New Tricks: Series 7
R2 - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Jon Meakin (18th July 2011).
The Film

New Tricks is currently in its eighth highly successful series for the BBC. Despite this, itís sneered at by critics and has an undeserved reputation of being too cosy and middle-of-the-road. Itís true; this isnít hard-bitten like Luther or as intricate as an Inspector Morse, but it isnít absurd nonsense like Midsommer Murders either. Itís fun and watchable, never over-stretching the premise and relying on a cast of great characters to gloss over often predictable stories. It doesn't always play safe and several episodes of this 10 part series are absolute crackers.

Amanda Redman, as disgraced DS Sandra, leads the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS), made up of retired policemen James Bolam, Dennis Waterman and Alun Armstrong. Each of them is a different type of classic TV detective: Armstrong the socially inept, but brainy one; Waterman the rough and ready maverick; and Bolam as the shrewd career copper with a tough, unshakable resolve. Of all of them, Bolam strikes me as the most well drawn character with the best dynamic with Redman, and who could lead his own series, but they all effortlessly complement each other. Some of the best moments come from hints of their past, such as Bolamís surprisingly aggressive interrogation techniques or Watermanís affinity with gangsters. The wealth of experience in this cast cannot be undervalued and they are the heart of the show and the best reason to watch.

In past series, each of the members has had a significant sub-plot running through the episodes, but in series seven thereís very little of that and certainly no long arc or sudden revelations. You can easily dip in and out of these episodes as they are all stand-alone. Armstrongís patient wife (Susan Jameson) is really the only regular outsider we see and even then thereís none of the drama from previous years. Redmanís half-brother makes an early and brief appearance in the first episode, but itís nothing substantial. You could accuse the writers of taking it easy, except the stories are pretty good.

They all follow a tried and tested formula and if you havenít worked out the villain within 15 minutes, youíre not paying attention! But theyíre still good, fast moving plots and the cast are thoroughly entertaining. Occasionally the writing is naÔve, like a weak story about graffiti artists with one suspect played by a dreadfully miscast actor, but on the other hand, it can be moving, dramatic and itís always funny. The last four episodes are the best, especially ĎWhereís The Fireí, which is the epitome of a perfect UCOS case as they reinvestigate an arson from a new angle; and ĎGloves Offí about boxing may be the best plotted (still obvious who the villain is though!) while 'Coming Out Ball' is the most moving, though let down by a left-field ending. The final episode, ĎThe Fourth Maní is a fantastic closer for the series, featuring a guest appearance by Phil Daniels (heís been in it once before). That man does not get enough regular TV work and I found myself hoping they were going to drag him in as a permanent fifth member!

Video

Video quality of the anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation is a huge let-down. The series doesnít feature ambitious photography, but is typical of any well-funded BBC production so should be excellent. By comparison with the original broadcast, this is poor. It's grainy and dull, with blown-out colours and even occasional ghosting.

Audio

Audio is more acceptable than the video and there is little to say, good or bad, about the 2.0 stereo track. Except it does betray looping (when an actor has re-recorded their lines in post-production) a couple of times because the albeit brief instances of dubbing are clearer than the other voices in the scene, almost as if they were suddenly narrating! English subtitles are included and can be selected during playback.

Extras

Extras are slight. Disc one includes a feature on how they did a house fire sequence, always welcome bloopers and standard cast biographies. Note that the feature and even the bloopers might be considered to contain slight spoilers, so youíre better off saving them until after disc three.

Overall

New Tricks is a series based on predictable convenience, but itís also reliably entertaining thanks to a great cast and writers who know exactly what their audience want. By the end, you do have to wonder why UCOS arenít more respected, solving every case thrown at them, especially when you consider the conceit that these cases have already been attempted by the fully funded might of the Metropolitan Police! But quibbles like that should be looked on with some affection. We need more series like New Tricks because they are harmless fun.

Itís just a shame this DVD release is so weak. A lack of extras is understandable, but viewers should at least expect the video quality to be on a par with the original broadcast. Itís far from typical BBC standard as their DVD sets are normally very good. It seems the BBC distributed series one and two themselves, but Acorn Media have done series three onwards and itís clearly a lazy effort. It's inexcusable because most people who by this series are going to be mislead, rightfully expecting BBC quality.

The Film: B Video: D Audio: C Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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