New Tricks producer Tom Sherry recently said that the BBC1 series is “very quietly, and without making a lot of fuss…on its way to becoming a national treasure.”
He’s right – and who could have seen it coming? I’ve watched New Tricks from the beginning and started out by not being keen. It was far too bluff and jokey for me.
But – and here I raise my hands in mute surrender – I’ve gone a bit soft on New Tricks and hold it in something approaching affection. As do upwards of eight million viewers; even New Tricks repeats pull in comparatively huge audience figures.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this crime drama about a group of superannuated male cops and their tough lady-boss. You know exactly where you are with every episode of New Tricks. You won’t be challenged or offended and the inherently likeable characters are easy to identify with, despite their curmudgeonly exteriors.
New Tricks is comfortable and contains no searing social messages or insights. For an awful lot of viewers it’s a respite from being beaten over the head by worthy dramas about people dying from heroin overdoses on council estates. Or The Street. Or anything about conspiracies in multi-national corporations, for me, the biggest yawn of all.
What does give me pause is that everyone seems to be agreed that a chunk of New Tricks’s appeal is the characters’ lack of truck with anything vaguely modern, worthy or politically correct. But this is New Tricks’s least successful aspect, as it’s not done with any particular wit.
Rather the characters bluster about how things were done in the old days and stand no nonsense from authority – the youngish, wimpy, impeccably turned-out male boss is routinely unmanned and humiliated by the old geezers because he is the token, cliched box-ticker. It’s a bit tired.
No, the real fun of New Tricks is the interaction between the four leads – Dennis Waterman, James Bolam, Alun Armstrong, Amanda Redman. Even if a script isn’t up to snuff, they still manage to bring things alive with charisma and a sense of fun.
In many ways the actual stories are incidental to the knockabout stuff between the four cops and the obviously strong bonds between their characters. In a television landscape that often loses sight of the fact, that just once in a while, dramas don’t have to be earnest or meaningful, New Tricks is a gale-force blast of fresh air.