If you’ve read my Top 50 TV Dramas article series – available to view in the Index section of the site – you’ll see how highly I rate Jonathan Creek.
Without question, it’s one of my favourite TV shows of all time.
So it came as good news to me that there would be a new season of the show this year. Of course, it wasn’t a long season – running for only three episodes – but it was still a season, and that was to be cherished after a mere three episodes in total over the last 10 years.
Whenever a show like this comes back after a reasonably long absence, you do have to wonder if it could still hit the right notes, especially when you consider there had been another cast change – Sheridan Smith and Stuart Milligan were not returning, leaving Creek’s wife, played by Sarah Alexander, to be his sidekick – and the magic advisor to the series and inspiration for so many of the mysteries, Ali Bongo, had long since died.
I decided to wait until the season ended before reporting back with my opinions.
I should preface this by saying that at the same time as these episodes have aired, I’ve been watching the show from the very beginning, so no doubt my opinions will be influenced by that. However, I’d say that was a valuable thing. If you watch an episode of one of your favourite TV shows after only getting three new episodes in the past decade, you might be inclined to look at it with an unnaturally positive outlook.
Comparing the old shows with the new ones I think gives a greater sense of perspective.
And though it pains me to say it, that perspective leads me to the conclusion that Season 5 just hasn’t been that good.
But why is that?
Well, there are some obvious problems, and I’ll break them down into bullet points for you…
- Messing With The Format: Whether it was the first episode operating like a Columbo – i.e. it was a “How Solved It?” rather than a “Who Done It?” – or whether it was the change from Creek being a magician’s assistant living in a windmill to a stuffy marketing executive solving minor mysteries in somewhere like Midsomer, it just didn’t work so well. Jonathan Creek is at its best when the mystery is the main event, but this time around, David Renwick seemed to want the mystery to be a side attraction to the comedy show he really wanted to write, and that leads me to…
- It Was Written Like A Half Hearted Episode of One Foot In The Grave: Just watch the interactions between Jonathan and his wife Polly, and the way they seem to land themselves in awkward situations and you just feel you’re watching an episode of Renwick’s other big show, One Foot In The Grave. Sarah Alexander’s character especially is written and performed almost exactly like Annette Crosbie’s Margaret Meldrew. Now sure, on the one hand that led to some humorous moments, but it didn’t suit the show we were actually watching, and the actors were neither able to, nor supposed to play it like it was a sitcom. Why? Because Jonathan Creek is not a sitcom. Some of the set pieces – like the bit from last week’s episode where Jonathan accidentally helps the burglars – was copied straight out of One Foot. I was just sitting there waiting for him to accidentally kill a tortoise or find a wig inside a loaf of bread.
- No Chemistry Between The Leads: Sarah Alexander’s character worked in her debut episode because she wasn’t playing Alan Davies’s sidekick. The idea of the wife who has tried to domesticate Jonathan while Joey leads him astray was great. Having her drain the life out of our hero to the point where he doesn’t seem interested in the mysteries just made the whole thing feel flat. You didn’t even get the impression the characters liked each other, although considering they’re married, maybe that’s realistic, eh?
- The Mysteries Were Weak And Took Too Long To Get Going: When the legacy of the show includes clever tricks that kept you guessing until the reveal – as was the case in episodes like Jack In The Box, The Black Canary and…well…almost all the episodes – stuff like how a man wrote down a lottery number years earlier, or how a watch got into someone’s bed just seemed limp. And more to the point, they took far too long to get going. In the second episode, The Sinner & The Sandman, nearly half the episode was gone, wasted on “hilarious” town hall meetings and stuff involving a vicar’s wife thinking Jonathan was talking about wanking when he wasn’t, before they even started the mystery. I think this was the poorest point of all.
But surely it wasn’t all bad?
No, it wasn’t, of course it wasn’t. In the main, I enjoyed all three episodes, but there’s no doubt that the overall quality had declined, especially when directly compared to the older shows.
Can it be turned around? I would say so, but it needs to get back to having Creek solving proper mysteries. It’s fine that he’s moved on with his life and is an older, married man now, but you can still retain the essence of what made it good in the first place.
Let’s hope it’s given a chance to do that, and considering it still gets very high ratings by today’s standards and there’s an appetite from all concerned to make it happen, I’d like to think it will.
What did you think? Let me know.