New Tricks: Tender Loving Care

“Who’s to say my light is better than your darkness?”

Daniel Keyes

They’re really running out of title ideas, aren’t they.

This week on New Tricks, the team investigates the death of a young medical professional while Danny deals with some Personal Stuff when his daughter Holly goes off to university. (The best bit is when Danny makes friends with a cat. It’s called Simkins.) Presumably this episode is supposed to explore the meaning of parenthood, as the victim’s doctor parents react to the reopening of the case with varying amounts of hysteria. It doesn’t work, mostly because the parents are always upset, there are always secrets among New Tricks families, and the team has at least one emotional crisis between them every week. (Who thought these guys were fit for service?)

The mystery is typically uninteresting; it shouldn’t be, because there’s a fairly massive twist mid-plot, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care. This, I think, is where New Tricks‘ hour-length format falls down; an hour simply isn’t enough time to build up sympathy for or interest in supporting characters, and so our focus is squarely upon the team. And this is fine – when the team dynamic is one like the original one, informed by irritability, by conflict, by jokes at others’ expense and by a triumphant kind of grudging mutual support. But the new UCOS – and it is new, when only one original character remains – has none of this. Sure, there’s banter, and old-man jokes, and not-quite-legal policing tactics. But it’s all been toned down somewhat. The team coheres better, but it also has less character. Tamsin Outhwaite has not half the charisma and forcefulness of Amanda Redman, despite her character’s somewhat contrived encounters with her ex-husband. Both Steve and Danny are simply too easy to get on with, despite Danny’s awkwardness. Even Gerry seems to have mellowed, to the show’s detriment, despite being, well, Gerry.

There are a lot of “despites” in that last paragraph, which I think is telling. The writers have clearly tried to reproduce the old dynamic, and have tried too hard. Perhaps if they’d gone in a completely different direction, Doctor Who-style, it might have been OK. As it is, it’s a hackneyed format peopled by an adequate bunch of characters doing childish things like slow-motion bowling and not telling each other where they are going. I’ll probably keep watching, because what else is there to do on a Tuesday evening? But I won’t enjoy it. (As much, anyway.)

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