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Jonathan Creek: Season Two

(BBC; US DVD: 16 Oct 2007)

In Britain, it’s pretty hard to not catch a crime drama on TV.  There’s Midsomer Murders, Betty Wainthropp Investigates, Prime Suspect, Poirot, M:I-5, Crime Watch, and many more.  However, none of them are as flat-out funny as David Renwick’s Jonathan Creek.


Jonathan Creek, however, would be nothing without its two leads.  Caroline Quentin plays Maddy Magellan, a crime-novelist with pig-headed instincts and a lack of social grace.  Alan Davies plays the eponymous hero, a quiet, introverted “creative consultant” to magician Adam Klaus (a scene-stealing Stuart Milligan).  Though very shy, Jonathan’s knack for designing impossible magic tricks helps in solving seemingly impossible crimes.  Together, Davies and Quentin make a pitch-perfect duo, capable of delivering belly laughs and poignancy at the drop of a hat.  Oh, and let’s not forget the sexual tension that plagues the both of them (think Benson and Stabler from Law & Order: SVU).


Jonathan Creek: Season Two , however, develops no new arcs for Jonathan or Maddy from the prior season.  There are five more crimes to solve (one stretched out into a two-part epic), with each more confounding then the last.  Yet, being as how the tension between Jonathan and Maddy is what ultimately drives the show, that arc remains sadly unexplored in this season.  They both acknowledge it (particularly during Maddy’s therapy session in “The Scented Room”), but neither makes any sort of progress towards advancing (or dissolving) their relationship.  “The Scented Room” does offer bits and pieces of Maddy’s past, but even then, its qualities are underplayed, instead playing second fiddle to the mystery at hand.


Regardless, however, the mysteries in Jonathan Creek are uniformly top-notch.  Very rarely do Jonathan and Maddy wind up tangling with criminal masterminds.  Often, they’re dealing with a well-thought-out crime that never goes off quite according to the plan.  On the season opener “Danse Macabre” (which doubles as the name of the series theme-song, adapted from Saint-Saëns), a well-known pulp-horror author comes back from a Halloween party with her family in tow; one dressed as a skeleton, herself as a witch, etc.  She sits quietly in her study when the skeleton enters and shoots her dead, taking the daughter hostage and demanding that the family chauffer get the car ready.  Outside the house, the chauffer takes matters into his own hands, forcing the skeleton to run into the garage with the daughter slung over his shoulder.  The automatic door shuts, police arrive, and soon the stone garage is surrounded.  When the door is re-opened however, the skeleton is nowhere to be found.  It’s a mystery that involves no trap doors, sliding panels, or elaborate escape plans.  As a matter of fact, the “disappearing skeleton”, as we later learn, was an act of total improvisation.  As well thought-out as it was, the errors in execution are all profoundly human; giving a sense of realism to the show that would make these otherwise-outlandish crimes hard to digest.


The weakest episode in Season Two is “Time Waits for Norman”, in which a chronophobic man is somehow able to get from one side of the Atlantic to the other in the span of seven hours.  His wife suspects him of cheating, but realizes that the same man cannot be in two places at once.  It’s a weak episode because the driving action isn’t all that compelling (investigating the possibility of an unfaithful husband), and though there is a death involved at one point, it most certainly is not a murder.  Things are lightened up by Maddy’s attempts at picking a cover for her book series based on her investigations with Jonathan (who winds up sleeping with a tax auditor and regrets it as soon as he finds out she wears a wig to cover up her baldness), but, ultimately, it’s the first episode of the series that truly drags.


The highlight, however, is “The Problem at Gallows Gate”.  Here, Adam Klaus’ mother comes to town.  She has the knack for embarrassing him at every possible moment [including right in front of his friend,  “Blind” Hewey Harper (who, secretly, is not blind)].  He pawns her off on Jonathan, who takes her and Maddy on his annual forest ferret-watching expedition.  While the mother is looking for an outhouse in the woods at night, she stumbles across a cottage where she just so happens to view a young woman being strangled to death.  When Jonathan and Maddy are brought in, they’re confounded as to why each window and door of the place is locked from the inside.  Later, Klaus’ mother is able to successfully identify the murderer, only to be informed that the man in question is Duncan Proctor, a playboy millionaire who publicly committed suicide at his house three weeks earlier.  The investigation on this one is fantastic; reaching a conclusion that is as surprising as it is impeccably considered by the show’s writers.  Twist endings have rarely been so satisfying.


Still, those who crave more exploration of Jonathan and Maddy’s relationship will have to wait another season.  Though Season Two isn’t quite as strong as its first, Jonathan Creek still carries on the tradition of not only being one of Britain’s most intricate crime dramas, but also its funniest.

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and many more. Evan has been a guest on HuffPost Live, RevotTV's "Revolt Live!", and WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album (available for free at GoodWithWordsAlbum.com), and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry (Hot Shot Records), and many others. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


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Jonathan Creek - The Problem at Gallows Gate
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