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TV review: Jonathan Creek; It’s Kevin; Life’s Too Short

You’d think that after 16 years and 28 episodes, Jonathan Creek might itself creak a little – how many more variations on the locked-room mystery can there possibly be? – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Plenty of fun is still to be had from the deliciously contrived plotting, melodramatic scenarios, star turns in supporting roles and sharp scripts peppered with neat comedy touches. Who cares that some of the exposition is so tortuous it borders on actor abuse?

A feature-length special, The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb waits a full 15 minutes before the show’s magician/sleuth hero makes an appearance. Instead, viewers are treated to a suitably overheated flashback preamble, set in 1968, involving sadistic nuns, hysterical teenage girls, stigmata, drug-induced visions and an unexplained death at a gothic mansion turned convent school.

And this was just the warm-up to the main event, in which the blood-drenched corpse of a legendary television producer disappears from the aforementioned locked room.

[pullquote]Plenty of fun is still to be had from Jonathan Creek’s deliciously contrived plotting, melodramatic scenarios, star turns and sharp scripts[/pullquote]

Alan Davies once again provides the calm centre around which all the mayhem revolves, with Joanna Lumley linking two of the three mysteries – writer David Renwick is never less than generous with his plotlines – and Rik Mayall still managing to deliver his trademark, wildly over-the-top performance, despite being cast as a wheelchair-using detective paralysed below the neck.

I have now watched three episodes of It’s Kevin and I’m still not sure if it’s funny. Kevin Eldon’s sketch show is certainly odd, with moments of brilliance, but the set-ups are invariably more inspired than the pay-offs, and Eldon’s studied air of deadpan detachment walks a fine line between quirky and irritating.

But half an hour in the company of Eldon’s imagination is never wasted, plus he’s been shrewd enough to surround himself with an impressive array of comic performers, including Julia Davis, Liza Tarbuck and Adam Buxton.

Sadly, it looks as though there will be no second series of Life’s Too Short, but my favourite comedy of 2011 enjoyed a last hurrah, thanks to a one-hour special that addressed many of the faults, and played to the strengths, of its first run.

Gone were the gratuitous physical humiliations visited upon star Warwick Davis, along with the David Brent mannerisms bequeathed him by writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

Instead, Davis was given free rein to explore the comic potential of his complex, conflicted and constantly embattled character. Rosamund Hanson provided scene-stealing support as dippy secretary Cheryl.

Extra helpings of guest stars playing either unflattering or unsympathetic versions of themselves were also served up. Shaun Williamson, Keith Chegwin and Les Dennis all made a welcome return – “Three Z-list celebrities make one D-list celebrity,” encouraged Davis as they embarked on their All Star roadshow – with a surprise appearance from the former Hollywood star and one-time screen Batman Val Kilmer.

With an enthusiasm that bordered upon self-flagellation, Kilmer portrayed himself as a slightly deranged fantasist and maniacal con man who raises, and then shatters, Warwick’s dreams of a sequel to Willow.

Painfully poignant, beautifully played and constantly inventive, this one-hour special conclusively proved that Life’s Too Short’s own end was also premature.

Jonathan Creek, BBC1, Monday, April 1, 9pm
It’s Kevin, BBC2, Sunday, March 31, 10.30pm
Life’s Too Short, BBC2, Saturday, March 30, 10pm

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