Abra Abra Cadabra, Judge Kristin Munson's gonna reach out and grab ya'.
Jonathan: There's a word for what you are.
Predictable is exactly what this series is. Every episode follows the same cozy formula: the crime-solving team hears about a baffling mystery—usually a murder—pokes around, has a bit of banter, and cracks the case in a way that makes you want to pull Jonathan's hair out by the frizzy roots.
Facts of the Case
Magician's assistant Jonathan Creek (comedian Alan Davies) and investigative journalist Maddy Magellan (Caroline Quentin, Men Behaving Badly) have been partners in crime solving for three years. A lifetime of constructing illusions for the stage and a shameless sense of nosiness has made for the perfect partnership when it comes to solving bizarre crimes. In Jonathan Creek: Season Three's six episodes, the duo takes on some unsolved mysteries that would stump Robert Stack and deals with a much bigger question: will they or won't they?
Jonathan Creek is a lot cheekier than I remember. That's probably because the version that aired on BBC America left out the topless ladies, sex scenes, and bare male bums.
Series' writer David Renwick wrote for a string of comedy hits like One Foot in the Grave, so Creek isn't really about whodunit and how, but the antagonistically flirty relationship between supremely logical Jonathan and his pushy partner, with some weird puzzles to throw them together. This season, the locked-room mysteries take on a darker, more supernatural bent, complete with Faustian deals, psychic visions, and alien life forms. They might seem silly, but Renwick knows how to hook you. How can I not want to find out whether a Karloff-looking corpse with six bullets in its head crawled up a flight of stairs or how a former pin-up girl was seen walking to church six hours after she went into a coma? The solutions are so ridiculously convoluted there's no way to figure them out before Jonathan does and there aren't enough clues within the hour to make the answer satisfying. During the last five minutes of any episode, my jaw would be hanging at a funny angle as I tried to make sense of the over-the-top lengths the murderer went to.
The mysteries are the weakest part of season three, so thank heavens for cast chemistry. By now, Quentin and Davies have their double-act down to a science so even when they're spinning out the coincidence-heavy solutions their back and forth keeps things fizzy. It's much more fun seeing Jonathan roped into meeting his fanclub-a group of nerds with curly hair and matching coats-or putting up with a know-it-all reporter who spoils all of his magic tricks. Boisterous Maddy gets the most laughs because Caroline Quentin knows how to work an inflection to get the most out of her lines. Even the subplots involving Jonathan's sleazy boss wind up being more entertaining than the final outcome of each episode, despite the actor's annoying Anglo-American accent.
Of course, with any male/female partnership on television, it's only a matter of time before there's a hook-up, and Maddy and Jonathan finally take the plunge late in the season. Renwick doesn't make a big deal out of the moment and keeps up the antagonistic interaction between the two for the rest of the season, but, since Caroline Quentin left the series after this set of episodes, the change has no real impact.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For episodes that aired in 1999, Jonathan Creek sure looks like crap. While some scenes have sharp blacks, perfect color balance, and a spotless transfer, others from the same episode are fuzzy with a bad case of the jaggies. There are whole stretches in "Miracle in Crooked Lane" that have a watery green tint that reminds me of the early days of online fandom, when screen captures were photos people took of their TV screens.
Jonathan Creek: Season 3 is one of those series you enjoy once, but it won't do much for you on future viewings. The first two thirds of every episode are twisty and entertaining, but the homestretch is a sleight of hand that always leaves you hanging. What's the fun of a mystery that makes no sense?
The magician's assistant made my verdict disappear. No fair!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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