Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Warren Brown, Shelley Conn, Andrew Lee Potts, Elliot Cowan, Gina McKee
One of the BBC’s few flaws is its preference to stick to a regime, rather than pushing the content that they produce on a regular basis. The only time they truly wander outside of their comfort zone is for family shows, like Doctor Who, which are a sure-fire financial success. It is this predictable style that comes up with recycled shows like ‘By Any Means’. While not necessarily a bad show, it lacks much excitement, which costs it greatly as the series progresses.
By Any Means is about a group of four undercover cops, who are allowed to use any means they have at their disposal to take down the worst of the bad guys in the UK. The government denies any knowledge of them, so no one ever sees them coming. Each week they take on a bad guy, who has managed to get himself immunity from the police, and need to use their wits and resources to come out on top. At the head of the group is Jack Quinn, a smart cop, who always comes up with a plan that makes their job look like the easiest thing in the world, despite the team going up against some of the most dangerous criminals around. Even when it looks like the group are on the ropes, it often becomes apparent that the bad guys were playing right into their hands.
This premise is one pretty much recycled from ‘Hustle’, but with police officers. In theory, this is a good idea, because ‘Hustle’ is one of the BBC’s greatest successes, where five con men came out with these elaborated and complicated plans, taking what made ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ so great and dialling it up a notch. Sadly, Hustle came to an end, because we cottoned on to that writing style and it was no longer too difficult to see where the secret plan actually was. Despite a new premise for this genre, it is still essentially the same show and style of writing. The bad guys always seem untouchable, but it turns out that the lead characters had a plan up their sleeve the whole time. Sadly, this does kill the tension and the thrill of ‘how are they doing this’ is killed, because they are cops and, for the most part, have unlimited resources at hand. If we were going to recycle this style of show, I would much rather have seen Hustle return to the TV.
Also, it becomes hard to fear for the characters, when everything happening is quite clearly a part of their intricate plans. ‘Hustle’ had this problem too, which is why it came to its gradual end. ‘By Any Means’ has this problem multiplied though, because we are meant to be sold on this fear for their lives. There are some terrific villains here (Episode One sees Keith Allen play a mentally unstable mobster), but because they are always one step behind the heroes, they never reach the fear factor the show wants them too. Even when they do some incredibly clever move to try and escape the con, we always know that the main characters accounted for this. As soon as Episode One goes through its first ‘This is the real plan’ montage, we realise the entire game plan for the rest of the show and the tension disappears almost instantly.
It does switch up the style midway through the season. Plans start going wrong and while it still has this ‘too light-hearted for its own good’ vibe, it becomes a little more unpredictable and easier to enjoy. Yes, I did enjoy this show, but the first half of the show was nothing new, which I struggled to get past. The final three episodes see the group outwitted, although the show has to go to great stretches to achieve this line of narrative. I mean, Quinn’s team can’t be disavowed every episode: this isn’t Mission Impossible here. But it gets a little more fun to watch, especially when the finale goes against everything we thought we knew about this material. It gets heavy quick and hits us with some cliff-hangers that will keep me invested until they decide whether to make a second season or not.
At the very least, the acting keeps you entertained. Everyone has a field day with this show, as it allows every actor on board to have fun. Warren Brown may have started as Luther’s side kick, but he is worthy as the front-runner of his own show. He is cocky, smart and witty, even getting an awesome little fight scene to see the season off. The rest of the cast match up to him. Shelley Conn will quickly become a fan favourite, as the hard-as-nails woman, who has just as much fun as we do with the character. I have never thought much of Andrew Lee Potts as an actor, from Primevil, but as he shakes off the ‘kid-friendly’ acting, he comes into his own, as Tom-Tom, the hacker of the group. Elliott Cowan is slightly too one-dimensional for his own good, but he does well to rise above the material. The group’s handler, Gina McKee, is little more than a narrative device, but no one really wants to spend too much time with the character anyway. Acting is never a problem with the BBC and here, it becomes a saviour.
Final Verdict: A little predictable, but the fun’s infectious enough to keep you interested.