I want to say upfront that this post is purely my opinion, based on my own personal perspective. Obviously all posts are just my opinion. However, I wanted to make that doubly clear with this one because it might turn out to be a bit of a rant.
Now, I’m a bit of a vocal critic when it comes to British drama. Most of my complaints are on the basis that we don’t make enough of it. We produce very few drama series. Honestly open up TV guide, and the bulk is reality, soaps (which I don’t count as dramas), quiz shows and property programs. Scripted dramas are thin on the ground.
With what we do make, I don’t expect everything to be my cup of tea, different people like different things. However, even when we do make something of quality we don’t make very much of it. The largest episode order per season seems to be 10 episodes, less than a half season (or mid-season replacement) of a US series.
Despite this there have been a few British shows I have enjoyed over the years. Hustle was amazing, and it just makes me sad how few episodes there were in the end. It lasted for 8 seasons, but at 6 episodes a season, that only made for 48 episodes. That’s basically 2 seasons of a US drama, possibly part of a third depending on how many episodes were ordered.
I watched the last episode of New Tricks last night, which is what prompted this post. I’ve watched that show since the beginning and I saw it through to the end.
A quick word about the TV Licence
I have to rant about this somewhere. The BBC in Britain is funded by the TV licence. Every household with a TV aerial has to pay just less than £150 a year. It doesn’t matter if you don’t watch BBC, if you have a TV then you have to cough up.
I find this disgusting to be honest. It’s an unfair tax and I think it’s wrong. The BBC say that they provide a service for everyone, that they allow access to culture and news etc. and they aren’t biased and they can provide a greater range as they aren’t limited by advertising. Well I disagree. They put stuff on the TV in the hope people watch it, just like any network.
I really don’t see why I should have to pay for a service I don’t want, don’t use and altogether find unnecessary. It works out at about £12 a month, which is twice what my Netflix subscription is and I actually want my Netflix subscription. I could get Sky TV, or some other paid for TV service with that money. However, while I think they decriminalized not having a TV licence, so I wouldn’t run the risk of jail time, if you don’t have one then there’s a £1000 fine.
Basically if you have a TV, the licence is mandatory. It just funds the BBC but there’s no way to prove that you never watch their channels, there’s no way to turn them off. It’s a racket, it’s like state sponsored extortion.
Yes I did watch a BBC show last night – New Tricks. However, that is the last remaining thing I watch on the BBC. I certainly won’t be watching Top Gear anymore, not now they have sacked Clarkson and co. I have Amazon Prime so I’ll watch Clarkson and co. new show on there.
I also only watched New Tricks because I could, if I had opted out of the BBC service then I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I watched it because I had watched the show since it’s inception and I thought I would complete the set, I didn’t watch it because I particularly wanted to see it.
New Tricks and the slow decline
When the show started it was excellent. The characters were believable, the cases made sense, the wider world of the shows fictional universe tracked. In short, the show was top quality. That quality slowly diminished over the years.
It started with the cases getting more complicated and not making sense, like whoever wrote it hadn’t been able to keep tracks of the clues and suspects. Then the character continuity started to slip but not too badly at first. It was more that the characters became caricatures of themselves, like whoever was writing it had read a bullet point brief and hadn’t humanized them, there wasn’t the same depth there.
For instance Gerry Standing was always a bit politically incorrect and a womanizer but he had a heart, and he knew where the line was and was deep down a solid family man and good guy. That changed and he wasn’t the same man, he didn’t have the same soul anymore.
Then they lost track of continuity altogether, rewriting the characters backstories at a whim to provide more dramatic exits when the main cast left. The cases became near incomprehensible, they started to forget even the new characters continuity and changed their personalities depending on what the plot demanded.
It all culminated in one of the worst endings of a long running TV show I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch. New Tricks ran for 12 seasons, due to the expanded 10 episode order it managed a phenomenal (for British TV) 107 episodes. The main cast had a complete changeover, the last of the main cast left at the beginning of the last season. However, even if people weren’t so invested in the new characters, they were invested in the concept of UCOS.
The final episode had a new character, some female bigshot, high up in the police hierarchy. They had appeared for the first time in the previous episode and in this one they shut down UCOS. In the previous (9th) episode the newest lead character – Ted Case – made a mistake and arrested a suspect which he didn’t have the right to do. He wasn’t a copper anymore, he was a civilian with powers for investigation but not arrest. The suspect confessed then recanted, then tried to commit suicide. It was a mess.
Anyway this new police bigshot used that mistake to call for an investigation and then ultimately shut the unit down. The lead characters had been in the middle of a case and they refused to drop it and they solved it. They found that the killer was a bigshot charity executive, who just so happened to be friends with the bigshot police lady. They arrested her and that was all fine.
Cut to the final scene. The characters are on a boat, travelling in style to lunch. Each of the lead characters in turn confess that they don’t want their job back with UCOS. Dan Griffin has got a job with Interpol and was going to move to Aberdeen with his girlfriend after all, despite telling her in their previous scene together that he couldn’t go. Steve McAndrew is getting a PI licence and moving to Australia to be with his son, which didn’t quite track as I doubt PI licences transfer countries like that. Anyway, no matter, Ted Case was going traveling with his partner and the real Detective Sasha was taking a promotion to head up the female bigshots new taskforce. Something she’d previously turned down – twice.
Now, ok fair enough they wanted to give all the characters closure. That makes sense. However, UCOS, the concept that the show revolved around was no more.
I remember reading about how the producers decided to end Stargate SG-1. The final shot was of the team going through the stargate, stylized to look the same as when the team went through the stargate at the end of the pilot episode. The message was that the show might be ending, but that the team would go on and have adventures without us, everything would go on. It was a message of hope given how invested people had become in the show, in the team, after 10 years. They couldn’t just end everything.
Yes, I liked that they gave us character closure on New Tricks. However, they’d had a complete cast changeover, I really didn’t care so much about these new people. They’d only been it in the last couple of seasons, the show at it’s core was about UCOS. In having a complete changeover they’d proved that the show was more than the characters. Even though I would actually argue that the show took a massive step forward in decline, when it lost the old main characters, they were really what was keeping it going even though it was already slipping.
However, there was no hope, there was no life goes on even though we wouldn’t be watching. It was just done, over. UCOS brought justice to people that had previously had no hope, they’d hammered home how important their mission was over and over. Then, right at the end they just abandon it like it was nothing.
All it would have taken was the final shot, not being of the team bantering on the boat, instead of going back to the UCOS office. They could have shown a new team, nobody recognizable, just extras, setting up their desks to begin work, a new case on the whiteboard. UCOS could have lived and that would have made such a difference.
Yes, the show had got crappy, it had declined, I watched it out of habit, out of a desire to see it through, not because I actually still liked it. However, the show was once good and I wanted it to have a good ending. 12 seasons, 12 years is a long time, it deserved a good send-off. In my opinion it really didn’t get one.
I don’t watch any other British shows. There’s nothing on British TV right now that I like and with the decline in scripted drama, I don’t see when that will change. I have family that won’t watch anything other than British TV, which means that they don’t really watch much TV at all.
I like my country and I wish that we did make more drama, better shows, offered more choice and opportunities. It’s not that we don’t have quality actors, I mean you should see British actors in American dramas, they are outstanding. We just don’t give them the stage to showcase their talents in their own country.
I get that we are much smaller than the US, so we just can’t afford to make a fraction of what they do. However, we could do better. Until then, I will resent bitterly being forced to pay for a TV licence, and I’ll just watch US TV. I’m done with British drama.