âItâs alright, itâs okay,â? sings Dennis Waterman at the start of the first episode of the eighth series of New Tricks. The theme-tune lyrics are a fitting epithet for the programme itself. For if we accept the truism that stepping, barefoot, on a piece of Lego is the most unpleasant phenomenon a human being can endure; and sneezing after an hour with an itchy nostril is the happiest, then New Tricks falls almost exactly in the middle. Itâs alright, itâs okay. Itâs a dreary 1-0 win for your home football team, or an unexpected offer of a cup of tea from a colleague who ends up brewing the beverage not really to your liking.
The characters are drawn with all the subtlety of a 1970s public health advertisement: Dennis Waterman is the gor-blimey, hard drinking, hard-living, womanising ex-cop, Alun Armstrong is the uber-geeky, super-brainy, non-drinking alcoholic ex-cop, James Bolam is the loyal-to-a-fault, but damn-fine cop ex-cop, and Amanda Redman is the long-suffering, bossy, but essentially nurturing guvânor cop. The primary-colour unreality of the set-up extends even to the location: a delightfully empty Natural History Museum in London, shorn entirely of the queue-jumping tourists, Tube-frazzled parents and ecstatic toddlers, who tend to frequent its magical halls.
But the quartet â the old dogs from the first half of the new tricks maxim – perform their roles effectively, engagingly even. The episode is cleverly plotted; the whodunit disguised until the very end, and the steady reveals are satisfying enough. Throughout, the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) are investigating the death of a paleontologist in the museum. So cue: heavily choreographed old fossil jokes. Cue also a suspicious ex-wife, jealous colleagues, dodgy lovers, a pantomime villain oil company, and loving shots of the Kensington museum.
An hour is perhaps too long to wait for the refreshingly unlikely denouement, but donât be surprised if New Tricks gets yet another series. The choreographed banter between the foursome is pleasantly familiar and will appeal to the type of folk who look forward to Casualty, and rightfully wonder why the schedules are so dominated by the young. Compared with some of the alternatives, being alright and okay is often enough.