Monday, March 14, 2011

What I'm Watching

Still busy with other stuff BUT....

Over the weekend, on a trip to the local library, I spotted a DVD box set of a series called New Tricks that looked interesting so I checked it out... and was really delighted (although I shouldn't have been surprised because it came out of the BBC....)

New Tricks stars Amanda Redman as Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman, James Bolan as Jack Halford, Dennis Waterman as Gerry Standing and Alun Armstrong as Brian Lane.

The plot is perhaps a bit contrived but genius nonetheless...

Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman is a driven Scotland Yard detective on the fast track to a high administrative position when a mission goes wrong. Heading up a team to rescue a high-profile kidnap victim Pullman accidentally shoots a dog and fails to prevent the kidnap victim from getting injured.

Scotland Yard then creates a new unit called the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad and places her in charge as both a punishment for her failing and as a way of burying her for a while until attention dies down, at which point her career may be salvageable. The UCOS is designed to utilize retired police officers to help close Cold Cases when new evidence appears.

Unfortunately for Sandra Scotland Yard retirees do not seem to have a long lifespan post-retirement and so she finds herself with a rather motley and strange bunch that she is forced to try to corral.

Jack Halford, a former Detective Chief Superintendent is Sandra's former mentor and she turns to him to help organize the team. Halford is something of a "detective's detective" and is never willing to sacrifice the truth for expediency.

Gerry Standing is, on the other hand, an aging 'macho' detective type. He was forced out of the police department under a cloud of suspicion that he was on the take -- although he claims he never took a bribe. He has friends on both sides of the law, however. In addition, he tends to like to operate in a more old-school style of bending the rules in order to get a conviction and thinking that 'roughing up' suspects is all in a day's work in order to get a confession or information.

Brian Lane is, well, kind of like the character Monk only not quite as dysfunctional. Lane has a photographic memory, an exacting eye for detail, and is a walking filing cabinet. He was let go from Scotland Yard when, while suffering from depression, he was inattentive and allowed a drug dealer to die of overdose while in his custody in the holding cells.

As if all of the above were not enough, each one of the characters has to deal with their own personal emotional dysfunctions. Sandra has a string of failed relationships behind her and actively seeks out therapy to try to learn why she seems to self-destruct on these relationships. In addition, she is trying to deal with her compulsive drive to be the best while she has been sidelined and is unable to advance. She also must deal with the fact that she has been thrust into a "mother hen" role when it comes to these men -- a role that sits uneasily on her.

Thankfully, she has Halford to help her in this. Halford has a keen insight into the human heart and psyche and often acts as a mediator between Sandra and her modern way of doing things and the old ways that the other retirees are are set in. He also acts as a kind of 'father confessor' for Sandra, Gerry and Brian and tries to give them sage advice in dealing with their personal relationships.

Halford is not without his own scars, though. He left the force to care for his wife who was severely injured by a hit-and-run driver and her injuries eventually contributed to her death. Somewhat bereft without her, he keeps a memorial to her in his back garden and often talks to her in order to try to work out cases and problems.

Gerry has three ex-wives, three grown daughters and a string of one-night-stands behind him. He continues to live as an aging Lothario -- clinging desperately to his mid-life crisis long after mid-life. He does have some sense of responsibility, though, as he is determined to financially help out when his oldest daughter becomes a single mother (making Gerry a grandfather).

Brian is probably the most damaged -- the death of the drug dealer in his custody leading to a nervous breakdown. He takes medication to control his depression and he is a recovering alcoholic and manages to function despite having a low level of obsessive-compulsive disorder and a certain amount of social awkwardness. As he says of himself, he is too much "head" and not enough "heart" but he is truly devoted to his wife, Esther.

The series encapsulates what a lot of British drama does so well -- balancing genuine humor with serious drama and pathos. The characters are also flawed but never seem to be all about their flaws. They are not "pretty", they are far from young, and they don't fit the usual "hot" demographics that American TV shows chase so blindly. And, against the stereotype of the wise, sage, oldster, this show instead shows these older men as being terribly human -- prone to making mistakes, not always having the right answers, and still getting through life one day at a time just like the rest of us. It really is refreshing. The mystery plots are also really quite good and absorbing.

So check out New Tricks, you'll find that this series proves that 'old dogs' really can learn new tricks as well as using a few old tricks that, with the passage of time, have become new again.

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