TV review: Jonathan Creek (BBC1) was a melange of highly watchable gobbledegook

The Men Who Built America, History

"He's back in the saddle," proclaimed a colleague in Jonathan Creek, as if Alan Davies's veteran sleuth were a strutting young turk and not a grumpy mid-lifer in a plaid shirt. He is back, but the interregnum while he'd been off air (of nearly three years) had led to some disconcerting changes. We found him in a glass-encased office – getting ahead in advertising – in a city-slicker suit. His slide back to the sleuthy side of life didn't take long though: one whiff of mystery after a visit from the mischievous Sheridan Smith and he was left rummaging in his wardrobe for that shaggy old duffle coat.

A madcap plot that combined the supernatural, horror and detective genres to make a mélange of highly watchable gobbledegook followed. Who cares about making sense of the plot anyway when you have a wondrously tongue-in-cheek script by David Renwick, (who wrote for Kenny Everett and Spike Milligan, among others) and such glittering comedy stars as Nigel Planer and Rik Mayall alongside Joanna Lumley, all playing it straight, bar the odd, camp smirk.

Lumley played the sultry wife with a haunted past (affix supernatural genre here) while her husband, Nigel Planer, a big-brained TV intellectual, had his head cut off (insert horror here). Mayall was the most winning in his role as the Ironside-style detective (retro TV drama goes here), leading the investigation from his wheelchair and only giving way to flashes of archness when the situation absolutely demanded it. Ever increasing silliness did hit the limit in the final 15 minutes when a conspiracy subplot was thrown in and apple juice saved the day. What's more, none of the mysteries quite joined up at the seams, but perhaps the preposterousness was the point.

Clever satire came even with smaller characters, such as the documentary-making adopted daughter, Fariba, who spoke in mystic mumbo-jumbo, and her boyfriend, a Mellors-like farm-hand straight out of Lady Chatterley's Lover, who quoted DH Lawrence while rolling around atop haystacks.

It has always been hard to pin down the nature of this beast – whether it is primarily a spoofy comedy of the whodunit genre, or a funny whodunit. Perhaps it is the generic splicing that has led to its success. The freshness of this comeback was surprising, given that the show first aired 16 years ago and should surely be as old and tired as Jonathan Creek's duffle coat by now.

The Men Who Built America wasn't half as funny, but then again, one had to be serious, and seriously ruthless, to be as big a capitalist pioneer as Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose life story, from down-at-heel kid to the richest man in America, was the subject of the first part of this series. The signature marks of far wider purse strings than a bog-standard BBC documentary were all over this high-octane hour, with its filmic reconstructions, its rousing soundtrack and its access to high-ranking talking heads, including Alan Greenspan and Ted Turner, who spoke of the capitalist drive to succeed that Vanderbilt so embodied.

There was something of the rock-umentary about the beginning, which spoke of the six subjects of this series – Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Astor, Ford and J P Morgan – in hyperbolic terms. They were "entrepreneurial rock stars" who propelled America to greatness, the narrator said. Vanderbilt began with a single boat bought with a $100 loan and went on to become first a shipping magnate, then dominate the railroads before turning his interests to oil. Ever restless to expand his empire, he was prepared to use cowboy tactics to beat his rivals. While this documentary was frank about the cut-throat instincts that men like Vanderbilt personified, its statesmen-like positioning of them and their legacy seemed at odds with our current economic crisis, which might expose the end-point for this brand of American capitalism to be a force for bad, not good.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London