TV Review

Any series in which astrology is described as "persuasive bollocks" is all right by me. In truth, I would quibble with "persuasive", which strikes me as too charitable an adjective, but the robustness of the noun wins out in the end.

The remark was uttered in passing by Jonathan Creek, the hero of David Renwick's canny thriller series for BBC 1, and it flags up one of the programme's most appealing features. At a time when many series exploit the audience's untroubled gullibility, this is a drama that makes a virtue out of sceptical thought - and without surrendering any of the Gothic frissons that power less respectable entertainments. Jonathan Creek is a conjurer's ideas man - in other words, he devises and constructs illusions for a popular magician. And, with the convenience we have come to love in genre fiction, the cases that come his way through the agency of Maddie Magellan, an unsuccessful private investigator, are all murderous versions of magic tricks. On Saturday night, for example, it was a sealed box disappearance - a Hallowe'en-costumed murderer retreats into a stone- walled garage carrying the unconscious body of a woman. When the police eventually raise the automatic door, only the woman is lying there. The murderer has vanished into thin air.

Maddie's description of this baffling event is the cue for Jonathan Creek (played with a nice, grumpy bite by the comedian Alan Davies) to look unimpressed and ask apparently irrelevant questions in a knowing manner ("But the paint tins ... were empty?"). It is also the cue for the audience to employ their own brains in connecting the disparate clues, helped occasionally by passages of Socratic dialogue between Creek and Maddie, in which he coaxes her through the inferences and conclusions that will lead to a solution - a chain which depends on logic and the solid physicality of the world rather than alien mind-parasites or poltergeist activity. Renwick has confessed that he wants this series to achieve the same success as One Foot In The Grave - a tricky ambition, if only because the supply of grand illusion devices may run out before the audience has climbed to the same alpine altitudes that the sitcom achieved. It deserves to succeed, though, and not just because the script is fresh and the casting nicely judged. I wouldn't want to get too solemn about it; Jonathan Creek is a game at heart - driven by a pleasure in frankly implausible contrivances. But it is at least a game for grown-ups, and they are rarer than they should be these days.

Unfinished Business, which follows hard on Jonathan Creek's heels, seems to have similar ambitions - the post-watershed timing giving it certain liberties as regards sexual innuendo and verbal abuse. Unhelpfully described by the continuity announcer as a "sharp poke at Nineties life and loves" (which is bound to alert you to any bluntness in what follows) it concerns Amy, a disconsolate divorcee whose most recent lover has been carried off by her daughter. Amy is played by Harriet Walter in a performance that offers strange glimpses of Felicity Kendall - both in the occasional little-girl modulations of her voice, and in the displays of jokey, wits- end hysteria. Her ex-husband is played by Henry Goodman, who is currently stealing the show in the West End revival of Chicago but whose vaudeville manner is a little out of place here - his delivery making every exchange sound like the practised call-and-response of a long-running patter act.

The writing itself is a touch strained, too - prone to elaborate, self- conscious puns. "He works out," says Amy, describing her ex-lover to her ex-husband. "Mathematician?" replies Spike. "That isn't remotely funny," she snaps back, and she's right. Easily the funniest character so far is Ruth, an earnest psychotherapist who provides an audience for Amy's self-flagellating confessions of inadequacy. "What is it about you that invites those close to you to inflict such pain?" Ruth said at one point last night, interrupting a skittish monologue from her patient. That line made me burst out laughing with its dark, deflating solemnity, but I have a feeling it wasn't intended to be funny at all.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention