You know exactly where you are with By Any Means, BBC1’s new action-adventure drama, thanks to its fondness for a particular shot: any remotely glamorous woman is filmed from her high heels upwards, whether she’s getting out of a car or walking up a flight of stairs. The camera leers at her shiny shoes before lingering on her toned black-tight-clad calves, then decorously cuts away before she has a chance to turn around and threaten to call the police. You know what I mean – it’s the kind of thing you’d see in every film starring Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren in the 1950s/60s.
By Any Means (Sunday 9pm) is sweetly retro, even though it thinks it’s bang-on 21st-century computer-game fast, as good guys catch bad guys (by any illegal means, of course), all played out against a painfully loud, jangly soundtrack that’s as insistent as a chainsaw. But it fits the pattern of everything from The A Team to Charlie’s Angels (it even has a shadowy, though female, figure issuing the orders from afar), a thick-eared adventure yarn that exists purely to entertain. Which is why I can’t help but like it.
We have become so used to dark TV dramas where the flawed (anti) heroes are motivated by the searing pain of their own existential angst. Where back-stories are of the darkest hue and where torment is lying dead in a ditch with the abused body of a murdered prostitute and the detective hero/heroine cannot help but empathise to the point of madness with the victim and the bereaved. Corners might be cut, but only after the deepest soul-searching.
Refreshingly, no one is troubled by existential doubts in By Any Means. The leader of the team of maverick righters-of-wrongs (played by Warren Brown) had a Bad Thing happen in his past, but, frankly, I’ve already forgotten what. It has a clear-cut morality: bad guys who escape the slippery clutches of the law must be caught and put away. Corners aren’t so much cut as chopped down and burned in front of our eyes.
There’s a certain levity to By Any Means, which means it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the fatal flaw in the last adventure yarn I can remember, the terrible Hunted. There are even, admittedly rather lame, wisecracks as the gang (a quartet of classic stereotypes comprising the tough guy, the smart totty, the gonzo geek and the sensible one) – take down evil from their strip-lit derelict basement.
Naturally, there has to be a plot involving the downloading of the bad guy’s crucial data to a memory stick, the 21st-century TV drama equivalent of the car chase (imagine Steve McQueen in Bullitt but with a laptop instead of a Mustang Fastback). Bite your fingernails as that thingy on the screen counts up to completion! Naturally, too, sex has to be pantomime-noisy – there’s a woman in this week’s episode in the throes of ecstasy with Warren Brown who sounds like she’s not so much having an orgasm as felling a giant larch.
In a masterstroke of scheduling, By Any Means is plonked opposite that stately galleon and ratings missile, Downton Abbey, presumably because there isn’t a ghost of a chance of even a pinprick of audience crossover. These are two entirely different sets of viewers. So you’re not interested in the rigid class divisions of 1922 England? Then strap yourselves into a black four-wheel drive, carefully place yourself in front of easily identifiable London landmarks (good for US sales) and get stuck in.