking rockabilly tune similar to the Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line.” But the show, itself is more gritty than the music suggests. Each member of the team has his or her back-story issues, demons and relatives to contend with, and their cases frequently bring up old associations and complications. At the end of the day they are all smart and loyal to each other.
Like so many of the BBC actors, the troupe comes from a strong and varied acting background, as comfortable in Shakespeare and Dickens as in modern detecting. They all have both film and stage experience as well as their television credits. Redman and Bolam have both been the been recognized by Queen Elizabeth as MBEs (Members of the British Empire.)
The show has been a remarkable success since it’s premiere in 2003. If you haven’t seen it you are in for a treat. (BBC series do not have as many episodes as in the U.S. so New Tricks comprises 7 shows in the first season covering 2003-2004, 8 each in 2005-2009 and 10 each for 2010-2013.)
In 2007, an episode clocked 9.25 million viewers, becoming the second most watched program on BBC One that week. The opening episode of series six garnered an audience of 8.07 million, despite being up against The Mentalist and Living With Michael Jackson. The third episode of series 8, scored 9.7 million viewers and Episode 7, surpassed that with 9.87 million viewers. In Britain series 9 has just completed with series 10 to commence in 2013. In the U.S. it looks like KQED is up to season 7 (8 pm on Thursdays with a repeat on KQED plus at 2 am). The show is also viewed in more than 20 other countries.
Disappointing is the news that Bolam’s Jack Halford quit the show at the end of 2008. His departure has not hit the current PBS run in the U.S. Watch for the episode “A Death in the Family” as the first episode for series 8. Amanda Redman and Dennis Waterman announced in 2011 that they too are leaving the show. Redman will appear in 8 episodes of Series 10 to complete her character and two new members have been added to the squad.
The good news is that the show will run until 2013 in the UK and probably for a season after in the U.S. as we are catching up. In the meantime the series is available for download on Amazon as well as on DVD so you can have a taste or a complete feast. Could be a great alternative to holiday reruns, sappy movies and football. Also suitable for gift-giving. Hint, hint.
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I’m enjoying the BBC television series, “New Tricks” right now. It’s a different kind of detective show, as all the male detectives are retired, and their young, female boss has a hard time understanding them and their way of doing things. It’s interesting and funny, and it shows that you can “teach an old dog new tricks.” I highly recommend it.