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AI That's Silly, for a Change, with 'Code 404'
October 8, 2020  | By David Hinckley

There's a hint of Monty Python in the new British sitcom Code 404, and that's enough to make a marginal premise into an entertaining half-hour of television.

Code 404, which premieres Thursday on Peacock, is the latest in a series of import shows that are filling America's airwaves since the production of domestic programs shut down six months ago.

Code 404 is a cop comedy, featuring Daniel Mays (top) as British DI John Major and Stephen Graham (top) as DI Roy Carver.

In the opening scene, Major is shot to death when an undercover operation goes bad.

Happily for the show, this proves to be only a temporary setback. DCS Dennett (Rosie Cavaliero), the boss, sends Major's bloody corpse to Dr. Alison Parfit (Amanda Payton), who runs a pilot project that brings dead people back to life with a combination of organ cloning and computer technology.

The Walking Dead this is not. So imagine Carver's surprise a year later when he's paying his respects at Major's grave, and Major sneaks up behind to put him in a guy-bonding chokehold.

We've seen characters somewhat like this before – think Bionic Man – but Major isn't quite a finished product.

Dr. Parfit reminds us repeatedly that he is an experiment, a work in progress, which means, among other things, that Dr. Parfit has a vested interest in his survival because it means her project will continue to receive funding.

Understanding Majors starts with remembering his numbers. Right after he is killed, he is analyzed to be an 84% match for this procedure. When the procedure is finished, he says he's 90% his old self. While those may sound like reassuring percentages, the imperfect part of Major 2.0 can go off the rails.

Often in ways that aren't funny to him or the people around him. Just to us viewers.

Creators Tom Miller, Sam Myer, and Daniel Peak clearly enjoy wordplay. In the spirit of shows from Monty Python to Police Squad and movies like AirplaneCode 404 includes regular interludes where one character delivers a straight-faced explanation of some simple word or phrase.

There's a bit of slapstick, which seems mandatory in British comedies, but the show never falls into the worst trap of sitcoms, which is trying to set up jokes instead of developing funny characters.

Major can swing from unhinged at one extreme to a seemingly clueless straight man at the other. Carver plays a more normal guy trying to grasp an abnormal situation. It's worth noting that Graham, best known in the U.S. for playing unfunny characters like Al Capone, slides easily here into comedy.

For dramatic and character purposes, it helps the show that Carver has a secret, one that involves Major's wife, Kelly (Anna Maxwell Martin).

Oh yeah, and there are also some cop stories, like Major and Carver trying to track down the people who killed Major. Or thought they killed him. Frankly, they're a little puzzled themselves.

As cop shows go, Code 404 isn't NYPD Blue. It isn't trying to be. As six half hours with a couple of decent stories and a good measure of laughs, it works.

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