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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NEW TRICKS: SEASON SEVEN -- DVD review by porfle

"The longer I'm on this case," says Jack Halford, retired ex-cop now working on the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS), "the harder it is to figure out who's telling the truth."  Hardly surprising, since the cases tackled by the main characters in the popular BBC series "New Tricks" are so convoluted that they're like watching a tennis match in which the truth is batted back and forth until some vital last-minute revelation finally nails the right suspect with an overhead smash. 

They're interesting cases, to be sure, but what really makes the show tick is the interaction between the crusty old geezers on the squad and their younger boss, Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), who originally got stuck with them as a career-stalling move but now finds solving cold cases with this brilliant but eccentric bunch in their remote basement headquarters to be a fulfilling vocation.  Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set NEW TRICKS: SEASON SEVEN continues their long-running partnership with ten more cases that are as intriguing and fun as any I've seen thus far.

The geezers in question are Sandra's longtime mentor and the team's most level-headed member, Jack Halford (James Bolam), politically-incorrect ladies' man and three-time divorcee Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman), and downright odd obsessive-compulsive tech geek Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong).  The boys are an irreverent bunch and set in their ways, causing Sandra constant grief as she acts as den mother while trying to keep things on an even keel between them and their supercilious young superior, D.A.C. Strickland (Anthony Calf). 

As important as the unsolved crimes are to each episode, it's the character interaction that drives the show whether it be delightfully funny (as when Brian is found blowing his own horn on Twitter as "topcop999") or unexpectedly serious, as we often see when members of the squad go at each other over some hot-button personal or professional conflict. 

Sandra is never hesitant to sharply rebuke her team for some unorthodox act, yet she's subject to the same treatment from them if she's thought to be overstepping her bounds.  In the boxing-oriented episode "Gloves Off", for example, there's a last-minute exchange between her and a defiant Halford that's blisteringly dramatic, ending the episode in stunning style.

There's even a scene in which an angry Brian tries to punch out former boxer Gerry and gets a bloody nose for his trouble. On the homefront, Brian's obsessive and often disturbingly odd behavior is still a source of bemused consternation to his long-suffering wife and keeper Esther (Susan Jameson). 

Conversely, D.A.C. Strickland seems to be loosening up a tad this season and isn't quite as stiff-arsed as usual--in fact, he's even rather complimentary toward UCOS at times.  With him, though, the pendulum could swing back the other way at any moment, just as the overall "comfy-feely" atmosphere within UCOS itself can be shattered at the drop of a hat.

Several things occur which serve as points of interest in season seven.  Longtime smoker Gerry suddenly decides to kick the habit, with predictable results.  Brian becomes paranoid that the government is spying on him, and anyone who's seen Gene Hackman in THE CONVERSATION can guess what effect this has on him.  Sandra is invited to her class reunion but refuses to go, eventually revealing a telling secret about her high school days.  Oddly, last season's cliffhanger surprise involving her newfound half-brother is given little emphasis this time around. 

Simon McCorkindale guest stars in "Dead Man Talking", with Paul Rhys ("Murdoch Mysteries") as a shady clairvoyant who may or may not be preying on the gullibility of a woman whose father was murdered in their home years earlier.  In "It Smells of Books", Brian is delighted that their latest case allows him to haunt a library for clues in the unsolved murder of a university teacher.  "Left Field" reopens the case of a little boy who disappeared while his parents were at a protest rally, and who may still be alive after many years. 

In "Dark Chocolate" the team resumes the search for a serial rapist in a chocolate factory, with a severed finger in a chocolate bar serving as one of their clues.  "Good Morning Lemmings" is the story of a graffiti artist whose killer may be bragging about his deed on walls all over the city.  "Fashion Victim" concerns the unsolved murder of a fashion designer along with a sartorial makeover for Gerry that doesn't go over well with his co-workers.  Rupert Graves of BBC's "Sherlock" guests.

The case of a serial arsonist and his mysterious motives gives "Where There's Smoke" its dramatic spark and ends thrillingly with the boys trapped on the second floor of a burning apartment.  The kidnapping of a young debutante keeps the team guessing in "Coming Out Ball" (with guest star Sian Phillips), while "Gloves Off" features the aforementioned Gerry vs. Brian altercation along with that searing final exchange between Sandra and Jack. 

The season's final episode, "The Fourth Man", is one of the series best so far with the investigation of a deputy assistant commissioner going off the rails and resulting in the ignominious dissolution of UCOS.  D.A.C. Strickland joins the team for this one, which offers up heaps of scintillating drama and a wonderfully sleazy performance by John Shrapnel as the smug top cop who considers himself untouchable.

The 3-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of an 8-minute making-of featurette and about ten minutes of bloopers. 

With NEW TRICKS: SEASON SEVEN this endlessly appealing BBC series shows no signs of running out of steam any time soon.  (Although I'll be interested in seeing how James Bolam's retirement from the show has affected its quality as future seasons become available on DVD.)  With its own inimitable style and one of the best ensemble casts on British television, "New Tricks" keeps on taking cold cases and making them hot again. 

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