TV Review: Jonathan Creek – The Sinner and the Sandman (S5, E2)

Jonathan Creek

Well it was an improvement on last week’s tawdry offering, though that’s not really saying much. The problem remains that the magic has quite literally vanished from the show. Creek‘s cult credentials – his choice of coat, career, home etc – remain lost to the previous two decades, so much so that with just one episode to go before this series ends, one has to wonder whether it might be time to put the show out to pasture for good.

It’s a shame to see a once-great show reduced to the style of lame, middle-class, hollow humour that defines so much of the BBC’s output nowadays, yet with no direction, no sense of itself and no desire to appeal to its core audience, Jonathan Creek now feels like little more than a dready combination of The Archers and Jam & Jerusalem, albeit without the quirky charm of either show. Renwick‘s grasp of humour has always been questionable (he is, after all, the man responsible for One Foot in the Grave, a dire, miserable excuse for a sitcom) but the darker, more surreal comedy he used to employ in Creek was generally pretty good. Now, alas, it’s just cringeworthy.

I guess one must be thankful that “The Sinner and the Sandman” at least contained a mystery or two (which is more than can be said for last week’s episode), though the number of contrivances required to tie the stories together bordered on pure absurdity. The village in which Creek lives – which he refers to as “Twin Peaks“, in one of the episode’s few humorous moments – seems to be a hotbed of mystery. The core of the episode was taken up by a seemingly impossible prediction, made by a local psychic fifty years ago, about some winning lotto numbers. Meanwhile, a strange beast with eyes that glow in the dark roams the streets at night and Polly is having dreams about a nightmarish version of The Sandman. Somehow all of these threads are connected and it’s up to Jonathan, who just can’t help but get involved in a good mystery, to figure out how and why.

Except… it wasn’t a good mystery. The initial surprise with the lotto numbers was decent, and it was nice to see Jonathan try to get to the bottom of it, but the resolution was so poor, so ludicrous and so dull that it made the rest of the episode feel all but redundant. In the classic series the resolutions were always a bit out-there but at least they were somewhat logical. Here, by contrast, the solution required such a suspension of disbelief from the audience that it undermined the show’s entire philosophy. There’s no point in following an episode if the audience isn’t given some chance to work things out for themselves, like we were in the good old days.

Now, I don’t wish to come across as a bitter old man who wants the nineties back, but Jonathan Creek is simply no longer the show I love. The absence of Stuart Milligan as Adam Klaus, the windmill, the duffel coat, Caroline Quentin (even Sawahla or Smith would do!) and a decent mystery worth sinking your teeth into mean that it all feels aimless, not to mention the fact that it’s mostly boring. The decision to marry Jonathan off always struck me as daft because it’s so against his character, and the awful effects of it have now been felt in all their complete lack of glory. I like Sarah Alexander but she adds nothing to the show. Worse still, she looks like she doesn’t care. So too does Davies, which means that the audience can’t even invest in what’s happening. Davies always played Jonathan with a glum pessimism, yet now he just stands there, occasionally gawping at things before suddenly coming to some barmy realisation. He’s not even trying and it really shows. Then again, with scripts like this who can blame him?

There was a time when I awaited a new installment of Jonathan Creek with pure glee. Those days no longer exist; with one episode to go, the best advice I can offer you is to seek out some of the earlier episodes, if only to see just how far the show has fallen since 1997.

If you want to watch The Sinner and the Sandman, it’s available on iPlayer.