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Saturday, February 26, 2011

NEW TRICKS: SEASON THREE -- DVD review by porfle

After watching only one or two episodes of Acorn Media's NEW TRICKS: SEASON THREE, it's easy to see why this is such a popular show in England.  This delightfully offbeat cop series, with its vivid characters and perfect blend of comedy and drama, is a total hoot.

With her career not exactly on the fast track, Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) has been placed in charge of a cold case unit that operates out of what looks like a basement somewhere.  Her team consists of three retired detectives whose own careers went a bit off the rails for one reason or another, and they're eager to make a comeback.  As individuals they're somewhat eccentric, and as a group they tend to clash often, but their combined skills are formidable.

The oldest, ex-Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Halford (James Bolam), left the force after his wife, since deceased, was struck down by a hit-and-run driver.  A solid, reliable cop, Jack is considered a bit odd since he's often seen talking to his dead wife next to the shrine he's built for her in their backyard. 

Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, who sings the show's opening theme, "It's Alright") is a thrice-divorced father of four whose devil-may-care attitude hides a lot of personal baggage.  A bit of a chauvinist, he often trades jabs with Sandra and offers his weary observations on female behavior in general.  He must be a pretty good guy, though, since his three ex-wives and four daughters still like him.

The team's brainiac tech whiz, ex-Detective Inspector Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong, THE MUMMY RETURNS), is a recovering alcoholic and a certifiable basket case if he goes off his meds.  The scenes with him and his long-suffering wife Esther (Susan Jameson), who never knows what to expect, are infused with warmth and humor.

Whenever a cold case gets dropped into their laps, the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) lurches into action amidst the usual horseplay and bickering, with a harried Sandra often forced to act almost as a schoolmarm to keep their undisciplined and unconventional behavior in check.  While frequently hilarious--as when obsessive and downright peculiar Brian is off on some strange tangent, or Sandra's attempts at a social life go down in flames--the humor is well-integrated and does nothing to lessen the gravity of the cases themselves.  In these sharply-written stories, the professional and personal lives of the team are so deftly intertwined that the plots are equally driven by both.

The chemistry between the leads is considerable--by season three these talented actors are well-settled into their colorful roles and play them with conviction.  Their characters are flawed, overly emotional, and can actually be dead wrong at times.  In the first episode of the set, "Lady's Pleasure", even team-leader Sandra almost ruins an investigation with her personal bias against the main suspect, a man accused of killing his wife by sabatoging her car.  Viewers are invited to jump to the wrong conclusions right along with the team, making it all the more interesting when they finally manage to sort out the truth.

In "Old Dogs", a series of canine murders in which the organs are surgically removed baffles the UCOS while the killer lurks right under their noses.  "Diamond Geezers" is one of many instances of their past experiences coming back to haunt them, as a former adversary of Jack's returns wielding his trademark axe.  "Wicca Work", an investigation into the ritual killing of a male witch, introduces Gerry and Brian to a strange female mystic whose herbal tea supercharges their flagging libidos. 

The season finale, "Congratulations", showcases each character in grand style--Sandra is torn by the offer of a promotion that would break up the squad, Gerry meets a woman who claims to be his illegitimate daughter (played by his real-life daughter, Hannah Waterman), Brian's rekindled obsession with war-gaming may also bring on a return to alcoholism, and Jack, finally discovering who is behind the death of his wife, strikes out in homicidal rage.  This final revelation is one of the most powerful moments of the season and Bolam plays it superbly.

The 3-disc, 8-episode set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and English subtitles.  Extras include a 20-minute featurette with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, plus cast filmographies. 

It's exciting to see this over-the-hill bunch take on cold cases and prove theirs to be a crack investigative team despite its disparate elements.  But as good as the stories are, they're mainly an excuse to give these wonderful characters something to do so we'll have the pleasure of watching them interact.  Once you've gotten to know them, NEW TRICKS: SEASON THREE is almost addictively fun.

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