By Any Means: Spoiler-Free Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
Crime fighters who are coined as being ‘mavericks’ are something that are increasingly recurrent on TV today. We had John Luther, one of the original off-the-rails policemen; we had Sarah Lund, the Danish sweater-wearing detective inspector of The Killing; Gene Hunt from Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes is also one and now we’ve got the By Any Means team. They’re in the “grey area” working like Torchwood but with more allegiance to the police force. Headed up by Jack Quinn (Warren Brown off Luther) their main job, they find, is to bring down all wrongdoers and hand them over to the police. It’s a simple enough premise that the series will most likely run with. But unfortunately it’s the execution that betrays the intriguing scenario.
The lead three, Jack, Jessica Jones and Thomas Tompkins (really? Alliterative names?) are a string of clichés. You’ve got the suave leader, the attractive, lively woman and the techie whiz-kid who can hack into any electrical device in the country – each have been done before countless times already so there’s nothing novel on that front. I turn to the villain of the piece and try and see if there’s something memorable there. Keith Allen is Nicholas Mason, a snarly aggressive crime lord who is coincidentally one of the biggest stereotypes in television. Allen growls his way through the episode, topping off his almost pantomime performance with a delightful sequence near the resolution where he raves, wild-eyed at the By Any Means team (let’s call them that for now). I’m surprised he didn’t slip in an “I’ll get you, my pretties!” or “I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” That last one actually suits his character to a tee.
One of the reasons why the hotly-anticipated third series of Sherlock is so hotly-anticipated is because of the titular character himself. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the Baker Street private eye works, in my eyes, because of the social awkwardness of him but more importantly and more to the point, his methods are genius. Perhaps the praise should be directed at Steven Moffat, Steve Thompson and Mark Gatiss: the writers of the show and their ingenious resolutions. When Sherlock solves the mystery, a feeling (that I’m well acquainted with) of adrenaline surges through my body and when I dissect it later in an analytical state-of-mind, I truly admire Moffat/Thompson/Gatiss’ ability to cleverly wrap up an episode. By Any Means has tried to mimic the contemporary and rather flashy endings that Sherlock so often delivers and like the latter programme, it’s enjoyable but implausible beyond belief. Everything is too neat and convenient and just not right; none of what happens in By Any Means would occur in real life.
Now it isn’t all bad, there’s a few good performances from the leads: Warren Brown is strangely fitting as the cocky leader of the pack whilst the cult that worship Andrew Lee-Potts will be pleased to hear he’s excellent in it. Keith Allen played a terrific villain in Robin Hood but here he just slips back into ‘nasty baddie’ default mode; Mason isn’t anything special. What is rather exciting is the remaining cast that have yet to appear: Homeland’s David Harewood, Downton Abbey’s Amy Nuttall, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ Nick Moran and Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman are all set to make an appearance and given each of their track records, it sounds like it might be quite a thrilling ride.
By Any Means isn’t smart, it isn’t sophisticated and it’s a cobbled-together string of clichés but that doesn’t stop it being thoroughly enjoyable. I hope it improves in terms of quality but I feel it won’t. It can’t fill What Remains’ (the previous stupendous show in the Sunday night slot) shoes but it’ll suffice, if only it can fight off Downton Abbey for viewers.
Episode 1 airs Sunday 22 September at 9pm on BBC1.