LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
David Renwick must be a regular Kaleidoscope listener because he chose to open Jonathan Creek (Sat BBC1) with one of the programme's walk-round gallery interviews. An artist is explaining his intentions in front of giant nude portraits of women wearing clown make-up (a deliciously plausible interview, even if the show involves an improbable marriage of Goldsmith politics and Academy painterliness). It isn't very long before the artist in question is applying a messy dab of Crimson Lake to his bedroom carpet, having been shot dead, we are lead to believe, by his wife, despite the fact that she was in a sealed room on the 13th floor of her office building at the time of death.

A local burglar is charged with the crime and, in one of the film's best lines ("I'd like to exercise my right to an investigative journalist"), ushers in Caroline Quentin's character, a writer specialising in miscarriages of justice. And who better to help her unravel such a theatrical conundrum than Jonathan Creek himself, a deviser of conjuring tricks who is played by Alan Davies as a put-upon hobbyist (duffel coat with horn buttons, white bread sandwiches, a windmill to live in). The two meet cute in a theatre bar, he spearing her with a cocktail stick, and the stage is set for an odd-couple detective drama.

David Renwick (whom God preserve) wrote the script, and has aimed it rather knowingly between the comfortably predictable and the entirely unplaceable. This is one of those series in which sports cars spit gravel as they accelerate away from the camera and in which sinister phone calls are followed by a shot of the caller looking archly mysterious as the music goes "oo-er". There is something affectionate about these nods to period style, but then the drama whisks the obvious genre pleasures away from you. After working out how the wife could have pulled her vanishing trick (and building a model to demonstrate it), Creek echoes your unvoiced catcall: "It's just a textbook explanation," he says dismissively. "It doesn't stand up for a minute in real life." (The pleasure of this dramatic sleight of hand somehow outweighing the fact that the final revelation is even more incredible.)

The comedy is a little uneven - ranging from wisecracks distributed with democratic largesse ("the closest he's got to a kiss recently was spitting in a dental nurse's funnel," says the creepy magician about Creek's unsatisfactory love-life) to sight gags which would sit perfectly well in a sketch show (when the police arrest their suspect in a cinema, they use two idiot boards reading "Stephan Grismal?" and "You're nicked"). And there are other problems, too - not least the fact that the on-screen chemistry between Davies and Quentin appears to involve some kind of retardant. It's not that there's nothing between them, but the combination of his inexpressive deadpan and her sardonic pauses has done something strange to the tempo. It's as if the director has suddenly slammed his foot on the brake pedal, so much so that when you return to the more conventional narrative sequences, you feel a little jolt of acceleration. But if this makes it sound as if Jonathan Creek is a patchwork of near-misses, the overall effect is not that at all. Quentin can get a laugh out of the single word "Yes" (when she uses it to reply to the question: "You know how sometimes when you make love it's like a nuclear explosion between your thighs?"), and the application of double-entendre to every level of the thing, from dialogue to plot construction, means that it has a teasing, sly shimmer to it. As mindless entertainment, it turns out to be surprisingly thoughtful.

Dancing for Dollars, Angus Macqueen's film about the Bolshoi Ballet's disastrous trip to Las Vegas (Sun C4), was a touching cautionary tale about cultural misapprehension. The best things in it were the investors - good country folk from Oklahoma who didn't know much about ballet ("I just figured that it's a whole lot like ice-skating"), and even less about Las Vegas, a Biblical hell which exceeded their worst fears. They had cast their pearl before swine, and they damn near lost the farm doing it.

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