3/8/14

Jonathan Creek: The Sinner and the Sandman


"Since the Brother of Death daily haunts us with dying mementoes."
- Sir Thomas Browne
Where to begin, where to begin...

The Sinner and the Sandman (2014) is the second episode from the fifth, three-part season of Jonathan Creek, and as much as I hate to say it, the series is dying at its leisure. That much is obvious after tonight. The previous episode, The Letters of Septimus Noone (2014), suffered from having too many plot threads and not enough time to explore them all, but here it was the exact opposite – a five-minute brain teaser stretched into a sixty-minute episode. Nothing happened for nearly an hour!

David Renwick gives, more and more, the impression of being completely out of ideas for seemingly impossible problems for the series and tired comedy bits were thrown in as substitutions. They might as well have re-launched this season (without acknowledging it) under the title One Foot in the Grave and draw a chuckle from confusing their viewers.



Anyhow, Jonathan and Polly Creek are immersing themselves in the plain, drab everyday existence of village life, away from Jonathan’s alternative career, but there’s always a mystery to be found in the British countryside – even if they turn out to be nothing of the kind. Polly is involved with the local community center, where a scandal is brewing, and Jonathan has to make a charitable call on the local recluse, Mr. Eric Ipswich a.k.a. "The Amazing Astrodamus," whose home harbors a feat of clairvoyance from the past. Behind fifty years worth of wallpaper, they find the winning lottery numbers from a local winner with the words "WILL WIN" scrawled underneath it. Unfortunately, the (gist of the) solution should occur to everyone almost immediately, especially after the cross symbol is found, with the real the real problem being how to verify it. Renwick nicely tied a problem to this apparent act of clairvoyance, but coincidence is the key word for both of them. That's why I didn’t tag this review with "Locked Room Mysteries" and "Impossible Crimes" labels.

There are slight, almost residue traces of the supernatural when the arrival of a baby at the vicarage coincides with reports of a shadowy, hunchbacked beast with glowing eyes prowling the garden and going through the trash. Again, there's not much of interest here and presented only to deliver an obvious punch line at the end. Only time Jonathan Creek made me laugh this season was in the previous episode, when one of the characters suddenly realized she had read a text message meant for Polly and bellowed on for a full minute how glad she is it wasn’t her dad who'd just died – with Polly sitting right next to her! So dark. Comedy here hardly deserves a second look.

The "Sandman" from the episode title is a figure from Polly's nightmare and the dream sequence suggests this was a British relative of Uncle Paul who urged Polly to keep grown-up secrets, but whereas comedy was attempted to draw from the other plot-thread, here it was to create a forced, emotional moment to end the show with. It was so sweet... I'm still wiping the diabetes from the corner of my eyes.

I want to stress here how much I normally enjoy Jonathan Creek and actually like how Renwick reinvented the character, but, plot-and story wise, the series has now reached a phase were it could apply for euthanasia had it run in my country. That's really the nicest way I can put it (rewrote and scrapped a lot for this review). I'll watch the last episode for completion, however, I don't even expect it to be traditionally that one good episode every season has had. But, hopefully, I'm wrong and Renwick saved the best for last. 

Finally, I hope to have a regular review up this weekend. Hopefully. 

7 comments:

  1. *sees post title*
    *realizes he totally forgot Jonathan Creek was on yesterday*
    *runs off*

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    1. You can skip this episode without missing anything of importance.

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  2. I thought this was a vast improvement on last week. The viewer had something to think about, at least, with the prediction and the beast stories. The Sandman stuff was nonsense, but as for coincidence? Renwick has always played that card as far back as The Reconstituted Corpse as he seems reluctant to have too many devious plotting murderers out there, so coincidence is all that's left to make an "impossible" situation.

    It's a brave choice to basically redesign the show in structure as well as setting and don't get me wrong, I much prefer Series 1 & 2 and the Joey Ross episodes. But I hold out hope that there's life in the old dog yet...

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    1. Of course coincidences are a part of the locked room scenario, but The Reconstituted Corpse was about something instead of tying two coincedences (one of them misunderstood) together and present it as a miracle. It wasn't even a proper (lotto) scam or trick!

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  3. i can't help but think that i don't envy david renwick his audience as nothing seems to satisfy them. i personally think this series has improved from the last few specials as he has moved away from impossible murders, either because he thinks its all been done before or anything that hasn't would be too far fetched (an ideology that probably led him to create one foot in the grave come to think of it), so instead is getting more enjoyment out of cryptograms and word play etc. doing an inverted crime was a great idea last week as was the sherlock send up, and this week setting a strange conundrum is fine by me. if renwick were a vintage crime writer and these episodes were short stories to ellery queen magazine or the saturday evening post, the reviews would call them entertaining diversions, interesting experiments or brave attempts at playing with the format. What i find very commendable is that renwick may have realised the shortcomings to an amazing impossible murder each week (he even has creek complain bitterly about this in a recent special), but rather than churn out tired rehashes of old episodes, he still uses the format to do something he hasnt done before, even if its not satiating everyones appetite. In a way, i hope the next one is away from whodunnit again, as i think that will show this series is deliberately getting away from locked room murder, and indeed crime.

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    1. You have a point about our perpetual unhappiness over the series, but the comments wouldn't have been any different if Renwick was a 1930s writer of vintage mysteries. They would've been exposed to the same kind of praise and criticism as the current TV series. Bad GAD stories don't get a pass just because they are GAD.

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  4. There's a gaping plot hole in this episode, too - Ian Avery-Cooper drops his lottery ticket which is picked up and appropriated by Leonard Corbyn. However, Avery-Cooper notices and immediately reports the loss to the ticket salesperson. All lottery ticket sellers are trained to deal with this situation, which happens all the time - they will cancel the lost ticket and replace it. There is no chance that the salesperson would be too lazy or would not know the procedure - there is a question of legal and financial liability so it is hammered into them. In this case the procedure would have been much simpler as Avery-Cooper still has his receipt (we see it in his hand), uses the same numbers every week, and reports the loss within seconds of it happening. Corbyn's stolen ticket would be a worthless piece of paper and he would probably be arrested when he tried to claim the prize.

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