Ah, Jonathan Creek. A show built on a solid foundation of pure and utter ridiculousness. “I know,” David Renwick mused, “We’ll cast known oddball Alan Davies as a magic nerd who inexplicably lives in a windmill, and regularly solves murder cases that conveniently always hinge on an obscure and unlikely physical trick that he happens to have come across before. Oh, and also he hates solving cases. Never wants to do it. Ever. But somehow, he always does!”
It doesn’t get more gloriously hammy than that.
But this year’s festive special of Jonathan Creek left me absolutely furious. It takes the Creek we know and love and chips away at the ludicrousness of his persona, leaving behind a pretty ordinary man in preposterous surroundings. The writers force us to watch Creek move out of his iconic windmill to a more traditional, mediocre home with his wife, Polly, who shows no interest in any of the things audiences love about Creek: his weird love of magic, his supposedly reluctant obsession with unsolved crimes. He even throws away his childhood toys, souvenirs from the beginning of his love of sleight of hand and magic tricks.
The message is that Jonathan Creek is growing up. Ah! Such character development. But since when have murder mystery audiences ever wanted progress? The format thrives on repetition in absurdity: that’s why Lewis and Hathaway ceaselessly leave and return to the force, why body after body is mown down in the village of Midsomer while the population seemingly never changes. Creek was meant to be an unlucky-in-love, reclusive anorak for all time, his endless supply of locked room mysteries never dwindling. And he was meant to live in a fucking windmill.
It is not now as it was of yore – the Creek which we have seen, we now can see no more. Instead, we must accept his new life of compromise and company.
But while the man himself has grown up and toned down, the world of murder and mystery that revolves around him remains a world of absolute insanity. It has all the usual Creek clues: feet are discovered to be iambic, not human; rooms are uncovered as built entirely on their side, not, as some reports suggest, installed with gravity-defying fire vortexes. But it gets even more bizarre: in this episode alone (spoilers ahead), we see a man attacked by a falling CCTV camera, a knife-wielding maniac ferociously attack a scarecrow, fake ghosts spring from the grave of a nineteenth-century sorcerer, and a man murder his wife using a tiny piece of cardboard, a wonky shelf and a rolling ball of poison.
And those aren’t even the most outrageous moments. Creek himself fully murders a man in a fire pit with absolutely no repercussions. Literally none. The police remove the charred remains from the hidden sideways dungeon (if you haven’t seen it, don’t ask – I’m not even going there) without even a, “Hey, Jonathan! Know anything about the dead guy down here? Was this you? Not to be rude or anything, but did you do this in self-defence, or…?” Nope! They just roll the gurney straight on by.
This pales in comparison to the show’s absolute peak of absurdity – in one scene, Nathan Clore, a wheelchair user unable to communicate using anything other than his eyes, tries to give our protagonists a hint about a key suspect. He looks desperately from a phone on the table to an ajar door across the room. Over and over. What could he possibly be saying? The calls are coming from inside the house? I am not mobile enough to take you to the crucial evidence next door? No, you idiots!!! Clearly, the solution is plain as day! The crack in the door reveals the corner of a poster, which bares the letter Y! PHONE. Y. PHONE. Y. YES, THE MAN NEXT TO NATHAN CLORE IS A PHONEY!!!!!!!!!!
Why didn’t Clore merely stare furiously at the charlatan in question? Would that not be a better way to point to his guilt? Who uses the word “phoney” except Holden Caulfield? Am I screaming with rage out loud, or just inside my head? All these questions and more came to me, too, at this moment of revelation.
Of course, these moments of utter outrageous absurdity are the backbone of Jonathan Creek, and it wouldn’t be the same infuriating show without them. But in a world this ridiculous, why on earth would you dilute the eccentric oddball at its centre? It’s a mystery to me, and if Creek returns to our screens in the next few years, I hope he’s ditched Polly for the real love of his life. That fucking windmill.
Now listen to Anna discuss Jonathan Creek on the SRSLY podcast’s Christmas TV special: