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After last week's explosive departure for Gerry Standing (he's still there in spirit though, as the chirpy theme tune remains), it fell to series creator Roy Mitchell to carry on the show and write the introductory episode for the new lead character. Although we briefly saw him in the previous episode, this was our first chance to see how well Ted Case (Larry Lamb) would fit into the substantial gap left by Standing. Case is brought in to help supervise the team, as they investigate a sensitive case involving the racist persecution of a white vicar who entered into a multicultural relationship.
Several years earlier, the vicar of St. Barnabas was brutally killed and, with the discovery of racist hate mail, prejudiced motives were assumed. When the vicar's son begins to have flashbacks to the incident, which could identify the killer, UCOS begin to examine circumstances surrounding the murder. The politically delicate nature of the cold case is the starting point of the episode, which quickly turns into a more typical 'family troubles' plotline. Tales of affairs, illegitimate children and family disputes are hardly original concepts to detective drama, but the episode is so well written that -most of the time- it hardly seems to matter.
It's clear from the start that the writer knows how to make New Tricks work; it begins with a mysterious package from Standing, and the plot is intertwined with neat vignettes of the team's personal lives. This allows for gently comedic moments, which help to make the serious elements more palatable. Case implies that Steve McAndrew (Denis Lawson) is less presentable than Dan Griffin, so he embarks on a series of self-improvement efforts; to hilarious effect. Meanwhile, Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst) meets with his girlfriend's parents, with inevitable results. These kind of scenes should really have been done when the characters were introduced, but it's better late the never!
Larry Lamb neatly fits into the series, in an episode that is clearly his introductory story, without being overly dominant. Ted Case bundles into the office of staff that is set out to dislike him, but they are soon won over by his charm (and free coffee). Fortunately, the cool and collected Case appears to be unlike any of the other protagonists of the show, which is good as it prevents him from looking like a direct replacement; a point that somewhat hindered Lyndhurst's character, because he was so similar to the great Brian Lane. Case gets some rather strange character quirks, which I'm not sure are entirely successful, but these will hopefully be ironed out as the series progresses.
Brian Grant directs the episode with functional efficacy; the story is told without many artistic flourishes. Although, some of his choices are rather odd. For example, one scene in the office is shot entirely through the windows, with many strange reflections as a result. Whilst this may have been to enliven what was otherwise a routine exposition scene, the random shafts of light were rather distracting once noticed.
Despite not living up to the heights of 'Last Man Standing', this episode neatly introduces the new lead, while also showing us more about the other main characters before the programme finishes. With an involving -if rather unoriginal- story, witty writing and engaging characters, this series of New Tricks seems to be on a roll.