Review: Code 404 – Original Policing Comedy, from Sky, that’s Dead Funny!

Article originally appeared in The Sun newspaper and republished here for your consideration ... For full disclosure this article was commissioned but my views on the series are 100% fair.

Code 404

We’ve previously seen Daniel Mays, Stephen Graham and Anna Maxwell Martin team up together in Line of Duty and now they’re back. But the ‘H’ they’re looking for this time is hilarity.

For although Mays and Graham play cops again, this series is a comedy drama with a bit of sci-fi thrown in for good measure.

The action is fast-paced from the off. So fast that it’s less than two minutes before one of the show’s main characters is murdered. That can’t be right can it? Well yes and no, because DI John Major (Daniel Mays) is brought back to life using experimental Artificial Intelligence.

It’s a slightly different John Major now as he’s only 90% human – and believe me that in my policing experience 90% for a Met copper is a pretty high score.

It’s just like the Six Million Dollar Man: “We can rebuild him. Better. Stronger. Faster”. The only difference being that he’s not at all better, stronger or faster. In fact in many ways he’s quite a bit slower. Especially in the thinking stakes. In the words of Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays his long suffering wife Kelly: “John was a bit of an idiot before, now he’s even more of an idiot”

The good news is that Major can once again team up with his Met Special Investigations Unit (SIU) policing partner DI Roy Carver who’s played by the extremely talented Stephen Graham.

However, although it’s nice to have a hi-tech version of his old mucker back again, it is a bit awks because in his 12 month absence Carver has started up a relationship with Major’s widow – who all of a sudden is his wife again!

As Kelly puts it: “I wasn’t seeing someone behind your back. Technically it was over your dead body”.

And so a cop, cop’s wife, part-cop/part-robot love triangle ensues.

It’s tightly written with typical high-end Sky production and with the talent on display it’s hard to see this failing to be a hit.

Stephen Graham’s been seen in a one quality drama after another in the last couple of years but he grabbed at the chance to throw himself in to a comedy role declaring: “Danny is one of the funniest people I know. To spend six weeks with him just messing about, to me was a no brainer really”.

Speaking of no brainers, DI Major has some technical issues and the software updates aren’t always helpful, although often hilarious. Mays’ character has a strong screen presence and dressed in a long black coat he looks rather like Neo in the Matrix, albeit with a zip-up cardie.

Mays has naturally funny bones and the physical comedy he gets out of his character gives genuine laugh out loud moments. I mean all cops sometimes get bored at work and we’ve all thought about giving ourselves a short blast of taser, you know just to see what it’s like, but not in the face John! What were you thinking?

His hard drive may be misfiring but the jokes aren’t and they come thick and fast, often around his deliciously random unpredictability.

But it’s not all slapstick there’s plenty of drama and the onscreen chemistry between these two best buddies feels gritty and authentic. Carver may be the straight man but he knows how to dish out a perfectly timed throw away insult.

That’s one of the things that makes this show so realistic for me – if you’ve got a close police buddy who’s having a few problems there’s only one thing for you and the rest of the team to do – get stuck in and rip the piss out of them…

The relentless gallows humour just made me think that I was back at work – it’s part of police culture. In my CID Team one of the detectives was nicknamed ‘Badger’. For years I thought it was because of the white Mallen-streak in his otherwise dark hair. Turned out it was because he’d been off sick with TB!

Don’t get me wrong, Code 404 did stretch the imagination in places – two Detective Inspectors leaving their desks to get some actual police work done? Don’t make me laaarf.

The dark cloud hanging over our detective duo is that the augmented DI John Major is still in his trial phase and the AI Ethics Committee is looking for a reason to switch him off and render him dead for good.

I can relate to that. I’ve been in briefings where I’ve yearned to switch off the Detective Inspector, or at least find the mute button.

Roy Carver is a conflicted man, torn between loyalty to his partner and longing to resume his interrupted relationship with Major’s wife. One thing he’s not conflicted about – doing everything he can to not lose his best buddy again and that means covering for his all too frequent cock-ups.

No matter how thin the blue line gets comradeship will never die and taking a bollocking for a teammate is just something you do in policing. When my mate scraped the police car I put myself in the line of fire by gathering all the Tippex in the nick to cover up the scratch.

With DI Major determined to hang around long enough to investigate his own cold case the drama continues to unfold…

That’s a 10-4 from me. Don’t you dare switch off DI John Major – this show is far too much fun.