To someone as painfully middle class as me the string theme of Jonathon Creek is as familiar and comforting of the lilting intro of the Shipping Forecast or the dramatic brass of Channel 4 news. A musical shorthand that instantly transports you back to your childhood and fond memories of staying up for one of the few murder mysteries your parents would allow you to watch. Often macabre, consistently amusing and intriguing I have a lot of affection for the titular hero. However when the eponymous magician’s technician cum detective was resurrected last year I was disappointed with the results. The whimsical duffel coat and windmill were gone; his status as a married man failed to fill the void left by Caroline Quentin. Given all the nostalgic baggage I bring to the table is it really fair of me to judge the new Jonathon Creek so harshly? Am I blinded by rose tinted spectacles looking back to a television show that only existed in my imagination or is it that the show has failed to adapt to the new era of T.V detectives?
The old formula for an episode of Jonathon Creek was very simple, a fission of will-they-won’t they sexual tension between Creek and his female companion, a macabre and mysterious death with an often innocuous explanation and lashings of dry British wit. In The Letters of Septimus Noone however these key ingredients were noticeable by their absence.
While the parody of Sherlock was a knowing wink to the new status quo of detective drama with all his bombast and hyperbole, the rest of episode lacked atmosphere and satirical bite, the skit involving Jonathon’s tussle at the theatre notwithstanding.
We saw how the only crime in the story was committed and concealed, while the mystery involving Mrs Creek’s late father turned out to be something of a damp squib. Much like Alan Davies the whole programme seemed tired looking, his relationship with his wife Polly (Sarah Alexander) lacked the necessary chemistry to rouse our hero from his laconic doldrums into impassioned and amusing frustration.
For a programme that once balanced on the line between black comedy and crime drama with the skill of a trapeze artist the jokes were limited to a few puns while the absence of a compelling mystery was painfully apparent.
Unfortunately for Jonathon Creek it is no longer is aired in a vacuum. There’s competition for his detective’s mantle. We live in an era of international television, where Dr Who is broadcast simultaneously to cinemas around the globe, where Scandinavian imports receive cult status and American drama is shamelessly pirated and obsessively consumed. Where does that leave our curmudgeonly Jonathon? While the lampooning of Sherlock in the form of the young “work experience bod” seemed to acknowledge the new cultural landscape, The Letters of Septimus Noone wasn’t able to capture what I once loved about the programme or bring anything new to the table. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Jonathon Creek is like that larger than life relative now kept on life-support, your memories of how it used to be overshadowed by the reality of how it is now. Attempts to revive have been both painful and undignified. Switch the machine off BBC and leave us the memories.