Blightyvision: “Jonathan Creek” Series 1

Created by David Renwick
Starring Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin
Guest Starring Anthony Head and Colin Baker

An adulterous artist is found dead in his room, his lover bound and gagged on the floor. Investigative reporter Maddy Magellan is certain the victim’s wife was the murderer, but the wife was observed closely in a sealed-off room right around the time of the murder. Sounds like a stunt only a magician could figure out, right?

Perhaps not. Enter Jonathan Creek — not a flash, boisterous stage performer, but the ideas man for one — a unassuming, curly-haired sort in a duffel coat and sneakers who lives in a windmill and designs fantastic stage illusions for a living. Maddy enlists his reluctant help to get to the bottom of this impossible murder, kicking off an unlikely partnership that will end up spanning three seasons.

As it’s a detective series at heart, let’s address first things first: the mysteries themselves. And what mysteries they are. How could a man with crippling arthritis in both hands lock himself in an underground bunker and shoot himself in the head? How could a corpse suddenly appear in Maddy’s new wardrobe as she’s carrying it upstairs? As impossible as all these cases seem, they are all solved satisfactorily by the end of the episode with the power of Jonathan’s lateral thinking. There are no ghosts, no aliens, and no need for a “willing suspension of disbelief” — everything works, which makes one wonder what writer/producer David Renwick does in his spare time.

Played by less experienced actors, our heroes would almost certainly be annoying and unlovable. But Alan Davies (possibly now best known as Stephen Fry’s foil on the quiz show “QI”) brings a surprising level of charm to the snarky, misanthropic Jonathan. And opposite him, Caroline Quentin (of “Men Behaving Badly” and numerous improv shows) makes the aggressively loud-mouthed Maddy entertaining and likeable. You find yourself emotionally invested in their unresolved relationship … made all the more believable by the fact that we are being shown real, dynamic personalities, rather than stereotypical twentysomething fashion plates.

The pilot, unlike the rest of the series, is more along the lines of a TV movie, both in length and in tone. It guest-stars Sixth Doctor Colin Baker — the first of many “Doctor Who” alums to come through the show — as the first murder victim, and Anthony Head as Jonathan’s boss, stage illusionist Adam Klaus. Head helps himself to some tasty scenery as the laughably slimy Klaus, but don’t get too attached. This is the only time you’ll see him in the role.

The first series is all of five episodes long, and they’re five truly solid episodes that will leave you wanting more. I never found myself having one of those “wait and see” moments — you know, the benefit of the doubt you always find yourself giving the first two or three episodes of a show? It was far from necessary here, a rarity anymore in shows that choose to focus on the mental rather than the visual. If you enjoy a good brainy mystery, and are looking for a story where you won’t see the ending a mile away, it’s definitely worth your time.

Jonathan Creek contains occasional language, disturbing images, and so much sexual tension you could walk it like a tightrope. The first series is available on Region 1 DVD, and episodes are replayed occasionally on BBC America. Check out the well-preserved BBC site for more information.