CODE 404 ***

Starring Daniel Mays, Stephen Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin.
Science-Fiction, UK.


DVD and Digital download from 6th July 2020.


With its over-familiar premise of a policeman resurrected from the dead with the help of cutting-edge technology, Sky Atlantic's CODE 404 could only really take the comedic route. Even then, the promise of doing anything new or fresh seems quite slim. Luckily for the viewer, the writers and directors are all too aware and feel content to let the inherent silliness of the storyline run wild.


Starting with the unfortunately named detective John Major, Daniel Mays, meeting an unfortunate end during an undercover operation, the story zips along to one year later. His still grieving partner Roy Carver, Stephen Graham, is shocked to discover they are back on the mysterious case that caused Major's death. Unfortunately, Major's memories are fuzzy on the details when it comes to who is responsible. For Carver, this is equally unfortunate as he is now involved with Major's wife Kelly, Anna Maxwell Martin, an affair that started and was discovered by John just before the event of his death and now seems to have been wiped from his memory.


The central joke here is that aside from coming back from the dead there is next to nothing else remarkable about Major's resurrection, "If anything, he's come back a bit shit" is one character's response to this high-tech miracle. It is not until the latter stages of the series that the bells and whistles of Major's upgrade come into effect. Science-fiction fans may be disappointed to learn that CODE 404 is more interested in taking apart the clichés of the more everyday cop show than skewering the genre it is a part. However, due to the fast pace of its six short episodes, it flies by too quickly to dwell upon whatever genre it is supposed to be.


The series greatest success is in the casting of its two leads. More well known for the gritty dramas they usually appear in, including separate seasons of Line Of Duty, the chemistry of Graham and Mays is easily CODE 404's greatest strength. Mays takes the role of the dim hotshot cop to ridiculous extremes while Graham, fresh from stealing scenes from De Niro and Pacino in The Irishman, is even funnier with his more grounded character, always seething and exasperated at his partners new found lack of sense and restraint. The rest of the cast do not have the time to engage the viewer as much with their underwritten roles but Steve Oram with his constant computer-based puns aimed at Major and Rosie Cavaliero as their boss manage to get their share of the laughs.


It is mainly due to these performances that CODE 404 works as well as it does. The storyline and its mystery of who is responsible for Carver's death is flimsy at the best of times. If it were not for the constant swearing, which Graham excels at, it would be textbook lightweight sitcom viewing. However, the dedication of its cast, particularly the double act of Mays and Graham, make it an enjoyable watch and the promise of a second season gives hope that the scriptwriters may provide a sturdier storyline for its characters to develop in.


Iain MacLeod.


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