If you've read my reviews of earlier seasons of New Tricks (2003-present), the British mystery-comedy-drama series about retired police detectives investigating unsolved cases at the fictional Unsolved Crime and Open Cases Squad, you may have noticed a gradual turnabout in my views on that show. The first season I looked at was Season/Series 5, which in retrospect was easily the show's weakest, featuring lazily-written mysteries and which strangely deemphasized the same charming character relationships which have always been New Tricks' greatest asset. After being pleasantly surprised by the improved writing and better character emphasis in seasons eight and nine, I went back and watched the series from the beginning, chronologically. In so doing, I quickly recognized its many charms and now I'm quite fond of it.
Ironically, this newfound love for New Tricks came just as the program was undergoing several major shakeups. One of its four stars, James Bolam, left New Tricks at the beginning of Season Nine, and over the course of Season Ten, both Alun Armstrong and Amanda Redman opted to depart from the series as well, leaving anchor Dennis Waterman as the sole original cast member.
Acorn Media's release of New Tricks - Season Ten, alas, on DVD only, looks good and includes the usual spoiler-filed behind-the-scenes featurette.
Out with the old (left), in with the new (right)
As before, Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) leads the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad, UCOS, staffed with much older, retired detectives: Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong, age 66 during season ten), Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, 65), and the team's latest arrival, Glaswegian Steve McAndrew (Denis Lawson, 64). The latter replaces Jack Halford (James Bolam), whose character abruptly retired after privately learning he was dying of cancer, a fact that, initially, only Brian was told.
Lawson, recently in the headlines expressing no desire to reprise his "Wedge" character in the new Star Wars movies, in season nine made an interesting contrast to Bolam's short-tempered, cynical, borderline misanthropic widower, a man more than ready to reunite with his murdered wife in the afterlife. The much younger, fitter Steve was given an interesting backstory expanded upon here, a desire to reenter his estranged teenaged son's life, while his Scottish roots continue to be the source of much humor, particularly from Cockney new best mate Gerry.
Psychologically-tortured, sober alcoholic Brian Lane's departure more or less becomes a four-episode story arc during the first half of the season, highlighted by a two-part show filmed on location in Portugal. Without giving anything away it's an emotionally satisfying send-off that, in the end, is rather touching.
Retired DCI Dan Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst, Only Fools Have Horses, and only 53), formerly of the Murder Squad and, briefly, the Diplomatic Protection Group, replaces him. Early episodes introduce Dan's physically disabled teenaged daughter, and later shows slowly reveal the whereabouts of his never-seen wife.
Dan's character is less imaginatively conceived than Steve's as he's a bit too much like Brian. However, he's virtually the opposite of Brian in one respect: circumspection. Dan doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve as Brian had, but like Brian he's a veritable walking computer, with an encyclopedic mind and a head for figures, probably a concession to the show's writers to maintain a character able to speed exposition along when required.
Amanda Redman's departure, and the introduction of her replacement, DCI Sasha Miller (Tamzin Outhwaite, 43, several years younger than Redman was when she was first introduced), comes late in the season. Sandra Pullman's final episode is similarly handled well with one nice, certainly unexpected surprise for the show's fans.
The introduction of three significantly younger cast members could be the BBC trying to cull younger viewers, this despite the show's continued strong ratings. Or they may simply be investing in the series over the long haul. (Taggart lasted 27 years with all the original cast members long gone years before its eventual cancellation.) And the widening age gap becomes an additional source for some very funny gags. Interviewing a 70-something witness in one episode, the man admits, "I'm a lot older than all of you," then, pointing to Gerry, "except maybe him."
James Bolam effectively left the series at the end of season eight, complaining that the scripts had grown stale. He was right at the time, but New Tricks has really bounced back, with a welcome return of more stories involving the private lives of the UCOS team, as well as their interpersonal working relationships. Perhaps if Bolam had known how much the series would soon improve he might have stayed on longer, and it might help to explain … oh, never mind.
Video & Audio
Shot for 1.78:1 high-def exhibition, New Tricks - Season Nine looks great, up to contemporary television standards. The Dolby Digital stereo audio is good and supported by optional English SDH subtitles. Ten episodes are spread across three single-sided, dual-layered discs with a total running time of just under 10 hours.
The lone extra is a pretty good one: a behind-the-scenes featurette with members of the cast and crew. But it also has its share of spoilers, so be warned.
Having solidly bounced backed and despite major cast changes, New Tricks - Season Ten has the show humming along nicely and thus is heartily Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.