New Tricks: The Russian Cousin

Danny Griffin

It’s looking increasingly clear that, having decided that this will be the final series, the BBC has told the team behind New Tricks to forget all about this ambitious stuff and settle for going out in a blaze of carpet slippers. There are few things more annoying in any form of the arts than to watch potential being deliberately ignored.

‘The Russian Cousin’ was slightly better than it might have been in taking, as one of its underlying stories, the issue of a very decent, very brave man, dying of cancer, deserving of both respect and sympathy, victim of a crime that had robbed both himself and the daughters on whom he doted, of financial security, of hope, and revealing him to be the murderer in the latest cold case.

Having him played by Dean Andrews, Ray Carling in Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, was an astute piece of casting, designed to bring the audience alongside for the whole episode and even through the revelation that he was the killer of private investigator Mike Hooper. Even at the end, the viewer was led to accept Barry Warnock as a good man, who would be spared prosecution for his crime because his cancer was so far advanced that he could not be tried before his impending death.

Where the episode fell short on what could have been an excellent episode was in loading the scales too heavily on Barry’s side. In order not to threaten the audience’s respect for the man, his victim, Hooper, was retrospectively revealed as an out-and-out bastard, crooked, double-dealing, cheating his own client.

The Russian Cousin of the title was a very rare and valuable stamp, of which only twelve were known to exist. Warnock had inherited it from his Grandfather, and kept in with a box of the old man’s letters, diaries and memorabilia. At first he pretended not to know the worth of the stamp but later it transpired he did indeed know it was a ‘nest egg’.

The box was stolen by some no-mark toerag in a spate of burglaries and sold to a pawnbroker in ignorance. Later, it had come on the market in mysterious, ooh, alright, dodgy circumstances and been bought by an Internet billionaire in full knowledge that it was stolen and complete confidence that the Police would never find anything that small, no matter how many Search Warrants they obtained.

But the ultimate point was that, after Warnock had hired Hooper to find the missing stamp, it was Hooper who bought it from the pawnbroker and masterminded the sale to private collectors. It was his working pattern, he had done the same with the red herring suspect who’d stolen £30,000 off his girlfriend and vanished: Hooper found him and demanded money to keep quiet.

In making Hooper an utter shitbag who’d double-crossed a decent man with a terminal condition, the episode played it safe and easy, and missed its chance to navigate deeper waters. If Hooper had been someone equally decent as the unfortunate Warnock, the episode would have been far better, grappling with the moral ambiguity, but it wouldn’t have been so easy to write. Last year’s New Tricks was in the frame of mind to tackle things like that.

Otherwise, the soap opera elements of the series bimbled along. Ted was resisting going to the Doctors for a health test in connection with Life Insurance renewal, which concerned Danny greatly: Ted’s family was genetically prone to a rare heart condition and he was resisting the risk of learning he had it. But he didn’t.

As for Steve’s money issues, this week he tried renting his flat out as a Shortstay, £300.00 for 48 hours to a pair of Italian ladies who turned out to be scam artists planning to strip the place. But a nosy neighbour tipped Steve off, so no harm was done there either. Typical.

So, with only three episodes of its life left, New Tricks has eschewed the possibilities it showed and reverted very thoroughly to being Insubstantial Airfill. Which was what I originally praised it for being: decent, inoffensive, modestly entertaining. Once upon a time, that would have been sufficient to see things through, but after seeing what the programme could be, when it put its mind to it, all it can be now is disappointing.

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