The premise of New Tricks
is irresistible: A career-driven British detective hits a career speedbump and is put in charge of a new cold-case division that she thinks is way out of the spotlight. And if that isn't bad enough, she must build a staff from a raggedy crew of retired cops with loads of time on their hands--as well as, it turns out, some pretty great detective skills they're dying to use again.Supervising the oddball group is the former hotshot Det. Supt. Sandra Pullman (played by Amanda Redman with refreshing world-weariness that gives homage to Helen Mirren's great performance in Prime Suspect
), who feels sidelined, and thus frustrated, in this latest assignment. Yet the viewer knows Pullman is perfectionist enough to give this Siberia gig her all, even if her work methods differ wildly from those on her team.
Recruited out of various stages of retirement are the deeply gifted English character actors James Bolam (playing recent widower Jack Halford), Alun Armstrong (terrific as the obsessive-compulsive Brian Lane, who left the force after a nervous breakdown), and Dennis Waterman (a former sergeant and hothead who likes his liquor and isn't at all sure about having a lady boss). New Tricks is part police procedural--with a deliciously long running time of 90 minutes per episode--as well as a humorous work dramedy. When Pullman pulls a pile of photos of retired cops from whom to begin to build her team, her first teammate, Halford, grabs the pile to help speed along the process. "Dead, dead, dead, dead, good as, dead…" he says as he winnows down the stack. Yet the "old fart" jokes are few and far between, as it soon becomes clear that the old dogs really can learn, and employ, New Tricks and make dramatic, if sometimes politically dangerous, headway into high profile cases assumed to be long closed. Or are they? Fans of any crime procedural will love New Tricks, as will fans of the far more realistic British TV series that dare to show stars with imperfect teeth or well-worn shoe soles. And yet that realism is part of the utter believability, and totally-grow-on-you charm of New Tricks. --A.T. Hurley