Hidden Down The TV Guide # 3 - Jonathan Creek then and now
I saw Alan Davies once. He was getting off a train at Oxford station and he was dressed exactly as the character we all best remember him for - duffel coat, comfy jumper, jeans and, of course, frizzy hair. I am happy to report he was getting off a standard carriage but he did have the urgent air of a man who knew he would be recognised and couldn't be doing with the fuss involved. For all of his thespian pursuits, as an arrogant chef or a well intentioned lover or barrister, Alan Davies never stops being Alan Davies. He simply doesn't fade into the role, he never changes his hair, and he most definitely does not emote or project. Alan Davies is what you see on the tin, and frankly that persona is what the public have come to love as Stephen Fry's sidekick in QI or in his most famous role as Jonathan Creek.
Well AD is back as the magical detective for a three part series. In the 17 year history of the programme, he has attracted many a love interest carelessly working his way through Caroline Quentin, Julia Sawalha, Sheridan Smith and now, as his wife no less, Sarah Alexander. The show has also gone back and forth in terms of length from 50 minutes to 90 minute specials back now to an hour and writer David Renwick has given over the directing duties to others as well.The original focus of the show was actually Maddie (Quentin), a journalist interested in the outré and the unsolvable who dragged Creek into the mysteries and formed a will they won't they relationship with Davies. Maddie had character and guts and pluck and cheek, she was just as much the reason for watching the show as Jonathan, and when she left the rot set in with capable actresses filling underwritten roles with no more purpose than being there to feed lines to Creek and to get us to forget about Caroline Quentin's departure to bad dramas and weak sitcoms.
So why, despite this, has the show endured? Well, people love Alan Davies, not Liverpool fans I grant you but his remarks about Hillsborough and mourning don't bother the rest of you. That under stated charm and willingness to play the numpty are admired so much that we can believe that a man with a haircut 20 years too young for him would be the subject of amorous attention from his co-stars and a genius with puzzles too. Yep, we love AD and wanna be him and we wanted to be spouting David Renwick's words and gags just to complete the package. Sadly, Jonathan Creek's return stretches this belief to breaking point as the opening episode continues Creek's domestication and spends 15 minutes showing us how the murder happens before spending another 40 whilst our sleuth catches up. Perhaps this is satire on Renwick's point (a locked room mystery that is no secret), but Davies seems older, paunchier and the supporting characters excite little interest.
Compare this to Simon Day as a simian obsessed husband, a house filled with trained primates and the glorious Annette Crosbie as the matriarch. Drama is re-showing the original series and the episode was The House of Monkeys, an endlessly silly mystery where Renwick goes wild with his set-up and Creek and Maddie deadpan through the chaos. The difference is light and day, and the message from me is sometimes things need to come to an end. Jonathan should be allowed to disappear and Renwick allowed to retire his character as all that is left is Davies' charm and memories of better times.