By Any Means ep 1

Oh FFS.

I’ll come back to the crime in the opening scenes later, but let’s start with the characters.

Our first introduction to the heroes of “By Any Means” – or “Spooks on the Hustle” to give it the name it surely must’ve been born with – begins with our “elite” squad of secret agent-cops trapping some two-bit, dimwit criminal (who has hitherto evaded the lesser, non-maverick police) with one of those “you’ve won a competition” scams that have been the stuff of legend for years.

Oddly, the Hustler-Spooks seem tremendously smug about this achievement considering the scam is about as astonishingly complex and brilliant as managing not to burn one’s toast and trapping this particular numbskull doesn’t seem like it would be much of a challenge for anybody, let alone our super-secret super-cops. But, elite is as elite does, so our merry band of mavericks soon finds itself called upon to deal with a vicious, apparently untouchable – or so he thinks! – gangster (Keith Allen, gurning like it’s panto season) who has orchestrated the particularly vicious home invasion and murder the show began with.

Using the deadly powers of smugness and banality, while recycling every second of every tv show of this type you’ve ever watched, our Spooksy-sorts must play old Keith at his own game and Hustle him into making a mistake and being put away for a long time. In a prison where he can no doubt spend his days waving his fist and shouting about how he would have got away with it, had it not been for those pesky kids super-cops.

After sitting through an hour of this bland, reheated collection of leftovers from other programmes, I have to ask: is “By Any Means” meant to be some kind of joke?

Did the process of commissioning, writing and filming it involve a giant bingo card of cliches and someone yelling “Full House!”?

There isn’t a single original thought, shot or scene in the whole thing – even the characters’ names, let alone their personalities, are the most generic anyone could have thought of. The head of the squad is a cocky smart-alec with a Secret Pain (GIVE ME STRENGTH) called Jack, like every bloody maverick on tv ever for pity’s sake. Are there no other names?!?! Meanwhile, the sassy, snarky female one (of course) is called Jess, which, whatever, but the tech whizz kid takes the prize since he’s actually called Thomas Tompkins so that they can call him – oh, my sides – “TomTom.” Dudes. This was a mildly amusing joke when Doctor Who did it last year, but that was then, it was kids tv and also, grow up.

Argh. I don’t even know what else to say. I’ve been getting more and more annoyed all day at the sheer waste of time and money spent on making this photofit of a drama series when other, better shows have fallen by the wayside or never even seen the light of day – so much so, I’m now almost incoherent with fury about it. Which is the opposite of the reaction this carefully, obsessively identikit excuse for tv is intended to produce. It’s clearly meant to be inoffensive, easy watching and if any of it had had an ounce of charm or wit or energy, it might have been – things don’t always have to be original to be entertaining, after all. But they do have to be something other than a flat, lazy, cynical and tedious attempt to fill an hour just for the sake of it. Everyone involved can do and has done a damn sight better, so why didn’t they?

Sigh. I think that’s me all out of vitriol. If I had to review it again, I would probably end up breaking something, so, unless Jed falls on his head and decides to take it on, unpopcult and By Any Means are done.

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