Jonathan Creek

Saturday, March 15, 2003 by

At a time when runs of television series seem to be getting longer and longer (or in the case of Holby City – never ending), the brief return of Jonathan Creek after however many years away (save for a superlative special a couple of Christmases back) sticks out like the sore thumb in the tightly clenched fist of modern day scheduling.

Contemporary viewers now come to Creek informed by the detection practices of CSI and the character motivations of A Touch of Frost. Whilst Renwick’s creation might scream loudly to the contrary, in today’s television schedule (in which a shared notion of realism seems to permeate all dramas) this latest series of Jonathan Creek is likely to attract a new generation of floating detective show viewers on the hunt for their next “touch of frost”. What will they make of it?

A load of silly nonsense – probably. For those used to the forensic explanations offered up as part of CSI‘s weekly dénouements, Jonathan Creek comes off as ridiculously hackneyed. It’s characterisation is unbelievable; and investigation processes capricious in the extreme. Yet even in this age of Midsomer Murders, 24 and Messiah, nine million people still seem to love Jonathan, and given his steady ratings performance this time out (thrashing Chris Evan’s rusty Boys and Girls) the series now seems destined to pass into Only Fools and Horses-style BBC heritage.

The final outing for Creek (“The Tailor’s Dummy”) was perhaps the most enjoyable of this run. Unlike “The Coonskin Cap” (the first story of this fourth series), it adhered to the programme’s most important self-imposed rule; i.e. “the clues were all in the question”. Jonathan Creek can never be wholly satisfying when the solution relies on an electronic gadget, and consequently this episode’s reliance on lateral thinking instead of an asphyxiating bullet-proof vest was very welcome.

The experienced viewer will by now have learned that the most successful way to crack a Jonathan Creek case is simply to make sure you are asking the right questions. It is to Renwick’s credit that even with this trick partially revealed, the central mystery in “The Tailor’s Dummy” remained engrossing, difficult to figure out and entirely sensible and logical when revealed. Less well packaged though were the motivations that lay behind the character’s actions. Why, for example, did Claude Bergman decide to sleep with hated feature writer Donna Henry? For that matter what exactly was he trying to achieve with his metamorphosis feat? The BBC press release suggests that Bergman wanted to “teach the dogmatic Miss Henry a lesson … by demonstrating that the world is not, as she seems to believe, full of certainties”, yet this driving force is lost on the viewer.

Whilst the dialogue and direction remain important, the success of each episode of Jonathan Creek really relies on the elegance of the plotting. Not only does the “A” story have to satisfy the requirements listed above, but any supplementary action has to unfold in a well thought out and logical manner too. Stick in any old sub-plot and the audience becomes suspicious, fearing that a seemingly inconsequential incident will clumsily assert itself into the main plot later on. In this respect, “The Tailor’s Dummy” disappoints. Bill Bailey’s re-appearance adds absolutely nothing to the episode save to ensnare Jonathan and Carla into a meaningless subplot that disappears like a Jonathan Creek mystery part way through the episode. The notion of some foreign company kidnapping magician’s assistance and shipping them over seas, fails to stand up even in Jonathan Creek‘s vaguely hyper real world. Perhaps external forces, in the shape of the editor have been at work here; certainly it feels as if important little shreds have been shaved off this episode in order to meet the time requirement.

David Renwick has often complained that he feels restricted by the 50 minute format currently afforded to him. In this sense, Jonathan Creek again resembles Only Fools and Horses. Whether Creek is to go the way of Del Boy (both in episode duration and content) remains to be seen. Whilst none of the three episodes of this most recent series have been up there with the best of Jonathan Creek‘s back catalogue, they at least (and unlike Only Fools and Horses) have not represented the programme’s nadir either.


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