4 June 2018 | IbrahimKhider
A slice of New Castle and a re-made Jimmy Nail who is as 'tough as nails'.
I am a Canadian who caught the Spender series on Showcase TV during the early 90's, while I attended University. At the time I considered Spender a quirky but fun, slick cop drama set in the UK. Now, older, I have a deeper appreciation and love of the show.
I really enjoy the comedic interplay between the lead, Detective Sargeant Freddie Spender (played by Jimmy Nail) and his small-time, n'er-do-well, grifter sidekick, "Stick" portrayed by the late Sammy Johnson (RIP). An unlikely friendship between a career criminal and a stoic law enforcement agent is part of the show's fun dynamics. The show intro graphics caught my eye and the soundtrack caught my ears and was soon won over by the stories, characters and location. Overall a well-put-together show that chronicles the life of Detective Spender, an undercover police agent who was raised in New Castle Upon Tyne, then operated in London for several years and now (to his chagrin) returns to Newcastle to resume police work. Spender reconnects with his friends and sidekick, but also his estranged wife and daughters who lost relations with their husband/father due to his work and location. The artistic filming style captures Newcastle (where the show is set) in a slick and edgy way, lots of creative shots of the local architecture and industrial settings and is gorgeously filmed.
The weakest part of the show are the criminals/villains, whom I wish were more nuanced rather than just boiler-plate baddies. Same goes for the fellow law enforcement who tend to be the 'goodies' when we know this is not always the case. Spenders' superior in Season one was a bit wooden, but by Season two, a more interesting boss surfaces. But the ongoing dynamics between Spender and Stick (more than) make up for any shortcomings.
And now to the strengths, and that is the show depicts the locality of Newcastle in an immersive way; the local color, the nightlife, and social circles and the ailing economy (transitioning from industrial to "service based"). There are some complaints about the accents, it does take some getting used to but I love it and makes me feel more immersed in the location. As mentioned, Spender's stoic personality contrasts, in a fun way, that of the carefree, free-wheeling 'Stick'. Then there is Spender's circle of fellow officer DS Dan Boyd, a bit of goofy and loveable but clueless officer (played by Berwick Kaler). Further, is Spender's musician friend, the cerebral-palsy afflicted Keith Moreland (played by Tony McAnaney--who also helps soundtrack the show) and reflects the lead's side hobby of playing harmonica alongside his blues band.
I recently watched 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet' and was impressed with the contrasted performances by Jimmy Nail: from the slightly pudgy slovenly, wisecracking carefree bricklayer, Oz, to the lean, wiry, trim and stoic detective. (Cameo appearances from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet people too!) Some describe Nail's performance of Spender as 'wooden', but I feel he does an excellent job of depicting the sullen and conflicted (from also being independent minded) cop who adheres to 'the spirit of the law' and has a decent supply of wisecracks in him. Spender has a lot to worry about; from his family, to his job jailing 'baddies', to ailing Newcastle to pulling Stick's arse out of one sling after another. It is a wonder he wisecrack's at all!
Spender never made it to DVD, a shame. But I did find some episodes on Youtube and other *Cough Cough* places (ie VHS dubs), though not at the quality where I can truly appreciate the show. Seek the series out where you can. I would love to see a reboot of the series, but with Sammy's passing, it may be too difficult.