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 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.