REVIEW: “CODE 404” (Peacock Original)

I love a good sci-fi comedy. The melding of sci-fi concepts and comedy is often endlessly entertaining. However, there seems to be a general lack of sci-fi comedies on TV – especially in America. There are the occasional horror comedies and fantasy comedies but you don’t see many sci-fi comedies. This is where Peacock’s newest show, CODE 404 enters. A blend of traditional buddy cop comedies and entertaining sci-fi concepts, CODE 404 is an enjoyable, dryly funny show. Plus there’s a pretty fun mystery at the heart of the series. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Code 404 ahead. You have been warned.)

CODE 404 (created by Daniel Peak, Tom Miller, and Sam Myer)
DI John Major (Daniel Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham) are the best of the best at an elite undercover police team. When Major’s cover is blown and he is met with his untimely death, he is brought back to life with some glitchy AI technology. Now, he’s better than ever – or so he thinks.

First things first – CODE 404‘s humor will not be for everyone. It has that distinctly-British brand of dry humor. It’s not the kind of show that’s going to make you laugh multiple times a minute, nor is it meant to be. But it is amusing. However, many American viewers may not click with the show – and that’s okay. Comedy is subjective and it doesn’t always translate across borders. That being said, I thought CODE 404 was pretty funny. On the whole, the humor worked well for me. That’s not to say that every single joke lands – there is a recurring gag involving DI Major’s inability to remember a co-worker’s name that is both not funny and borderline in bad taste – but much of the humor is solid. Again, it’s rarely “roar with laughter” funny, but it’s amusing and it helps keep the energy of the show high.

What surprised me about CODE 404, though, is how solid its plot was. Going in, I was expecting the show to have more of a stand-alone, case of the week format, but no. It’s far more serialized than I’d expected it to be. There are different cases each episode, but they often take a backseat to the show’s central narrative – who killed DI Major and why. That mystery makes for a great hook to keep viewers coming back each episode and I appreciate how it was executed. Obviously, I can’t say much about it, but it’s engaging. Parts are predictable, but there are all the twists and turns you want there to be, too. All in all, it’s a solid mystery to anchor a show like this around.

As for the other narratives, most of the stand-alone cases aren’t that interesting. They’re ripe for humor, sure, but they’re not great mysteries. To be fair, this largely seems intentional. These Mysteries aren’t meant to be good, because DI Major and Carver are sort of inept. But it’s still worth pointing out. The ongoing character arcs, however, buoy the show. Much of the show’s comedy comes from the interpersonal problems of its characters – like DI Major adjusting to being alive again, his wife, Kelly (Anna Maxwell Martin), adjusting to Major’s return from the dead, and DI Carver coping with the guilt he feels concerning DI Major. These are the kinds of arcs you’d expect to see in a drama and while they’re not always executed as well as they could be, they do help audiences connect to these characters and get invested in their stories. And, ultimately, they’re fun to watch – and that’s what matters in the show like this. 

As for the characters, they’re a bit weak. Most of them feel pretty archetypal; Major is the dumb goofball, Carver is his partner who always takes the heat, the superintendent (Rosie Cavalier) is clueless, the scientist responsible for Major’s AI resurrection (Amanda Payton) is ridiculously overzealous, etc. This isn’t necessarily a problem – many comedies feature broadly-sketched characters. But it is kind of a shame most of them don’t get any real development. Maybe future seasons will tackle that. That said, the actors do a great job. Graham and Mays have excellent chemistry together and you instantly buy their bond. The show largely succeeds because of how good they are. Tracy Ann Oberman has a great run in the latter half of the season and it’s always nice to see her. The same is true for Amanda Payton. I loved her on Trial & Error and I love her here. The cast, as a whole, are all excellent and I’m eager to see them continue in these roles and be given more to do next season.

At the end of the day, CODE 404 is a pretty enjoyable show. While it’s comedy isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, it’s still amusing. Its central mystery is more than enough to keep audiences hooked throughout the show’s six 25-minute episodes. The actors’ performances breathe a lot of life into these characters, whose character arcs form much of the show’s backbone. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a good sci-fi comedy, CODE 404 is a pretty good bet. It’s a quick binge and it’s well worth a watch if you enjoy these kinds of British comedies.

4 out of 5 wands.

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