First broadcast January 31, 1998
Season Two, Episode Two
Preceded by Danse Macabre
Followed by The Scented Room
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Sandy Johnson
Key Guest Cast
Dermot Crowley who plays the time-obsessed Norman in this episode has been a recurring character on Luther since its first season playing Martin Schenk.
Deborah Grant who plays Norman’s wife played a recurring part in the long-running crime show Bergerac.
I have some issues with aspects of the conclusion but the explanation of what happened is clever.
The second season of Jonathan Creek opened with a really strong impossible murder and continued in a similarly impressive vein with this story which is a version of the person seen in two places at once impossibility. The titular Norman is a time-obsessed man who is so concerned with the idea that it is being wasted that he insists that all of the clocks in their home have their hands removed. His working time is split between two offices – one in Britain and the other in the United States – and he has worked at both locations long enough that everyone knows him well.
Norman has just returned to his home in the UK when he and his wife Antonia receive a visit from an employee at a Wimpy Burger. That man produces Norman’s wallet and insists that he had dropped it the previous morning while eating a burger – something that would be out of character for him. The wallet is definitely his but Norman claims that the man is talking nonsense and when she calls her husband’s office in the US Antonia is told that he had been in a meeting at exactly that time. Not knowing how to explain it, Antonia reaches out to Maddy for advice and she, in turn, solicits Jonathan’s help.
One of the things that appeals to me most about this story is that it seeks to broaden the scope of the show’s impossibilities. Each episode of the first season had involved a murder, as had the opener to this second season, so it made for a nice change to be dealing with something odd rather than deadly. It makes for a nice change of pace and tone as those somewhat lower stakes allow for a little more of a focus to fall on the will-they, won’t-they relationship between Maddy and Jonathan.
Renwick’s script does a very good job of laying out the details of the sightings and establishing that the US office genuinely exists (although the rather odd accent that the first person Antonia speaks with may have you doubting that fact) and that multiple individuals remember Norman being at the meeting that day. With lying excised as a possibility, we know that the answer to what happened has to be something more inventive than simply “they lied”.
When we get that explanation it does mostly satisfy me, although like most tricks there is always a sense of deflation when you realize how easily it is worked. While this went over my head when I first saw it I think anyone who approaches it logically may very well be able to work out what happened from just my summary above. For once I think the more interesting question here is not how but why and I think the answer given to that feels broadly credible.
I am less convinced by the episode’s secondary plot which features Jonathan finding himself entangled in an uncomfortable relationship with a woman he feels unable to break up with. While I recognize its purpose in being used as a reason to provoke jealousy and explore Jonathan’s discomfort, the actual content of those scenes falls flat for me and fails to make me laugh – hardly ideal for a plotline whose main purpose is comedic. I would also add that I don’t think those scenes ever really do a good enough job of exploring how the woman feels about the way she is seen and treated which ought to be a consideration.
The other characters fare better however and I think the reason that this episode works is because of the characters of Norman and Antonia Strangerson. These characters not only have interesting backgrounds and personalities, you also understand how the mistrust between them has begun to simmer and why Maddy and Jonathan need to uncover the truth.
Does that mean I love the ending? Not at all. In fact I think that once we get past the explanation of what happened, the episode really struggles to put forward a clear idea of how the viewer should be feeling or reacting to what they have seen. While I think that there is something realistic and honest in its conclusion, there is also something quite unsatisfying about how the episode ends.
ROT13 (SPOILERS): Gur rcvfbqr frrzf gb or fhttrfgvat gung jr bhtug gb flzcnguvmr jvgu Abezna’f fgehttyr gb yrg tb bs uvf cnfg snzvyl naq gung ur vf trahvar va uvf ybir sbe Nagbavn lrg uvf fhttrfgvba gung ur vf thvygl bs jnagvat gb ybir gbb zhpu srry frys-freivat naq vtaber gur jnagf bs gur bgure gjb crbcyr (naq gur puvyq) gung ner nssrpgrq. Guvf nyy fgevxrf zr nf qrrcyl hafngvfsnpgbel naq yrnirf zr srryvat fbzrjung bhg bs fgrc jvgu gur gbar bs gur raqvat.
In spite of those complaints, I do appreciate the cleverness of the problem’s solution and I think both Crowley and Grant are excellent guest stars. Is it quite as good as I remembered? Well, no. But the clever ideas are really clever and make this one of the better Jonathan Creek adventures.
11 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: Time Waits for Norman (TV)”
Thanks for your mostly positive review! I’ve always been in the minority on this one, but I think Time Waits for Norman is one of Renwick’s most original stories/tricks and love these incredibly rare time manipulation detective stories.
I see where you’re coming from with the ending, but I don’t think (ROT13) vg jnf gur vagragvba gb znxr gur ivrjre flzcnguvmr jvgu Abezna. Zl vzcerffvba vf gung gur fbyhgvba jnf fhccbfrq gb or nzovinyrag jvgu gur ivrjre nf whqtr. Guvf vf jung znxrf gur rcvfbqr rira orggre, orpnhfr Abezna’f “pevzr” vf zbgvingrq ol fgenatr zvk bs nygehvfz naq frysvfuarff. Abezna jnagrq gb ybir gbb znal crbcyr naq, nqzvenoyl, ur gevrq gb gnxr pner bs gjb ubzrf, ohg, nf lbh fnvq, vg vtaberq gur jnagf bs gur crbcyr ur gevrq gb ybir. Gel nf lbh zvtug, lbh fvzcyl pna’g or va gjb cynprf ng gur fnzr gvzr.
A great episode all around!
V qb nterr gung gur vagragvba vf pyrneyl gb nibvq fubjvat gur snyybhg bs gur eriryngvbaf. Bar snzvyl ner abg cerfrag gb qvfpbire gur gehgu juvyr gur bgure yrneaf rirelguvat ohg jr qba’g ernyyl xabj ubj gurl jvyy ernpg. V guvax gung’f xvaq bs bqq nf gur ivrjre fheryl rkcrpgf sbetvirarff vf abg yvxryl gb sbyybj ohg V haqrefgnaq gur pubvpr. Ab znggre ubj tbbq gur npgbef vaibyirq ner, cbegenlvat gur rzbgvbaf gung fubhyq trg fgveerq hc jbhyq or n gbany punyyratr naq evfx raqvat gur rcvfbqr va n cerggl zvfrenoyr cynpr.
V guvax zl ovttre ceboyrz vf gung Qrezbg Pebjyrl vf n shaqnzragnyyl yvxnoyr npgbe naq fb uvf frys-cvglvat rkcynangvba vf npghnyyl sne zber rssrpgvir guna vg bhtug gb or. Abezna vf n fphmm-onyy jub unf pbafgehpgrq n fpurzr gung fcyvgf uvf fnynel vagb sbhe cnegf (unys gb uvf sevraq – gura gur erznvavat unys qvivqrq orgjrra uvf gjb ubhfrubyqf – vg qbrf engure envfr gur dhrfgvba whfg ubj zhpu vf ur trggvat cnvq?).
Bar guvat gung qvq fgevxr zr nf V jnf guvaxvat nobhg vg ntnva gbqnl – guvf vf n pevzr gung jbhyq or cerggl gbhtu gb chyy bss abj be rira jvguva n srj lrnef bs vg orvat znqr. Pbzcnal cubgbf ba gur Vagenarg jbhyq raq hc tvivat gur tnzr njnl, naq vg jbhyq or gbhtu gb nibvq univat ng yrnfg bar fbpvny zrqvn nppbhag.
I will also agree with you: this concept of time manipulation is really clever and I think Renwick manages to make it seem quite mystifying.
Nofbyhgryl! Erajvpx pnzr hc jvgu guvf gevpx evtug orsber vg orpnzr rkgerzryl qvssvphyg, vs abg bhgevtug vzcbffvoyr, gb chyy bss. Rira vs 9/11 arire unccrarq. Lbh zragvbarq gur vagrearg naq gur bayl jrofvgrf va gur yngr ’90f yvxryl gb unir cubgbf bs crbcyr ba gurve jrofvgrf jrer pbzcnal/pbecbengr jrofvgrf. Fb, lrnu, vg jnf whfg cbffvoyr gb qb qhevat gubfr qnlf, ohg riraghnyyl vg jbhyq unir snyyra ncneg ba vgf bja.
Gur bcra raqvat (abg xabjvat gur pbafrdhraprf) vf jung znxrf zr guvax vg jnf vagraqrq gb yrnir whqtzrag gb gur ivrjre ng ubzr. Naq gur rcvfbqr znqr n pnfr sbe obgu jvgu ba gur bar unaq Abezna’f harguvpnyyl, zbenyyl qhovbhf fpurzr naq gur bgure unaq gung ur jnf jvyyvat gb znxr fnpevsvprf gb fhccbeg gjb qvssrerag ubhfrubyq. Abg whfg svanapvnyyl. Fhpu nf gur chmmyr bs jul Abezna, n irtrgnevna, jnf frra rngvat n unzohetre. Fb vg’f abg gung ur jnf n onq crefba, ohg gung ur jrag nobhg fubjvat uvf ybir jvgu n qrivbhf pyrirearff gung jnf npghnyyl cebsbhaq fghcvqvgl gung va gur raq qvq zber unez guna tbbq.
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V qb frr lbhe cbvag – jrer gurer abg n puvyq vaibyirq guvf jbhyq or n zhpu pyrnere fvghngvba.
The “punching down” aspects of the writing in Creek, and other jokes along those same lines which don’t seem to have any empathy for the characters involved, are some of the most off-putting aspects of the show, watching it in 2020. The weird/dark humour is part of the charm of the series but makes it uncomfortable to watch at times.
I certainly agree that the ending is rather strange. The sympathy it shows seems rather… self-centred(?) and definitely falls flat.
If I remember rightly, the solutions to impossibilities in this season are some of the strongest ones.
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I do think there are some aspects of the writing in these early seasons that feel very firmly planted in the 90s. There are worse offenders than this ending because this at least isn’t intended to play comically but there certainly are a few moments that now play pretty uncomfortably. Strangely I don’t recall feeling that way about the first season which makes me wonder if Renwick’s style changed between these seasons.
And yes, based on my viewing I would agree with your assessment that this season contains the strongest set of resolutions.
Aidan, I can’t say that your reviews of Columbo have convinced me to revisit that show. When the revolving mystery series was on, my favorite was McMillan and Wife – sad to say that when I bought the first season on DVD a few years ago, it was pretty much unwatchable. However, I own four seasons and a disc of specials of Jonathan Creek. I watched it years ago and loved it. And now you’re making me feel a tremendous urge to take the whole series down from the shelf and start watching again. It’s been a while, and I’ve forgotten most of it – which is a GREAT thing.
There’s only one episode of the series that completely turned me off, mainly because it grossed the @^$@$ out of me! I’m tempted to torture myself into rewatching it just to have something to write for Curtis’ horror celebration; it’s truly one of the most terrifying forms of murder I’ve ever seen. (Did I mention that it scared the #@&%$ out of me?!?!?)
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Very curious which episode you are thinking of! I would certainly be curious to read your thoughts if you do tackle it.
You’ve got me curious now – so I think you are committed now to reviewing it lol
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V nz hggreyl ybfg naq zlfgvsvrq ol lbhe pbqrq ynathntr, Nvqna. Be nf jr hfrq gb xabj lbh va qvfcngpurf, Tnyncntbf. Ururur. Gung vg npghnyyl pbqrf zl ynhtu znxrf zr YBY sbe ernyf. Nalubj, Qnivq Erajvpx cybgf bsgra srry pyrirere guna gurl ner, sbe zr, naq guvf bar vf ab rkprcgvba. Abezna vf n pbzcyrgr tvg va zl obbx.
Lrnu, V qba’g unir n jubyr ybg bs flzcngul jvgu Abezna…