3 out of 5
Created by: Nigel McCrery and Roy Mitchell
covers season 1 through 12
While the US 2000s TV era churned out its CSIs and various hospital dramas, the BBC continued with its formulas: murder mysteries and police procedurals. The wealth of offerings in these genres doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad – certainly there are some all-stars – but they’re also generally designed as comfort food. …Which is how we wind up with series that are fairly unremarkable and can be summarized in an elevator pitch sentence – i.e. New Tricks’ retired detectives investigating cold cases – having surprisingly long lifetimes (12 seasons!), given they hit their marks to please whichever demographic.
There’s not much to explain beyond that: the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) is led by the once-promising-now-disgraced Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), trying to revitalize her career by taking the posting, leading a trio of caricatures of detectives pulled from retirement – the grumpy one, Jack (James Bolam); the eccentric one, Brian (Alun Armstrong); the funny one, Gerry (Dennis Waterman) – through old cases that are reopened due to recently discovered evidence, which for all intents and purposes is just a case-of-the-week show, as investigated by old folk. Some of the stitching of the show is shoddy: Redman, though a good actress, is often written – not on purpose – as an incompetent leader, demanding her team down blind alleys and leading by emotion; the trio, similarly, are rarely the crack-shots they’re intended to be, with solutions being blundered in to after a lot of hand-waiving investigating. World-building is also 100% backburnered: any characters or concepts beyond the main theme that pop up for more than one episode are never mentioned thereafter, and it even takes a while for the show to figure out to whom Sandra should be reporting, before season 2 settles on D.A.C. Strickland (Anthony Calf).
So is it flawed? Absolutely. But it still hits that aforementioned comfort food mark: the interplay between our leads is reliably entertaining, and though cases are ultimately predictable for anyone who watches these things – i.e. it’s always the person it CAN’T POSSIBLY BE! – the various writers are seasoned enough to make all of the red herrings work, and the show actually avoids “old people don’t understand new stuff” jokes most of the time, and instead mines its humor from the odd couple intersection of personalities. The setup ends up being stable enough to outlast several casting juggles in later seasons, and flexible enough to allow for more “serious” plotlines – a drinking habit; past sins; etc. – when they occur. The premise mostly prevents much action, and this isn’t the CSI demographic, so no need for overly grisly graphics, but New Tricks still finds its way to scuffles and chases often enough, and doesn’t shy away from grisly crimes.
There are a whole bunch of qualifiers there. That’s how comfort food works: it’s not great for you, but… And so it went for New Tricks’ 12 seasons – a very average show that nonetheless filled a satisfying little viewing gap in police procedural needs.