From his Alex Ryder and Sherlock Holmes novels through to Foyle’s War, I’ve long been a fan of writer Anthony Horowitz’s work so I was very keen what he was going to come up with next after concluding his long-running wartime detective series.
It turns out that what’s next is New Blood, a crime thriller set in contemporary London starring two twenty-something investigators still struggling to find their feet in the big city at the start of their respective careers, beset by everything from condescending superiors to making the rent while investigating some dodgy dealings by global pharmaceutical companies.
Horowitz has said that after so many years working on Foyle, he wanted to do something modern and contemporary and fast moving, featuring the sort of characters what you don’t see in conventional cop shows: Ben Tavassoli plays British-Iranian police officer Arrash Sayyad who yearns to be a detective, while Mark Strepan is Stefan Kowolski, a British-Polish junior investigator with the Serious Fraud Office.
At first the pair don’t realise that they are working the same case. In the initial three-part story, they barely meet in the first episode and are antagonists in the second, and only finally start to interact properly in the third at which point the story has to stop and pause to allow for some budding bromance moments to take effect in an all-action finale. It’s a long wait for this to kick in however, and I can’t help but think that a large section of the audience won’t have stuck with it to reach the pay-off.
The truth is that the first case at least isn’t anything like as smart, original or engaging as it clearly likes to think it it is. Actually for all Horowitz’s intentions and Anthony Philipson’s gimmicky fast-cutting direction, New Blood is a strangely conventional and rather unremarkable construction. A tame and rather obvious story about a drug trial in India that went wrong six years ago is lazily wrapped in a superficial conspiracy thriller involving lots of shadowy people meeting in anonymous rooms which never spark into life and just slows the story down. Finally at the end of the third episode it all blows up into a Hollywood movie-style guns-and-bombs chase complete with dual Terminator-style female assassins which is abruptly wrapped up with indecent haste in a series of post-action vignettes.
Whether or not you’ll watch to the finish and into the next story depends on how you feel about the two leads. The character of Rash is one of those gifted, intuitive genius detectives who immediately gets on the wrong side of his boss (the surly old school DS Derek Sands played to the hilt by Game of Thrones star Mark Addy). It’s a bit like Hathaway in Lewis or Morse himself in Endeavour, but despite being a rather clichéd figure in that respect he’s played with panache by Tavassoli who brings intelligence, charm, humour and considerable scene-stealing quirkiness to his role.
Meanwhile Stefan is (of course) a complete contrast to his up-tight partner, being a much more laid-back and engagingly happy-go-lucky personality nicely brought to life by Strepan. While Rash’s intensity antagonises all around him, it’s Stefan’s impetuous devil-may-care attitude that gets him into all sorts of trouble. Put the two of them together, and you get – well, one of those old-school odd-couple detective partnerships that were a staple of 70s and 80s film and television crime shows. As for the bromance, the decision to keep the pair apart from each other for much of the first story does them no favours. When it does start to emerge late in the day in crowbarred-in scenes interrupting the narrative, it all feels a little forced and unnatural.
Still if you do hang in to the end of the third episode, then there’s enough there to make you sufficiently intrigued as to how it will continue, and what will happen to Rash and Stefan next. It’s entirely possible that the show will flourish and burst into life after a rather sluggish and stilted introduction; or else the new blood may quickly curdle and disappear from our TV screens. It remains to be seen which, but I’m interested enough in the characters to want to stick with it a while longer and find out.
Rating: ★ ★ ★
New Blood continues on Thursdays at 9pm. It will be released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on July 25 2016.