Third-episode verdict: Old School (ABC1)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 4

In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC1

Three episodes into ABC1’s Old School and I’m starting to feel old. Not because I know Sam Neill and Bryan Brown from movies and TV shows popular in the 70s and 80s, but simply because not only does this feel like a show made in the 70s and 80s, it’s also incredibly slow moving. It doesn’t think it is… but it is.

The show sees Neill play a retired cop, investigating the crime that ruined his career; Brown is one of the crims who did that job and who’s been cheated out of his share. Together, they form an uneasy alliance to solve the crime and get their money.

Except they’re taking possibly the longest, dullest path imaginable to do this. While the first episode was relatively fun and action-packed, the second and third episodes have focused on one-off ‘jaunts’ for Neill and Brown to investigate – badly. The second episode’s car theft largely involved the two skulking around and hiding inside and behind things while the third episode had pretty much the same, except with greyhound-doping instead of car-theft and being locked inside cages instead of hiding inside things.

Problematically, Brown and Neill have little chemistry together and the characters don’t even slightly like each other. Brown also appears to be half-asleep the whole time – it’s a show that needs some energy and while Neill has been giving it his all, Brown appears to have confused ‘investigating crime’ with ‘going to the kitchen for some Ovaltine’. True, Brown’s character is incredibly stupid, has no good lines and treats everyone appallingly badly, so it’s a somewhat thankless role to be lumbered with, but Brown – never the world’s best actor – really adds nothing to it, not even any charm or alpha-masculinity.

Attempts by the producers to keep young people watching through Hanna Mangan-Lawrence and Mark Coles Smith have had varying success – together they’re fine and even saved the second episode, but the third episode separated them again, purely so they could be separately pissed off at Brown.

While there’s the occasional explosion or fight to make the show seem like it’s more interesting than it actually is, compared to the 70s and 80s shows Old School is trying to homage, it’s surprisingly low key – Roger Moore and Tony Curtis would have had two or three times as many car chases and crooks to fight per episode as Neill and Brown do. Involving a computer hacking storyline hasn’t helped much, beyond giving Neill’s character and his wife something to argue about, either. That storyline might go somewhere in later episodes, but at the moment, it seems merely like a way to tie into the fears of older members of the audience rather than anything dramatically relevant.

Old School does have potential. It could be a good show, a proper Australian New Tricks. Unfortunately, it feels as old and tired as Brown, and should probably be retired, unless it can prove its worth soon.

Barrometer rating: 4
Rob’s prediction: I’d be surprised if it gets another series, but you never know


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.