Sitcom revival ahead – beware!

There was an item in the news yesterday about the BBC reviving its 1990s time-travel sitcom, Goodnight Sweetheart – Nicholas Lyndhurst’s first solo vehicle – for a one-off special to celebrate sixty years of sitcoms.

I didn’t so much mind that as I’d never watched the show at the time – I am not fond of the writing of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran – so it mattered not to me whether the revival was either disappointing or pathetic. What concerned me rather more is that the Goodnight Sweetheart revival is, according to the piece, just part of a sitcom season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a BBC sitcom revival season any day – after all, the BBC’s track record in sitcoms far far outweighs that of ITV – providing that it limits itself to repeats of old favourites.

But the write-up seems to indicate that these revivals are going to be newly-made episodes, a la Still Open All Hours, and you know my opinion of that one.

The only other sitcoms being mentioned are Are You Being Served? (about which I do not care one jot), Porridge (sacrilege! Haven’t you done enough to Ronnie Barker’s memory yet?) and a Keeping up Appearances prequel to be titled Young Hyacinth, which fills me with dread as both an arid concept with a proven track record of unmitigated disaster, and because who on Earth could ever convince anyone they were going to turn into Patricia Routledge (unless the BBC has access to time travel technology and can produce an actual younger Patricia Routledge, in which case I’m going to be down the DG’s offices with a very long list of names).

And these are only the named ones, the ‘include’s. What other horrors have the BBC got up their sleeves.

This is not a good idea. Every attempt to do this has been proved to be a disaster. Why are they insisting on doing things like this? Doesanyonehave an Air Raid Shelter they’re not using?

New Tricks: The Crazy Gang

Au revoir

And so it ended, with neither a bang nor a whimper. New Tricks came to an end after twelve series, condemned by the BBC for a dip in ratings that followed the departures of Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong, and probably prematurely, given that the series has clawed back a couple of million viewers this series and was still the most watched programme last Tuesday night.

Attention was paid to the series’ termination in no less than the Guardian this morning, though since the piece was by Stuart Heritage, with whom I have issues, it was full of condescension, metropolitan superiority and the kind of snidery that Heritage thinks raises laughs.

Some people just seem to have an issue with certain series’ being popular.

The finale had two stories to tell. One was the cold case: mental health campaigner Greg Collins, knifed to death on Millennium Eve, his case coming to UCOS after his daughter Rose found ominous words in the final page of the Journal that spoke of a forthcoming meeting with someone with whom he had been disagreeing.

The nature of the death suggest a crime of passion, and attention naturally turned to widow Vicky, to whom Greg had been unfaithful, especially after investigation turned up Toni, a woman with her own mental issues, who had been sectioned for many years.

I won’t spell out the twists and turns, but whilst the team were correct in their eventual theory that Toni, not Vicky, was Rose’s mum, Greg wasn’t the father, but the grandfather: Toni was his daughter by an earlier relationship. But the expected outcome that it had been the damaged Toni who had killed Greg, in her illness, did not materialise. In a scene of abiding emotion, Vicky, who had kept Rose from Toni in the belief that Rose was not safe, accepted from the calm Toni that she had mastered herself, that she had healed herself. Vicky, who had hated and withheld for fifteen years, sobbed at the mistake she had made  and the relationship she should never have tried to prevent.

How it might fall out now that everyone knew the truth was not the subject of the episode: the audience were left to contemplate that, but the emotions were both raw and complex.

And the murderer fell where those of us who share the same political tendencies as I secretly hoped it might, with Meera Syal as Baroness Shamira, the campaiigner who sold out to found a charity supported financially by the manufacturers of the dangerous drug Greg was opposing. All smarts suits and Westminster smoothness, despite her Lancashire accent, the Baroness expected to avoid all problems whilst going on about ‘the greater good’.

She even called in our dear friend, Assistant Commissioner Kline, to help smooth the way, but in the end Sasha pressured her into a confession that not only brought closure to Rose and her two mothers, but which neatly upended the headlong rush to disaster UCOS was undergoing.

For, twenty minutes in, Kline appears, announcing an Enquiry into the balls-up of the Hemway case of last week and the instant suspension of Steve, Danny and Ted. Except that the boys refuse to quit the investigation. Despite knowing their jobs are at stake, the Crazy Gang decides to go out in a blaze of glory, sticking to their principles to the last. Even Sasha ends up tacitly approving.

Unfortunately, it’s only too clear that the boys are still on the case so AC Kline steps in to disband UCOS completely. Never mind that it’s actually a powergrab on her part, seizing UCOS’s budget, and Sasha can still take the promotion to the Honour Killing Unit, the whole thing stinks.

But the gang produce the rabbit out of the hat one last time, and the fact that it was the Baroness – Kline’s close friend – leaves the necessary amount of wiggle-room for restitution. Kline moves on, Strickland moves up, UCOS is reinstated. Only…

The seeming end of UCOS has altered everybody’s plans. Danny had, heartbreakingly, turned down following Fiona to Aberdeen because of a final, residual sense of duty to his wife: the marriage is over, but Holly will never see her mother again and, whatever his own wishes, he is all she has. Not that that prevents him from taking on an investigative job that, being desk-bound, can be done anywhere, even Aberdeen.

Steve’s discovered his son is in Australia, so he’s heading out there, intent on becoming a P.I. and doing some bonding. And Ted has capitulated to Pat’s desire to travel: they’re off to the Amazon.

Even Sasha’s moving up: now that AC Kline has had her smooth arse elevated, DCI – I’m sorry, soon to be Detective Superintendent – Miller can take the Honour Killings post after all.

And so it ends. UCOS continues, unbowed, but it’s four members of staff all have new roads to travel, new destinies to pursue, and we get the decided feeling that things are going to go alright for them. Back at the ranch, a new, no doubt high-flying female DCI will recruit three cantankerous old buggers who used to be cops, and old cases will continue to be dug out and culprits brought to justice. We’ll just never see it or them.

I feel very much like I did when Last of the Summer Wine was choked off, a light entertainment that amused regularly, and sometimes did more than that, ended because of disdain and sneers from those who were not its audience anyway. What will replace it? You can bet that the gap this leaves will remain unclosed, that whatever next appears will be considerably more edgy, trendy, dark and cool.

Nothing wrong with that, but yet again the idea of television as a broad medium, with something for potentially everybody will get kicked in the balls.

So, thanks to those who have been following this series of blogs, thanks to Amanda, James, Alun and Dennis for starting it off, and Tamzin, Denis, Nicholas and Larry for being there at the end. More people swill miss you than the BBC could ever possibly imagine.


New Tricks: Life Expectancy

New Tricks 4

Ted Case

At last, a flicker, a story that didn’t end with a simple win, or a a cut-and-dried solution. Indeed, in a sense, you could say that the story did not have an ending at all, not in this life-cycle, to adapt the wording chosen by guest star David Haig, in his final moments.

There was an odd sense of deja vu about the start, as for a second successive week, the ‘boys’ turned up to meet Sasha at the site of some diggings, but the circumstances were very different. The scene was a graveyard that had been affected by a sudden sinkhole, exposing the grave of Gwen Morris, who had died of cancer in 2008. The reason for UCOS’s presence was that it had also exposed a murder weapon – a phrenology bust – used to kill Douglas Hempsey, an alternate medicine practitioner who had been treating her.

Prime suspect had always been Alison Morris, a freelance journalist on scientific issues, who had loudly blamed Hempsey for persuading her mother to cease chemotherapy that could have preserved her life. But Alison had a water-tight alibi.

This was an intriguingly structured investigation from the start, with the usual dissension between Steve and Danny over which subject to pursue, and with very little by way of clues to let the seasoned watcher anticipate who the eventual murderer would prove to be.

And, this being the penultimate episode, it was time to start dropping in little hints as to the possible fate of UCOS this time next Tuesday evening.

On the one side, there was Fiona, offered a Head of Services post that represented a golden chance for her, except that it was in Aberdeen.

On the other, in marched Assistant Commissioner Cynthia Kline to offer Sasha a promotion, to head a Task Force dealing with Honour Killings, and an uplift to Detective Superintendent. All very nice, if a bit steely, and with the underlying assumption that of course Sasha couldn’t refuse, giving AC Kline another elevated female Senior Officer owing her something.

Steve was the aggravated one, fearing getting a bad boss in as replacement, Ted was all encouragement and belief that Sasha should take thre plunge, despite her fears over her own lack of experience, whilst Danny was warning her against the game player AC.

This was generally allowed to rumble quietly in the background of an investigation that was struggling to make its mark. As well as the pale and nervous Alison, there was Hempsey’s ex-friend and business partner, Evan, who’d turned their alternative medicine practice/supply into a very nice little earner, and there was David Hempsey (Haig), who’d been an early part of the business along with his wife Rebecca, but who, after Rebecca’s death, had gotten into cryo-preservation.

As the scientific Hempsey Haig was all quiet smiles, sweet reasonableness, in deep regret for his loss and full of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Rebecca’s favourite music. You wanted to suspect him, but couldn’t see where he could possibly fit in, especially after Steve’s bull-at-a-gate tactics browbeat Alison into confessing to Hempsey’s murder.

But it was far too soon for a conclusion, and we’d already been set-up to understand that it was a legal disaster: with Sasha not about, Alison panicked and insisted on leaving her questioning, but collapsed into confession when formally arrested by Ted. Except that neither he, Steve, nor Danny are serving Police Officers and have no rights to arrest. The confession was illegal, was promptly withdrawn the moment the Solicitor got there, and the next morning Alison slit her wrists.

Thankfully, the team had gone to visit her and saved her life, but the cock-up was now beginning to spiral. Needless to say, Kline was happy to protect Sasha and ensure none of this farrago touched her.

But by now, little pieces were finally coming together. You see, Gwen Morris and Douglas Hempsey had both died in the same week but, in a superbly held-back piece of information, we learned that Rebecca Hempsey had also died the same week. And was frozen in cryo in California.

The moment Fiona came up with evidence that Rebecca had been subtly poisoned, the case came together. David had poisoned his wife when she refused to end her affair with Douglas: indeed, he killed her when he found she and Douglas had signed up to cryo together. As for Douglas, Alison Morris had indeed fractured his skull with the bust, but it was David who had finished the job with a monkey wrench, ensuring the body could not be accepted for cryo. Rebecca might wake up in some distant future when her bodily ills could be cured, but it would not be to Douglas.

Instead, it would be to David, killing himself before UCOS’s unwilling eyes once it was clear he had been exposed. To David, it wasn’t so much dying as de-animation, the end of a cycle that had disappointed him so much, the inner confidence of a life hereafter, in which Rebecca would love him again, if only because there would be no-one else for her to wake up to.

In some tiny part of me, I had an inkling of what was in his heart, though not what was in his head.

But though Kline tried to smooth it over a a success for UCOS, for which difficulties Sasha would be insulated, it was a different matter when Sasha refused the promotion, went against Kline’s wishes. That wuill carry over into next week’s final episode.

As for Danny, I know of plenty of long-term New Tricks fans who see him as the spoiler who ruined their programme. Needless to say, I don’t agree, though there are times when, especially in questioning, he’s unnecessarilly supercilious. But in his relationship with Fiona this season, we’ve seen a different side of him, a loving, devoted, very rooted side that, delivered with his characteristic dryness, has been marvelous to follow.

And in perhaps a foreshadow of next week, Danny came through: if Fiona takes this chance, as she so very much deserves, he will go with her, to Aberdeen and god know’s what, because she is simply that important to him and ego will not stand in his way.

A quiet, complex episode, with conundrums at the heart of it. Unorthodoxy looks to have invited serious problems, all aimed at forcing Sasha to do AC Kline’s bidding. But it’s that numinous moment, of the killer happy to die in pursuit of the ultimate romantic longing, that is to be taken away.

New Tricks: Lottery Curse

Sasha Miller

A gently downbeat episode as we close in on the end, with not a lot of depth to comment about, and refreshingly free of the soap opera interludes that have passed for personal life sub-plots this series.

Lottery Curse started in situ with the team called out to a house where a body had been discovered under the patio, which was rapidly proved to be Cheryl Sheekey (what an odd surname to choose), Lottery winner in 1997 and disappeared, suspected murdered in 1998.

UCOS  set out to unravel a pleasantly convoluted back story involving the other members of the four-person Pub Quiz Team/Lottery Syndicate who’d scored £900K each and who’d set out to use their winnings in the differing ways that seemed best to them.

Cheryl had been the original Spend, Spend, Spend girl. Chris, the team leader, had bought a Garden Centre, with his wife Liz, who Cheryl had had forced off the team. Her childhood mate, Eleanor, had opened an Animal Welfare Shelter, and her besotted husband, Terry, had turned to drugs to cope with the strain of their suddenly public life.

Indeed Terry had been, and still remained chief suspect, though the case had ended up being dropped due to lack of evidence, especially after Cheryl’s car had been found abandoned at Dover, her passport gone.

Though he ended up back at the forefront of the investigation, Terry came over throughout as someone who’d just loved his wife too much. He’d spent seventeen years apparently convinced she was still alive, and undertaking missing persons searches trying to locate, which was an awfully big act to have carried out for someone seeking to establish plausible deniability.

But as the pieces were shuffled about, suspected affairs turned into scams by the money-greedy Cheryl, and when push came to shove, Eleanor tried too hard to frame Terry and undid herself in the process.

As I said, pleasingly low key and mostly unemotional. In the only subplot, the boys set Sasha up to get her end away with a handsome forensic scientist, colleague to Fiona, but that was at least handled with minimal fuss.

An easy way to spend an hour, but ultimately forgettable. Only two more.

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.

New Tricks: The Fame Game

New Tricks 3

Steve McAndrew

After the praise I lavished on the genuinely excellent two-part series opener, New Tricks seems to be going out of its way to refute my opinion that it had reached a new level and was no longer the Insubstantial Airfill that I’d categorised it as being at the start of series 11, last year.

The latest episode, The Fame Game, once again decided to sideline Tamzin Outhwaite, by confining her to a comedy relief role, a bit of filler with no relation to the plot. Sasha Miller is on a course about European Community Policing that, conveniently, happens to be taking place upstairs, allowing her to come in at regular intervals and huff and puff about the way her son Alex is using his supposed ‘Study Leave’ to do bugger all about his ‘Project’.

So once again it’s a boy’s own show, which automatically diminishes the series.

This week’s set-up once again ducked any moral grey areas and kept well away from any excessive emotional involvement. Thirteen years ago, professional look-alikes and married couple Anna and Jim Briggs jointly committed suicide by drinking champagne laced with liquid valium. But now a concealed mobile belonging to Anna has come to light, full of explicit texts indicated she was having a wild affair with an unknown male. Was it therefore suicide?

Interestingly, whilst Anna’s look-alike was the internationally renowned Cher, Jim’s speciality was fictional ex-footballer and general all-round tabloid bad boy, Mikey Bishop, which told us that Mikey, who’s turned into something of an unlikely recluse controlled by his calm, collected, tv agent wife, was going to be all over this like a cheap suit.

The major problem was that, from the moment Claire Bishop insisted that any future UCOS enquiries be directed to her because she didn’t want her husband disturbed by having the past brought up again, I worked out the solution. This was little more than a quarter hour in, which made for a very frustrating experience watching the clues slowly trickle in whilst Ted, Steve and Danny bent their joint and several heads around them the wrong way.

Not that I’d spotted any clues myself. It was just that if you’ve ever seen a reasonably sophisticated detective series on tv, the circumstances of the crime in themselves were sufficient to direct an enquiring mind to the only possible dramatic solution.

It rather spoilt the plot for me.

There were some good points in the soap opera aspect. Not so much Steve’s ongoing issues with debt and with letting his (unseen) son down but Danny’s growing relationship with Fiona (always happy to look at Tracy-Ann Oberman). The pair are increasingly staying over at each other’s homes, though Danny was still clinging to the past, to his daughter’s home and his memories, in a short-sighted and selfish fashion, only to realise in the end that the future meant more. It was deftly and drily done, but I’m a sucker for romance that demonstrates an increasing understanding between people, and this was the goods.

So: we are over the hump of the final series, six episodes down, only four to go. I’m beginning to suspect that, given the combination of the complete replacement of the cast and the decision to end the series, the BBC has decided to make this a low-key affair so that there will be no awkward demands for more. If this is to be the standard of the remaining episodes, I shalln’t be grumbling at the end.

It rather reminds me of Blake’s Seven and the Beeb’s decision to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t get any pressure to bring it back for a fifth series by producing this deliberately shitty episode to end series 4 by killing absolutely everybody off, in complete contravention of the style and trappings of the series all along (oh, how clever darling, we’ll shut it down by having the fascist bastards slaughter every last vestige of opposition…).

Hopefully, there will be better in the few last slots: the show has certainly proved itself capable of it and deserves to go out on a high.


New Tricks: Prodigal Sons

                     Never say no to a nice photo of Tamzin Outhwaite

A bit of an odd episode this. For a start, the underlying theme was associated with cricket, but we didn’t get any cliched jokes – though, of course, we weren’t on ITV, were we, where the only thing ever associated with the greatest game on Earth was rain.

The case was a nicely intricate one. The re-examination of a crap pathologists’s cases leads to UCOS being brought in to look over the death of highly skilled professional cricket, A J de Silva, whose proud father had always maintained had been murdered, not committed suicide a decade ago, just as England were celebrating the 2005 Ashes win.

It turned out that everyone had hated A.J., who was a self-centred, self-indulgent git, thus setting up motives by the score, but no evidence whatsoever of murder. What was eventually uncovered was that several of the team, including and at the direction of the captain – now a management bullshit consultant using cricketing terms – were engaged in match-fixing, and A.J.’s refusal to countenance this, his intention to go to the authorities, got him killed.

For most of the way, the procedural part of the story was going nowhere, but as usual it’s Danny Griffin who sees the vital clue, sparked off by a chance remark on a different subject.

It was a curiously uninvolving crime, for all that it hung around the edges of cricket, and it did not approach any emotional depth until the final, almost unimportant detail was explained. A.J. came as a package with his younger, much less talented brother, Sanjit, who’d acted as his minder, clearing up his messes and ensuring their doting father – doting on A.J., that is – never cottoned on.

Sanjit had been the one to find his brother dead, dead and left to be humiliated. He had changed the crime scene in order to preserve his brother’s dignity at the last, an act of love to which the appropriate blind eye was turned.

Apart from that, the episode was buttressed up with a few personal notes. Sasha, back to full fitness with surprising speed, enrols the team in a forthcoming dinner-dance with a notorious reputation for breaking up relationships. Danny and Fiona’s relationship is getting closer (I really like the dry, intelligent way it’s being presented, with a minimal overt romanticism pointing cleverly to the genuine depth between this pair) but Danny needs to explain things to his wife, Sarah, who, as we recall, is committed to a mental institution. Sarah’s approval is needed, and from the way the vital scene is omitted, I suspect it hasn’t been forthcoming, though Danny claims this is so.

Steve’s financial problems are uncovered by Danny, who organises him and sets him a budget, but whether Steve’s sticking to it…

And last, but not least, Ted turns up at the dinner-dance with his other half, Pat. Or Patrick, if we’re being formal…

A good but not great episode, and definitely an improvement on last week. It may even contain a bit of foreshadowing, as Sasha thanks Ted for staying on after Gerry, as that could have been the excuse the Met has been looking for to shut UCOS down. After all, they’re the awkward squad, and Strickland has to fight for them nearly every day.

Sounds like a plot to me.

New Tricks: The Wolf of Wallbrook

New Tricks 2

Bit more of the one on the left, please

After the praise I’ve been heaping on New Tricks, this episode was a disappointing reversion to the staple fare of many seasons. There was a cold case to solve, which was completed successfully, some (but not many) personal issues among the cast, and that was that. Of the moral ambiguity that has been so successful in the past series or so, there was little or no trace, and what there was of it – a fundamental element in the commission of the crime – was stapled on in an utterly unconvincing manner.

Or unconvincing to me, perhaps, but then I was certainly biassed.

The cold case went back to 1989, and to the wide-boy, loadsamoney traders in the City, Thatcher-worshippers to a man and the occasional woman: selfish greedheads, ugly bastards, monsters of self-entitlement. Charlie Wheeler had apparently been very good at his trade, until he was discovered as having lost half a million pounds and nose-dived off the roof of his brokerage’s very high, penis-extension of a building. Suicide, of course.

But in an unlooked-for and certainly left-field manner, evidence appears that Charlie was pushed, which brings the case into UCOS’s purview. After which, it was the usual interviewing of people, uncovering of things not revealed at the inquest, and the gradual narrowing of suspects down to the one who appears early and who seems to be completely clear of everything until it winds up being him. That much, at least, is a New Tricks formula, though I’ve seen it handled far better, on cases where the ultimate culprit was a lot further from the frame at first.

But the people involved, and the time, could spark no sympathy from me. They were all of a type I loathe, sons of Maggie, celebrating her for the freedom she gave them to slash, burn and destroy to the exclusion of human feelings. Along the way, the alpha male of these alpha males rather pathetically gave himself away for a long ago, unreported rape, but there was something unreal about it, as if it were a gesture on the part of a scripter, far too late to be of meaning.

And a similar gesture was invested in Charlie, as if to humanise him. You see, Charlie, whose marriage was failing (and whose ex-wife, and the consequences for her, another victim, were kept well away from both investigation and story), had a Chinese waitress for a girlfriend, who was pregnant by him. And this was 1989, a year which we who lived through it still remember most vividly: Tiananman to Timisoara.

So master market reader, genius money-maker Charlie, who’d won the cutthroat battle to take-over, sits down in a side-office and watches the tanks go into Tiananman Square, watches the brutal crushing of the people off whom he’s been making all this luvvly money, and undergoes a Damascene conversion. He’s going to pull out, leave, take his money, ruin everybody else’s fun. So off the roof he goes.

And is any of this remotely convincing? Is it fuck. Is it also sickening to use such a monumental weight upon history as a clue in a TV script? Oh,  but it is.

As for the ongoing elements of the series, this episode featured the return to duty of Sasha Miller, though not until twenty minutes in, by which time I was growing very suspicious of the shift in dynamics. Even then, immobilised as she was in a wheelchair, Sasha could not make herself an active participant, a fact emphasised by having all the men always standing whenever she was in a scene, minimising her physical presence.

Even starting by politely throwing Ted Case out of her office didn’t restore Sasha to her position, nor did her invitation to Ted to stay on as part of the team, Gerry Standing’s successor, elevate her back to being boss. I’m not making any anti-feminism accusations, although they can easily be read in, we’ll see how things are next week. Though this is something not to develop, if you get my meaning.

Another element which seemed cooked up solely for the theme of this episode was Steve McAndrew’s sudden financial penury, represented in credit cards being declined and dropping two grand on a course in how to play the markets, being run by the one unsuccessful broker of the period (those who can, do, those who can’t…)

Not a bad episode as such, just a perfunctory one: insubstantial airfill, as I described the series when I first wrote about it. A produce-in-your-sleep job.

Though there one was one good moment. Steve went to pick up the ultimate culprit and found him packing rapidly. Actually, Wolf (of course he’s called wolf, these guys were wolves, get it?) has packed two bags, and the other is full of wads of twenty pound notes, crisp and clean. It’s a solution Wolf believes is infallible, like always: he turns his back, counts to five and when he looks back he can’t see the bag, nor Steve.

So Wolf starts counting, and we start anticipating the look on his face when he turns back and Steve’s still there. Only he’s not, he’s gone. And so too has the bag.

Wolf completes his packing and leaves. And he sees Steve again. And the bag. And two uniformed officers standing by a patrol car.

Nice, and neat, though given the utter implausibility of Steve actually taking the money, no matter how desperate he is, a touch banal. Unless that is an element that they do intend to develop over the remainder of the series. I could just about see that as a way towards an ultimate end, a real, dramatic end to UCOS.

Because do the BBC plan an actual ending, or is it just going to be a petering out, a leaving for a never-to-be-made series 13? Interesting question.

New Tricks: The Curate’s Egg

New Tricks

 The close-out crew

I hadn’t planned on blogging the final series of New Tricks all the way through, but why not? Let’s see it to the door, so to speak.

After the high-tension opener, signing off Dennis Waterson, this episode was a lot more business as usual. Tamzin Outhwaite was missing, still confined to hospital after her bullet wound in last week’s episode (she’s in a wheelchair in the new opening credits and I seriously hope they’re not going to hobble her like that all through the series), which makes room for the formal introduction of the last player, Larry Lamb, as former DCI Ted Case, brought in as acting Head of Ucos, much to Steve McAndrew’s disgust, Steve now being senior man in the Department. And Ted immediately gets further up Steve’s nose by describing Danny as ‘the well-dressed one’.

It’s a mainly comedy episode, based around the suspicion of the new guy that always arises when a new cast member is introduced. It’s kept fairly lightweight, and it’s mainly on Steve’s side so, to balance things out, we get a side-plot in which Danny meets Fiona’s parents, disastrously.

Fiona, for those not in the know, is the forensic scientist who’s Danny’s girlfriend, a recurring character this year, and as long as she’s this well-played by Tracy-Ann Oberman (especially when she posed in that hot dress) she can recur as often as she likes.

There’s a serious point to this digression, not in terms of the episode’s plot, but in terms of the pair and their relationship. From the moment they appear, Fiona’s parents are a deadly pair, a life-sapping due who believe that the sun shines out of the arse of Crispin, Fiona’s ex-husband, a brilliant surgeon and an all-round arsehole in terms of his marriage. Danny inverts the cliche’d set-up with a deadly, withering take-down of Crispin, and by extension Fiona’s parents for how they have collaborated in her demeaning, every word a perfectly delivered stiletto that, after a well-judged pause, has 72 years plus father going for Danny’s throat and mother smacking him round the head with an inconvenient ladle. It get’s him the girl’s attention, though.

That’s perfectly in keeping with the mature phase of the story, and it resonates with the underlying theme of the main investigation. UCOS, in response to the discovery of a murder weapon in the form of a letter-opener, re-open the case of a Vicar murdered in 2006. He was white, his wife was black, their children mixed and the Parish had been pretty bloody hateful to them, including a series of vile racist hate-mail. It was a murder that had pretty much screwed up the family very badly, that pushed your sympathy with their traumas to the forefront.

Surely it had to be a race-hate crime? But even as you said that, you knew it would not be anything so simple. Steve and Danny might not have been too certain of Ted’s superstitious little ways, but by the end they had meshed well on a case that ended up being purely personal and entirely too familial for anybody’s comfort. The flaws and the secrets that had riven the family were made only worse by the revelations that flooded out when the emotional temperature was turned up just too high. The truth, you realised, would help no-one.

Having reached a successful conclusion, Steve and Danny thanked Ted warmly for what they fondly imagined was his one-off assistance, but it’s not going to be like that, is it?

I’m not sure yet what I think of Ted Case. He’s certainly not the Gerry Standing-equivalent past history had led me to believe, but he came across a little bland to start with, but then so did Nicholas Lyndhurst in his first episode. Lamb’s got a lot to do in a little time, but Sasha Miller will be back next week, and we’ll see how the new dynamics start to shape themselves for episode 4.

New Tricks: Farewell Gerry Standing

                                                                                  Last Man Standing

I really do think the BBC have made a colossal blunder in cancelling New Tricks after this series, but then their recent history has just been one colossal bollock after another. Dennis Waterman has now departed the series, the last original member of the cast, paving the way for Larry Lamb to step in as Ted Case, who we met during the course of tonight’s episode. It’s now a completely different programme, a superb example of refreshing and renewing on the run, so to speak, and it doesn’t deserve to die.

There was almost no humour in this episode, and a deadly seriousness throughout the complex story that crossed two eras in unravelling the death of a Police Inspector in 1982, and the true role Gerry Standing played in his death as opposed to the framed-up appearance that Gerry had actually killed someone.

The episode led with a funeral, with Steve McAndrew, Danny Griffin, Sasha Miller and Deputy Commissioner Strickland in attendance: in short, the whole of UCOS bar Gerry Standing. It was too obvious a signal, it couldn’t be Gerry’s funeral, it wasn’t going to be decided on a cheap death. But as the hours shortened in which UCOS could retain control of the case, and in which Gerry, with Danny in tow, raced down the vital evidence that laid everything bare, whilst the official investigators, Sasha and Steve, ran up against further, cleverly implanted, frames, the more and more it became impossible for this to be anyone else’s ceremony.

Lamb turned up as the only honest copper in a team that should have been investigating graft and corruption, to hand over the vital files that cleared Gerry, but also to provide the clue to the one piece of evidence that Gerry had been keeping back: that he had framed the dead Inspector Ackroyd as being an honest rather than bent cop, about to cough on the Chapman family.

Gerry had even warned Ackroyd, told him to get out, had believed all along that he had done so, until the body emerged. He had been responsible for Ackroyd’s death, and in the face of the danger it could bring to him and his family, Gerry stood up and made a statement.

It might be cliche, but within the parameters of the story, there was an inevitability to it all, leading at last to the turn of the key in a car’s ignition and the bomb that blew it all to blazes.

So it was Gerry’s funeral after all, except that there was something false to it. Gerry had known all along what he was doing, with his refusal to go into Witness Protection, because it would have destroyed his daughter’s life by having to drag her in with him. Strickland ended up going to Gerry’s gangster pal, Tommy Naylor, for help, but Gerry already had it sewn up (it’ll be interesting to see if Naylor ever pulls in that favour: he’s going to have to do it fast if he wants it).

Because the bomb went off and the car blew up but Gerry wasn’t in it. Can’t leave his old mates to mourn, so the funeral gets interrupted by a tweet with a photo of a red Mustang on a Brooklyn Street, with the Last Man Standing behind the wheel: no wonder his Caitlyn wasn’t looking that upset during the funeral.

So go it then, Dennis Waterman, a consummate performance to the last, and New Tricks is completely retooled and ready for a future that’s not got much left to it. No longer Insubstantial Airfill: this has now got ballast.