Why you should be watching Code 404
Ivan Radford | On 29, Apr 2020
“Oh, Jesus.” “No, but we both came back from the dead!” That’s the sound of Daniel Mays clearly enjoying himself in Code 404, Sky One’s new sci-fi policy comedy. The series follows DI John Major (Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham), two of the Met’s brightest. Things go wrong, though, when Major is shot while undercover – and they go even worse when, a year later, Major’s brought back from the dead by a shady science division.
It’s a killer premise, partly because it carries on a long tradition of dead-and-alive double-acts – Randall and Hopkirk naturally get a shout-out – and partly because Daniel Mays and Stephen Graham are so good together. John and Roy are a wonderful pair, making for an immediately believable crime-fighting duo.
Stephen Graham plays the straight man with a weary, crumpled realism, awkwardly trying to work out how to tell his newly reanimated friend that he’s moved in with his wife, Kelly (Anna Maxwell Martin). He’s considerate and thoughtful, but also frustrated that his own reality has been upended by the sudden return of someone he’d since moved on from – even as he’s pleased, on some level, to have his mate back.
Except, of course, his mate isn’t back, not really – it becomes apparent almost immediately that the wiring’s not right, and not just because Major’s American science whizzes have given him a US vocabulary. Not Going Out’s Daniel Peak stuffs his script with an endless supply of one-liners and quickfire verbal gags, and an impressive number of them hit the mark with near-constant accuracy.
At the heart of it all is Daniel Mays, who is having a ball with a humdinger of a leading role. Let fully off the leash, the often-quiet character actor is laugh-out-loud brilliant as the self-centred, idiotic Major, who never pauses to think, let alone to do the right thing. He’s arrogant, foolish, clumsy and illogical – only some of those qualities new ones since his passing – and Mays nails every unpredictable twist in behaviour and dialogue with glee. It’s a pleasure just to see him flex his comedy jobs, as Graham generously lets him steal every scene – indeed, it’s testament to how versatile the whole ensemble are, given the lead trio are all alumni of the serious and gripping police drama Line of Duty.
Whether it’s slapstick or silly exchanges, Mays throws himself into the role, and Peak manages to juggle that absurdity with a compelling conspiracy plot – throughout the six-episode first season, it becomes genuinely hard to know what to expect from the next five minutes. Even the Jesus one-liner is delivered in a way that’s genuinely surprising.
Throughout, everyone involved treats the daft and dramatic alike with 100 per cent sincerity – watch out for Rosie Cavaliero in a welcome supporting role – and that enables Code 404 to hop between tones and genres at a deceptively agile rate. The result is a funny and fast-paced box set that is guaranteed to arrest your attention for a few hours during lockdown.
Code 404: Season 1 is available on Sky One. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.