"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Jonathan Creek Arrives

Alan Davies as Jonathan CreekToday, at long last, Jonathan Creek comes to DVD in the United States. This excellent British TV mystery series was shown in the UK from 1997 through 2004 and has been seen on BBC America and some PBS stations in the United States. (BBC America still shows episodes occasionally late at night.) There were about two-dozen episodes produced, most about an hour long and three done as 90-minute TV movies.

The series is a rare TV entry in the "impossible crimes" form, and was a real delight for those who like a whacking good detection puzzle.

The title of the program refers not to a place but to the series' main character, a designer of illusions for a celebrated professional magician. Caroline Quentin as Maddy Magellan and Alan Davies as Jonathan CreekIn each episode an assertive young female (Caroline Quentin in the first three seasons, and then Julia Sawalha in the last two) drags Jonathan, played superbly by the comedian Alan Davies, into a mystery involving murder and some apparently magical occurrence. For example, a person will disappear from a room that is locked and observed at all exits, or an elderly woman appears to be able to predict deaths through her dreams. Jonathan investigates reluctantly and not at all intrepidly, using his knowledge of stage illusions to solve the cases and identify the killers.

If this sounds as if it might be a bit arch and old-fashioned, rest assured that it doesn't play out that way on screen, as producer-writer David Renwick makes certain to place at the forefront a strong view of the fascinating mess that is contemporary Britain. Hence the series combines the appeal of both the traditional and the new.

For more on Jonathan Creek, read my National Review Online article here.

For more information about the DVD release, click here.

From Karnick on Culture.

2 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Except for the exquisite Phillip Columbo (whose Peter Falk created sparks with his nemeses, as they were often his real-life drinking buddies), I don't know if a show can ignore the importance of its supporting cast.

Caroline Quentin was the moral center of the very good BBC Men Behaving Badly, playing the long-suffering (and long-betrothed) fiancee of one of the aforementioned Men.

Their antics were amusing, but until they were subjected to Ms. Quentin's review and deadpan, there was no context. She made the show.

In contrast, Julia Sawalha played the sourpuss daughter Saffron on Absolutely Fabulous. When she joined the cast of Jonathan Creek, altho she was far more fetching than the plump Ms. Quentin, she was, as was her professional history, a total drag. Me and Mrs. TVD never watched another.

Alan Davies was adequate, although his character as written, a magician figuring out perfect crimes, was far more compelling than his performance of it.

It was Caroline Quentin who made the show a visceral delight, and her intensity and intelligence will draw me to any entertainment she appears in. She's also sexy, far beyond the requirements of appearance alone. Alan Davies and Julia Sawalha (even though she's dropped her baby fat), I can take or leave. Ms. Quentin has won me over for life.

S. T. Karnick said...

Tom, I think Alan Davies is highly engaging as Jonathan Creek, but I agree fully with your opinion of the respective merits of Mss. Quentin and Sawalha. Sawalha weakened the show significantly with her annoying snappishness, although Satan's Chimney went very well. After that, the chemistry between her and Davies just didn't work.