Originally broadcast 27 November, 1999
Season Three, Episode One
Preceded by Black Canary (1998 Christmas Special)
Followed by The Eyes of Tiresias
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington
Griff Rhys Jones, a comic actor best known for eighties comedies Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, was probably the most recognizable face in the cast at the time it was first transmitted.
Adjoa Andoh who plays Anthea, the investment manager, will be recognizable to anyone who watched the Netflix show Bridgerton in which she plays Lady Danbury.
Not the best story to start out season three with. Highly disappointing
Lenny Spearfish and his wife Alice were struggling with mounting debts. One day, after drinking his sorrows away at a pub, Lenny happens upon a small shop that sells oddities and goes inside. He doesn’t see anything in the shop that he wants to buy but the shopkeeper suggests that he might want to sell his soul in exchange for good fortune. Thinking it a harmless con Lenny signs a contract in blood and thinks nothing of it until the next day he digs up a chest full of treasure that is several hundred years old, instantly changing the couple’s fortunes.
Rather than ending their troubles it seems to provide new ones as Lenny starts behaving recklessly, gambling and partying heavily. When Alice finds the contract she is horrified and the pair argue. Lenny angrily screws the contract up and tosses it into a tea chest which catches fire a short time later.
Stranger events are to follow as Lenny survives not one but two attempts on his life, leading him to think he has become immortal. Jonathan and Maddy, after learning their strange story, investigate and try to figure out what is responsible for Lenny’s strange rise in his fortunes.
One of the reasons for the slight delay in starting my series of posts about the third season of Jonathan Creek was that I knew it would necessitate me rewatching The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish. While I have seen it a couple of times over the years including on first transmission, I find it one of the most frustrating episodes from the Maddy seasons and I had little reason to think that my views would likely be much different this time around. Still, I could hardly skip over it and so I tried to empty myself of any prejudgments and attempt to view the story afresh.
Let’s start with the positive which is the strange atmosphere it tries to build. There is a strong tradition of blending the apparently diabolic with impossible crime, no doubt because of the idea that only a supernatural force could be responsible for fantastic things happening, and a pact with the devil is about as diabolic as you can go. It makes for an interesting base for the story and ties in well thematically with many of the apparent miracles we witness – particularly Lenny surviving two attempts on his life.
While she only appears in a few scenes, I really liked Adjoa Andoh here who was appearing in one of her earliest roles as an investment manager. She convinces, not only appearing slick and confident but giving off a sense of someone with ulterior motives. She also is involved in one of the most entertaining sequences in the episode in which Maddy tries to investigate her car.
I would add that both Andrew Tierman and Rachel Power give decent performances as Lenny and Alice. Tierman’s Lenny is infuriating, not least for the casual way in which he reveals some information to Alice, but I think he does a pretty good job of reflecting the character’s growing sense of disregard for others and feelings of exceptionalism. Meanwhile Power is sympathetic as his victim and I did feel sorry for her at points in the story. In short, they fit the material well.
Finally (and yes, I could only come up with three things), I think that the Adam Klaus subplot in which he is being sued for indecently assaulting a hotel maid with a kipper. While I have had issues with the tone of some of the Klaus storylines in previous episodes, this one works pretty well because I think it acknowledges that he is absolutely a jerk, even when the accusations against him register as clearly ridiculous. His terrible performance on the stand is pretty amusing, heightened by the performance of Griff Rhys Jones opposite him, and I do think the resolution to this plot thread is pretty entertaining.
The Adam Klaus scenes are, in short, the most successful part of this episode. Yes, you did read that right.
The problem is that while the atmosphere of this story may be appealing, the story is enormously contrived and relies not only on a terrific number of coincidences and lucky breaks but on a third party developing a frankly terrible plan. Those contrivances become all the more apparent and frustrating when you know what the actual solution will be and it becomes clear that things happen not because they make sense to the character performing the action but because they need to appear a particular way to the sleuth.
The story actually acknowledges this issue in a moment in which Jonathan questions the theatricality of what has happened, querying who the audience is meant to be. While we get an answer of sorts, I think that it doesn’t really work to explain the case as a totality and so I am left deeply unsatisfied with what we get.
Watching for the first time I can imagine that the episode would build a sense of intrigue about how these strange events would be tied together. There are several set pieces that are quite exciting to watch and there is a sense that the episode is building towards a really compelling solution. The problem is that while many elements of what we get feel very logical (as does Jonathan’s explanation), there is no cohesion or sense to what has occured. To the extent that what we see is planned, it is a terrible plan both logistically and in terms of motivation.
To give just one very basic example, consider why Lenny even goes into that odd little shop in the first place. He has no particular business there, nor does it seem very likely that anyone should expect him to go in at some point. Given that visit is a prerequisite for everything else that is planned, it seems that the scheme attempted here is really nonsensical.
As you have probably surmised, my views of The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish have not changed – at least for the positive – in the two decades since I first saw it. Other than a few brief humorous moments, the episode has little to commend itself and so it felt like a long, drawn out slog to me.