Insubstantial Airfill: With Regret

For one last time

A year ago, when the BBC’s long-running comedy-drama cop show, New Tricks, started its annual outing, I wrote about it under the rubric above: Insubstantial Airfill: something light, entertaining, but ultimately no more than a pleasant way of spending an hour. I was almost immediately surprised by a series of rather more serious themes and stories, that dialed back on the comedy pedal, and in several cases went into some very dark and serious places.

It was all down to the renewal aspect, with three of the four original cast members replaced, by Denis Lawson, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Tamzin Oughthwaite, in order of seniority, and this year the show is losing Denniw Waterman, his character’s name of ‘Last Man’ Standing turning out to be appropriate in real life.

Waterman is appearing in only the opening two episodes of the new series, after which his replacement will come on board – and in my by now usual manner, I have no idea who that’s going to be, and am waiting to find out in the best way possible, by watching the series.

Unfortunately, now that the BBC has made New Tricks something to watch for more than just the whiling away of another hour, it’s also announced that this is to be the last series. And if this opening episode is anything to go by, that’s not just a disappointing decision but a bloody stupid one to boot.

We’re only halfway through Jerry Standing’s exit, but it’s been a complex and decidedly downbeat story so far, further evidence of the changes the new cast have brought in, because you couldn’t have managed this with the overt comedy of the originals. Summarising, a skeleton discovered in the basement of a house being firmly renovated turns out to be former DCI Martin Ackroyd, missing for thirty years. Ackroyd was briefly Jerry’s boss before disappearing, and was supposedly investigating Police corruption. Jerry clearly knows more about it than he’s telling UCOS, and from the look of him he doesn’t want it coming out

The episode bounced backwards and forwards between the present and thirty years gone, a beautifully exact recreation of the look of the early Eighties, down to the film stock, with actors who genuinely look like younger versions of their contemporary selves. Yes, there was graft, yes Jerry was in on it, but only working in secret for Ackroyd, to bring the villains down, and yes, he’s mates with a rival crook, Tommy Naylor, now a high-powered gangster.

In short, Jerry’s innocent, but it doesn’t take much in the way of framing – given his secretiveness about everything – to draw and colour in a picture that has so many guilty aspects. Indeed, the first half ends with Sasha Miller having to arrest Jerry on suspicion of murder.

It’s a sombre episode that you couldn’t have got away with if the team were still Jack Halford, Brian Lane and Sandra Pullman (each of whom get passing name-checks along the way) because you couldn’t have taken it seriously enough. This looks bad, it looks like no way out, and you can genuinely see it ending very badly indeed.

I’ll be watching every episode of this series furiously, since that’s all there’s going to be. Just as New Tricks has grown into something worth watching, it’s getting the chop. Somehow, the BBC can’t do anything right any more.

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