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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NEW TRICKS: SEASON NINE -- DVD review by porfle

After eight seasons of just getting better and better, Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set NEW TRICKS: SEASON NINE gives us a look at a great TV series undergoing a nerve-rattling shakeup but still managing to maintain its composure.

The gang at UCOS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Case Squad)--three retired, geriatric cops and their plucky female boss and full-time den mother Det. Supt. Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman)--are still tucked away in a secluded basement office and not given the credit they've earned during years of brilliant detective work. But word's finally getting around about these guys, with Pullman no longer regarding it as a dead-end job and even their formerly dismissive supervisor D.A.C. Strickland (Anthony Calf) beginning to recognize what an asset they are.

Alun Armstrong and Dennis Waterman continue to shine as, respectively, emotionally-unstable OCD casualty Brian Lane and thrice-divorced curmudgeon Gerry Standing (Waterman also sings the show's theme song, "It's Alright"). Part of that shakeup I referred to earlier occurs in the season opener, "A Death in the Family", when the team's oldest and wisest member, Jack Halford (James Bolam), who has been Sandra's mentor for many years, announces his this-time-for-real retirement.

The case at hand--a "Jack the Ripper" style murder that took place over a hundred years earlier--is soon pushed aside in our minds as we wonder what the real reason is behind Jack's leaving. Ultimately, what will be Bolam's final episode is resolved in a quick and relatively unsentimental way, so the show gets credit for not going the maudlin route here. (Tim McInnerny's guest turn as shady government operative Stephen Fisher, who forces the team to work on the case without telling them why, is a highlight.)

This, of course, leaves us fans wondering what's to become of the team and the show. UCOS gets by for a couple more episodes ("Old School Ties", about the unsolved murder of a teacher in an uppercrust girls' school, and the consistently interesting and twisty "Queen and Country") with just Sandra, Gerry, and Brian bearing the caseload. While the truncated team is surprisingly effective, there's still something missing without a third retiree to round things out.

Then, with "The Girl Who Lived", a fascinating story of a girl who is missing and presumed dead for years until her DNA is found at the scene of a convenience store holdup, comes retired Scottish cop Steve McAndrew, who aids the team due to his personal involvement in the original case years before and ends up becoming a permanent replacement for Jack. Steve's character strongly asserts his own unique personality traits early on--he's cocky, brash, and tough, he's a rule-bender, and he enjoys a drink or two (making him a good playmate for Gerry but not recovering alcoholic Brian, who starts to feel left out).

McAndrew is played by Denis Lawson, a name I didn't recognize at first although the face seemed vaguely familiar (it might've helped if I'd pictured him with dark hair instead of the current white). Checking his page on IMDb I found that he'd been in all three films of the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Character name? Wedge. He was WEDGE, for Pete's sake! You could've knocked me over with an Ewok! Needless to say, I looked at him in a different light from then on.

As a replacement for James Bolam, Lawson is still proving himself. Still, he's a fun addition to the team and, since he's the new guy and tends to behave impulsively, he keeps things unpredictable. Another element of freshness to this season's stories is the increased involvement of D.A.C. Strickland, whose attitude toward UCOS has evolved from adversarial to almost paternal.

"Body of Evidence" involves a missing corpse that turns up in a hospital morgue after lying there under the wrong name for a year. "Love Means Nothing in Tennis" is the story of an up-and-coming young tennis star who falls over the balcony of her penthouse apartment after losing a crucial match. Suicide or murder? Her tennis rivals and their flaky mothers are all caught up in the web of suspicion. Alexei Sayle guest stars.

Brian is enchanted by the world of poetry in "Dead Poets", while a more cynical Gerry just wants to find out who murdered a young poet and incinerated him in the scrapyard of a local drug dealer. "Blue Flower" is the compelling tale an East Berlin couple who, before the fall of the Berlin wall, helped their baby escape while staying behind themselves. Years later, the father searches for his now-grown daughter in England but is murdered on the street by an unknown assailant, which is only the beginning of a complicated web of betrayal and deceit.

"Glasgow UCOS" plays almost like the pilot for a proposed spinoff, with Gerry joining new partner Steve as he returns to Scotland to help inaugurate their new UCOS team but discovers that he's really there to help solve an old case that no one else wants to dirty their hands on. The final show of the season, "Part of a Whole", marks the return of Tim McInnerny as sneaky government agent Stephen Fisher, as a 30-year-old undercover exploit threatens the lives of everyone originally involved--including D.A.C. Strickland--in a riveting tale loaded with intrigue, action, and surprises.

The 3-disc, 10-episode DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. Bonuses consist of two featurettes--a "making of" short (12 min.) and a look at some of the stunts involved in the episode, "Part of a Whole."

With more cast changes supposedly in the offing (I hear about these things but don't follow up on them because I don't want to spoil it for myself), one wonders how long "New Tricks" can continue to operate with its original cast dwindling. But for now anyway, NEW TRICKS: SEASON NINE is quite enough to keep fans satisfied a while longer. As usual, it's the interactions of the characters more than the sometimes overly-complicated plots that really keep us coming back for more.

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