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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NEW TRICKS: SEASON SIX -- DVD review by porfle

We rejoin the crack--and slightly cracked--team of UCOS (Unsolved Cases something something) where we left off with Acorn Media's NEW TRICKS: SEASON SIX, and find out that the fun just keeps on going as these three retired geezers and their lady boss hit the streets to close those nagging still-open cases. 

Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman) is put in charge of unsolved crimes after her career hits a snag.  The low-priority, no-glamour position also forces her to act as den mother for the trio of crotchety ex-cops who bring both their extensive expertise and unpredictable personalities to the job. 

James Bolam (since retired from the show) plays Jack Halford, the most stable of the three despite the fact that his wife was run down by one of the criminals they're trying to get the goods on.  Dennis Waterman, who sings the show's theme song "It's Alright", is politically-incorrect ladies' man Gerry Standing, still getting along famously with his three ex-wives.  As uber-geeky, obsessive-compulsive, recovering alcoholic Brian Lane, Alun Armstrong is as technically brilliant as he is emotionally unstable, as his long-suffering wife Esther (Susan Jameson) will attest.

One of the joys of watching this BBC show is the relationship between these characters, which is often much more interesting than the cases they're called upon to reopen.  We get to know them so well as people that their scenes shift easily from comedy to drama and back several times during each episode, within a comfort zone of familiarity that makes them fun to hang out with.  More often than not their workday ends with a trip to the local pub, despite the fact that their professional interactions can be abrasive, overly intimate, and sometimes downright volatile.

Episode 1, "The War Against Drugs", begins with Brian entering a rehab clinic run by monks.  Naturally, he stumbles across an unsolved murder which took place there several years earlier, and against his wife's wishes the team infiltrates the place in hopes of finding the killer.  Episode 2, "The Truth Is Out There", starts out well with an alleged UFO crash near a U.S. Air Force base eliciting some lighthearted skepticism from all but space-case Brian, but becomes rather turgid as the story gets a little too dramatic and soapbox-y for its own good.

Episode 3, "Fresh Starts", is a scintillating mystery with a distraught young widower insisting that he's seen his dead wife walking around.  "Shadow Show" is a good one for film fans with newly-released outtakes from an aborted movie project showing up on the net and allegedly depicting what may be clues to an unsolved murder.  This episode gives us a behind-the-scenes look at fabled Pinewood Studios (home of the 007 soundstage) and ends with a hostage situation with Brian, of all people, acting as negotiator.

"Death of a Timeshare Salesman" is one of those stories in which the busy and not-all-that-interesting plot takes a backseat to our enjoyment of simply spending time with these characters as they try to sort it all out.  Episode 6, "The Last Laugh", heats things up again as the alleged killer of Jack's wife, a loathesome crime boss named Hanson, pops up on UCOS' radar once again and gives the team another crack at finally nailing him for good.  James Bolam gives yet another fine performance as Jack and displays the full depth of his emotionally scarred character, while David Troughton as Hanson plays the kind of smug, sociopathic thug you really want to see taken down hard.

"Blood Is Thicker Than Water" is one of the more interesting mysteries of the season, with the question of who was responsible for the deadly collision of a tugboat and a yacht leading to some searing revelations within two opposing families.  This is topped, however, by the season capper, "Meat is Murder", which goes from a gruesome unsolved murder in a butcher shop to one of the most devastating events in DS Pullman's life.  A jarring blow-up between her and Gerry Standing adds heat to the dramatic flames fanned by this cracking story, but it's Sandra's overwhelming personal discovery that serves as a tantalizingly unresolved season ender. 

As usual, this set of "New Tricks" tales is well-mounted and filled with outstanding guest performances.  Series regular Anthony Calf is on hand again as the team's supercilious overseer, D.A.C. Strickland, who takes the team lightly until their diligence garners accolades for him to bask in.  The show's evocative musical score is the work of talented and prolific father-son team Brian and Warren Bennett, the former being not only a member of Cliff Richard's group The Shadows but also once part of 007 composer John Barry's band.

The 3-disc, 8-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  As a bonus, a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette gives us the lowdown on the show's ADR and foley elements along with an interview with the Bennetts on scoring the show.

I've seen three seasons of "New Tricks" so far and still find it effortlessly engaging, even when I don't know what the hell's going on with the occasionally overly-busy plots (too many rapid-fire details to keep up with and my mind shuts down).  As usual, it's what goes on between the plucky Sandra and her geriatric but inexhaustably lively charges that make NEW TRICKS: SEASON SIX an open-and-shut case of murder most fun.

Buy the DVD at

Season Three review
Season Four review

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