You can’t beat the Brits for smart and funny mysteries.
Before cable TV exploded, Public Broadcasting Service viewers in this country were able to see the best crime shows from across the Atlantic on the “Mystery” series.
Once the BBC decided to launch its own cable service in the U.S., however, “Mystery” started to fade and then vanish.
So a lot of the best British series of the past decade haven’t been widely seen here.
Fortunately, almost all of them have been released on DVD and you could easily fill your Netflix queue with terrific series such as “Wire in the Blood,” “Rebus,” and “Rosemary & Thyme.”
BBC Video has released four seasons of “Jonathan Creek,” the witty and devilishly clever series about a master magician turned sleuth.
Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies) works as the behind-the-scenes genius of a theatrical magician in the David Copperfield vein, who puts on stage shows in London’s West End and who also does regular TV appearances.
Because of his near-mystical ability to create and solve puzzles, Jonathan also is able to crack the toughest crime cases — locked-room style murders that stump the cops.
In the first three seasons, Jonathan was pressed into service by true-crime writer Maddy Magellan, played by Caroline Quentin, who made a wonderful foil for Davies (a stand-up comic before he was cast in the BBC series).
After season three, Quentin took a break to start a family and then landed her own show, “Blue Murder.”
For season four, Jonathan was given a new partner, Carla Borrego (Julia Sawalha), a TV personality who hosts a popular series about unsolved crimes. Carla and Jonathan used to date, but she moved on to the high-powered TV executive who produces her show.
Each season of “Jonathan Creek” consisted of only five or six episodes — all of them written by creator David Renwick — so the shows are all of a very high quality that you don’t see in U.S. broadcast television where 20 to 25 episodes are cranked out year in-year out.
The six season four episodes each feature a seemingly unsolveable crime, as well as some very humorous scenes showing us the cheesy mechanics of British “reality” television. The result is just about perfect escapist fare.
Seven years have passed since season four of “Jonathan Creek” aired in England, but Renwick hasn’t ruled out the idea of returning to the character. Let’s hope he finds a way to revive this unique sleuth.