Code 404, series 3, review: a vintage comic double-act in search of a better script

Daniel Mays and Stephen Graham in Code 404 - Sky
Daniel Mays and Stephen Graham in Code 404 - Sky

Stephen Graham has never won a Bafta, which doesn’t seem right. He’s been nominated plenty of times – for Help, Time, The Virtues, Save Me, This is England ‘90 and Accused, as well as for the film Boiling Point – but always passed over. Admittedly, he was beaten to this year’s lead actor award by Sean Bean, his Time co-star, and there’s no arguing with that. Still, for an actor as good as Graham, to be without a Bafta after all these years feels like a bit of an injustice.

Anyway, he’s definitely not going to get one for Code 404, because it’s a daft Sky Comedy show that won’t be troubling the Academy. He and Daniel Mays play detectives Roy Carver and John Major in a near-future that has allowed Major to be brought back from the dead using AI technology. Carver is the smart, serious one trying to do some proper policing. Major is a monumental idiot.

The two actors have a lot of fun with their roles, with Graham as the long-suffering foil to May’s loose cannon, and there are shades of Morecambe and Wise. There is a running gag about Major’s latest AI update enabling him to hear the title of any chart hit and name the volume of Now That’s What I Call Music on which it appeared. “Can it help you catch a criminal?” asks an unimpressed Carver. “I’ve not heard of that one,” says Major. There are lots of jokes at this level.

The plots are still at the level of children’s TV. In this third series, a serial killer is bumping people off and our hapless heroes are determined to solve the case despite being on limited duties – they’ve been downgraded to giving “stranger danger” talks in primary schools  – after messing up their last investigation.

Anna Maxwell Martin returns as the woman caught up with these two in a very awkward love triangle, although she barely appears in the early episodes. There is solid comedic support from Rosie Cavaliero as the police chief and Michelle Greenidge as a no-nonsense colleague. If only the storylines were better, this could be a really good series. But the writers seem so enamoured by their star double-act that they’ve taken their eye off the rest of it.