July 29, 2008

Old Dogs Start to Show Their Age LAST NIGHT’s TV



AS I atrophy ever more certainly into a terminal state of worthless codgerdom, there's been increasing comfort in watching New Tricks. Its old-dog coldcase cops have flown a flag for Grey Panther power; for the triumph of hardearned experience over callow youth; for the value of those ageless wisdoms that time alone confers.

But - dare I say it - midway through its fifth series, New Tricks is displaying clear signs of decay and decrepitude. Having returned to active duty from early retirement, Brian Lane, Jack Halford, Gerry Standing and Sandra Pullman should perhaps start collecting their polis pensions.

New Tricks is not wholly without its established pleasures, of course. Grieving widower Jack and depressive cyclist Brian still constitute a memorably pawky double act, as when the latter roused the former from a dangerously mournful beachside reverie with the offer of a Strawberry Mivvi ice lolly.

As the heartsick and watery-eyed Jack, James Bolam's face evokes a discarded handbag with two raw oysters dropped inside. There's sadness there, plus the scent of death. Alun Armstrong, meanwhile, imbues the childlike Brian with capricious energy.

As laddish old boy Gerry, Dennis Waterman still allows us glints of his roguish former selves in Minder and The Sweeney. You couldn't help but relish his pithy Cockney scepticism concerning specious Buddhist Tanshin Wangdu, formerly Charlie Webber, drummer in 1970s rock combo Bad Faith (not to be confused with Blind Company).

Whereas the sententious Tanshin Wangdu airily opined that one of his old bandmates wasn't dead, it was more accurately a case of his essence having passed from one dimension to another, bluff Gerry just contorted his geezerish fizzog into a scornful sneer, snarling "B******s."

So what was wrong with New Tricks? Its resolution was unsatisfactory, depending on a hitherto barely-glimpsed culprit being magicked out of thin air at the last minute. On top of that, we had Jack spurning modern police IT methodology to solve a complex offshore fraud by the unlikely expedient of just phoning an old ex- cop chum - while it's surely a uniquely unaware Buddhist who would saddle himself with a comedy name like Tanshin Wangdu. Most unconvincing of all, there's no way a bloodless bureaucrat such as the old-timers' thrusting young nemesis, DAC Strickland, would be a rock-loving guitarist, leader of a hobby band of top cops ("AC/PC!" as Gerry suggested they call themselves).

There was plenty of 1970s rock-god style swagger on view throughout the reality series Can't Read, Can't Write.

An admirably enabling adult-literacy teacher, Phil Beadle empowers his charges by displaying the vagabond demeanour, casual mockney argot, tousled hair, slim hips and lived-in visage of Keith Richards. He also had recourse to an odd , quasi-hippy piece of educational kit: Spacehoppers. His pupils bounced vigorously around their classroom on a word-hunt, thereby transforming the worryingly abstract - reading and writing - into something reassuringly concrete, as well as fun.

Although he avoids the deadening technique and forbidding look of a traditional teacher, Phil's off-hand vibe masks a steely determination, which met its match in one of his greatest successes: Linda. Linda has been tutored out of 40-plus years of illiteracy, but now wants to impose her own terms on her further development. Phil raged at her openly, before lapsing into shame and embarrassment. Linda mixed anger with conciliation, before opting for anger again. A reality show with real people in it - brilliant!

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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