CERT: 15 | FORMAT: DVD (REVIEWED), AMAZON PRIME VIDEO | RELEASE DATE: JULY 6TH
DI John Major (Daniel Mays) is brutally gunned down during an undercover operation with his partner DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham). Carver is commemorating his partner’s death months later when, much to his understandable surprise, Major suddenly reappears, larger than life and, apparently, brought back from the dead and augmented into some sort of Artificial Intelligence supercop. Except there’s nothing very super about this cop; he’s clearly “a few quid short of six million dollars” as he’s been resuscitated and turned into a distinctly defective detective. Dim-witted, clumsy and worryingly witless, Major also has little memory of his life just before he was gunned down – which is just as well for his punchy partner whose affair with Major’s wife Kelly (Anna Maxwell Martin) was rumbled by Major just before they set off on their ill-fated operation. Can Major and Carver carry on their successful partnership when one of them is something more (or less) than he was before, will Major be considered a failed experiment and deactivated and, most importantly, will Major find out about his partner and his wife’s little indiscretion?
This is Code 404, Sky One’s latest ambitious six-part comedy series which clearly takes its lead from the Six Million Dollar Man, Randall and Hopkirk (which is even referenced in one episode) and, for those of a particularly decrepit disposition, the short-lived 1976 American sitcom Holmes and Yoyo. A bit like Major, however, Code 404 (computer nerds will recognise the status code which flags up an unfound online page) is every bit the mongrel its random inspirations might suggest. Several problems are immediately evident. Daniel (Not Going Out) Peak’s scripts are nothing like as funny as they need to be and certainly not as funny as they think they are. A handful of good visual gags are shored up by ‘will this do?’ swearing and too much feeble wordplay and there seems to be no reasons why Mays’ character should be called John Major beyond the promise of a wry smile when his partner’s name has no comic connotations whatsoever. It’s fairly typical of a show that seems at best half-written, hoping that the novelty of its situation will be enough to prop up the comedy. Cliches abound in each of the six episodes which largely revolve around the mystery of the mastermind behind Major’s murder and Carver’s desperation to keep his affair with Kelly secret. But the script just isn’t strong enough often enough and it falls to Mays and Graham whose on-screen chemistry speaks for itself, to give things a lift when they frequently sag. The show’s case isn’t helped by the fact that here we have two of the UK’s best heavyweight actors – Graham has recently worked with Scorsese, for God’s sake – floundering slightly in a sitcom setting they’re clearly both unused to but making the best of it anyway.
Despite its faults and its clumsiness though, Code 404 isn’t a total write-off and is actually quite fun. Mays manages to imbue his character with a certain geeky gormless charm and there’s some decent back-up in the always-excellent Anna Maxwell Martin alongside sitcom regulars like Rosie Cavalero and Tracy Ann Oberman. The show sets itself up for a second season but we’d hope for sturdier scripts that manage to do something a little more original with an already over-familiar idea and slightly subtler and more nuanced humour that gives its formidable cast a proper chance to demonstrate its versatility.