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Friday, October 12, 2012

NEW TRICKS: SEASON EIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

The long-running BBC-TV cop series "New Tricks" slides into its eighth inning with Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set NEW TRICKS: SEASON EIGHT.  And, to continue my clever baseball analogy, it's still hitting plenty of homeruns.

If you're already a fan of the show this set of ten episodes will be a welcome "New Tricks" fix, picking up where UCOS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad) left off last season with a whole new batch of scintillating cases to solve.  New viewers can just jump on at any point and go along for the ride--it doesn't take much effort to get into the spirit of this breezy but highly substantial show.

The top-notch cast just keeps getting better. Amanda Redman is Det. Supt. Sandra Pullman, whose assignment as head of UCOS was seen as a career roadblock until the group began to distinguish itself.  She's in charge of three retired cops pulled back into service to solve cold cases from their basement headquarters. 

They are emotionally unstable tech geek Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong), multiple-divorcee and self-styled ladies' man Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman, who sings the show's jaunty theme song), and Sandra's one-time mentor Jack Halford (James Bolam), the team's most distinguished member.  Halford is still troubled by his wife's murder even though UCOS eventually caught the killer, and his ongoing emotional unrest will increasingly affect his job performance as the season comes to an end.

As usual, the cases tackled by UCOS range from interesting to positively gripping.  Yet it's always the interplay between the main characters, whether it be intensely dramatic or delightfully comical, that makes the show such fun to watch.  This helps enormously during the occasional episode in which I'm hopelessly lost amidst a cascade of character names and plot points being batted about like ping pong balls.

"End of the Line" kicks off the season with the investigation of a tramp's unsolved murder on a tube train fifteen years earlier.  "Lost in Translation" is about some Albanian immigrants marked for murder in England, but the main point of interest is Gerry's sudden interest in French culture due to an attractive teacher in his cooking class.  "Old Fossils" finds them reopening the case of a palaeontologist whose death may not have been accidental after all. 

"Setting Out Your Stall" is the touching story of a mother who dies when her coffee is drugged by a serial rapist, with Sandra's turbulent dealings with her own mother coming into play.  "She's 'busied' herself right out of a relationship, a family, and a life," the older Mrs. Pullman observes at one point, and Sandra considers whether or not this is true in the poignantly inconclusive ending.

"Moving Target" contains some delightful bits of business concerning a female psychologist studying the UCOS team for a report on older men in the workplace.  "Object of Desire" features an old flame of Sandra involved in her investigation into an antiques scam, which complicates things when she's told by her superiors that he himself is to be kept under surveillance.

"The Gentleman Vanishes" is a crackerjack mystery almost as Hitchcockian as the title suggests before descending into dark spy intrigue worthy of Le Carre.  It's one of those cases in which the humble UCOS squad gets into something over their heads but performs impressively.  "Only the Brave" examines the murder of a biker-gang member who may have been a police informant.

"Half Life" concerns drug smuggling, but the highlight is skeptical Brian's reluctant visit to a hypnotherapist to cure his insomnia.
"Tiger, Tiger" ends the season with a suspicious death in a zoo, but the real drama stems from Jack Halford's mysterious reluctance to attend a ceremony honoring his life on the force.

The 3-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  The sole bonus is a 19-minute behind-the-scenes featurette dealing with ADR and Foley effects on the show.

This gang is so appealing that the show's directors seem to enjoy finding different ways to photograph them standing or walking around together--kind of like the Beatles.  They're good to hang out with whether grumpily browbeating a suspect, enjoying an after work pint at the corner pub, or just holed up in their basement headquarters having one of their usual rows.  NEW TRICKS: SEASON EIGHT, like the previous installments in this series, is simply a fun place to be.

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