A cult British Detective Drama
about the eponymous Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies), a celebrity magician's trick-designer with a keen eye for detail and lateral thinking who helps solve seemingly impossible crimes, often a Locked Room Mystery
. He works together Intrepid Reporter
Maddy Magellan (Caroline Quentin) — and later, with Carla Burrego (Julia Sawalha) in season 4 and with Joey Ross (Sheridan Smith) in the some recent specials. After a significant hiatus and Character Development
, this role has in turn been transferred to Jonathan's new wife Polly (Sarah Alexander). The series is written by David Renwick, otherwise known for One Foot in the Grave
. The two shows share his trademark intricate plotting and black sense of humour.
Jonathan has a thing or two in common with Sherlock Holmes
, in that he's a bit of a social dolt and obsessed with his job, and feels most comfortable just quietly working on his gadgets. However, unlike Holmes, he's neither very crass nor particularly brilliant (just regular clever and Good with Numbers
). Love Interest
Maddy subverts a number of tropes as well: she's not part of The Beautiful Elite
, and the tension between her and Jonathan just quietly builds up without too much drama. Both are simply rather ordinary people
with a keen eye for detail, caught up in extraordinary events.
The show's chief theme was the same one expressed by Sherlock Holmes
in his aphorism "once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth". Jonathan would explain that most people are much more willing to consider something "impossible" or invent a supernatural explanation, than allow themselves to believe that a man would put himself to the trouble of arranging a complex set of events to make it look
that way. Jonathan takes this one step further by pointing out that most people are eager to believe extraordinary phenomena simply because the solutions are mind-numbingly banal: "People beg me to explain, but it’s the last thing you want to hear. Because I’m disproving a miracle."
Jonathan's employer, Adam Klaus, became a regularly appearing character from the second season, usually in a comic-relief subplot rather than getting involved in the mystery-solving. (Although a skilled magician, Adam is also a great big jerk.)
Seasons 1-3 aired between 1997 and 2000. A Christmas special aired in 2001, introducing TV presenter Carla Burrego as Maddy's replacement and was followed by a full fourth season in 2003-04. A few feature-length specials (featuring third female sidekick, Joey Ross) followed; one at New Year 2009, one at Easter 2010, and one at Easter 2013. Prior to the airing of the 2013 special, it was announced that a new miniseries (consisting of three 60-minute episodes) had been commissioned for 2014, the show's first full run in a decade.
This show provides examples of:
- Abnormal Ammo: In "The Letters of Septimus Noone", Ridley proposes a solution to the crime that involves the victim being shot with a crossbow bolt made of frozen blood. He's wrong, especially as his theory also involves the victim lying on the floor doing stretching exercises in her underwear when she was shot in order to explain the angle of the wound.
- All Drummers Are Animals: The band Edwin Drood had Marty Crowe who got the band thrown out of Zaire by riding a wildebeest into the presidents' jacuzzi and was known for his stunt of urinating on the audience.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: "The Letters of Septiumus Noone" is set around an operatic adaptation of The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, which Locked Room Mystery fan Jonathan thinks is a travesty.
- Always Murder: Averted, although murder is involved in most of the stories. The exceptions are "The Seer of the Sands" and "Time Waits for Norman" which involve unravelling an elaborate con, "No Trace of Tracey", a kidnapping, "The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish", which explains a Deal with the Devil, "The Omega Man", a fake alien hoax, "The Scented Room", a stolen painting, "The Clue of the Savant's Thumb" an accidental death that gets covered up. Other episodes can contain a murder, but as a sub-plot that isn't part of the main mystery "Miracle on Crooked Lane", whilst others have suicide or euthanasia as the solution.
- Subverted with The Letters of Septimus Noone- the victim survives, and it was never going to intentional murder.
- Always Someone Better: Rik Mayall's character in "Black Canary" is The Ace, exactly as clever as Jonathan, and extremely Genre Savvy. In a very sweet twist on the trope, though, the two instantly get along well and they happily work together on the case.
- Amateur Sleuth: Jonathan — very reluctantly.
- Ambiguous Gender: Gideon Pryke's deputy Sgt Richie in "Black Canary"; in an episode-long Running Gag, Jonathan and Maddy disagree on his/her gender and have a £10 bet - just before the resolution, they spot him/her heading for the end of a corridor with male toilets and one side and female on the other, but Pryke closes the door before they can see. Amusingly at the end they've managed to switch positions and each try to pay the other - neither they nor the viewers find out which it was. The character was played by a man.
- Animal Wrongs Group: "Elliot Strange and The House of Monkeys"
- Appeal To Audacity: Happened quite a lot, in which suspects and witnesses alike would come up with ridiculous stories — and Jonathan would believe every word, working with the logic that if they were truly covering for a crime, they'd hardly be stupid enough to come up with a story that no one would ever believe.
- Armour Piercing Question: In "Jack in the Box", Maddie proposes an elaborate solution for the Locked Room Mystery they are facing, only for Jonathan to bring her to a screeching halt with a single word: "Why?".
"Why would anyone undertake this extraordinary series of actions you have just described?"
- Ashes to Crashes: A woman spilling her mother's ashes, and the ashes then vanishing while she is out of the room, forms a minor mystery in "The Letters of Septimus Noone". The woman is convinced that her mother's remains have been called to Heaven. Jonathan finds a more prosaic solution.
- As Himself: In one episode, Adam appears on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.
- Asshole Victim: Often. Sometimes if the crime is something less serious than murder, this is enough for Jonathan and Maddy to conceal the truth from them (although this leads to Fridge Logic considering Maddy writes up all the stories for publication).
- "The Scented Room" shows Maddy explaining to her psychiatrist that unfortunately she won't be able to publish the story, since she and Jonathan sided with the perpetrator against the Asshole Victim. Presumably she doesn't publish other cases of the sort as well. Out of interest, the Asshole Victim in this particular case wasn't a murder victim, but simply a smarmy critic who had a valuable painting stolen.
- Authentication by Newspaper: Subverted in the 2008 special.
- Badass Bystander: In "The Scented Room", a little old lady watches Adam get nailed into a coffin to be lowered into the ground as part of an endurance test. Unfortunately, she thinks they're gangsters, and attacks them with a tree branch, a can of mace, and a whistle. She manages to take out three grown men!
- Banana Peel: After seeing an advertisement invoking this trope, Jonathan tries to prove that it could never happen. He finally slips and falls backwards... but is still proved correct considering it was actually a dog turd that he slipped on.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Maddy, being an investigative journalist, is pretty good at throwing these.
- Best Served Cold: The central plot behind "The Judas Tree".
- Bi the Way: Brendan. He really doesn't consider it a big deal. Carla does, and is not happy when she finds out.
- It's not entirely clear whether Carla has anything particular against homosexuals, or if she is -perhaps justifiably- upset that her husband didn't think it worth mentioning that he got married to another man in the Seventies, apparently purely for personal gain. This incident is, perhaps mercifully, never really explained.
- Big Eater: Maddy.
I don't know what I want, I'm not even hungry. A drop of chilli will do me, with some rice. And a spot of salad...and some garlic bread. A jacket potato. Oh, and some crisps.
- Black Comedy Rape: In a deleted scene in "The Grinning Man", Joey's actress friend Mina gives her tickets to her new play and warns her that there's a graphic rape scene. Cut to Mina getting taken from behind by a man in a papier-mâché bull's head making loud mooing noises.
- Britain Is Only London: Averted, somewhat. Jonathan initially lives in a windmill outside of London, and a good deal of his cases are at unspecified country locations. One, in particular, happens in Northumberland (much to Jonathan's dismay).
- British Brevity: A very notable example, because Renwick needs a lot of time to formulate each locked room mystery.
- Broken Pedestal: Jonathan lampshades this when he finds he's about to meet his hero, hardcore prog-rock icon Roy Pilgrim:
Jonathan: I can't go in there.
Maddy: Why not?
Jonathan: Roy Pilgrim! I can't meet Roy Pil... you're talking about mythology! You reduce someone like that to flesh and blood, the whole thing's destroyed, the whole icon...
Maddy: Jonathan, you're beginning to sound like a prat.
- Sure enough, a minor case ensues; Jonathan is struck dumb with mild disillusionment when he learns that Pilgrim is a devoted viewer of The Waltons.
- The Butler Did It: Played straight in "Black Canary".
- The Cassandra: Jack Holiday's wife, who insists that a recently released prisoner was responsible for her husband's death, despite all evidence to the contrary.
- Cat Fight: Actually manages to be an important plot-point in "Angel Hair."
- Chekhov's Skill: Card-throwing in "The Three Gamblers".
- And in the same episode, Maddy's ability to faint convincingly.
- Chick Magnet: A lot of women fall for Jonathan, just a pity that most of them are, shall we say... unsuitable.
- Christmas Episode: All movie-length, two of which were also introductory episodes to Jonathan's new sidekicks.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Sheena from "No Trace of Tracy" is allegedly Maddy's best friend but she appears only in that one episode and is never even mentioned again.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Maddy. Not particularly clingy, but at one stage she gets so irritated with Jonathan that she locks him out of her apartment simply because she saw another woman getting into his car.
- In "The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp" Polly becomes one when he hangs around with a weather girl.
- Clock Discrepancy: This has cropped up in a few episodes as part of the solution to the mystery, most notably in "Miracle in Crooked Lane" whereby an ill woman was convinced that morning was evening, in order to provide an alibi for a murder.
- Clueless Mystery: Not used often, but at least once or twice. In one episode, which looked like a Locked Room Mystery, the victim was apparently stabbed in the back with a sword but the actual murder weapon was a drug which made him hallucinate violently and lose his balance while trying to climb a bookcase and fall on his own sword. While there were clues to what the murder weapon was, the murderer was not well-known to any characters and never appeared on camera..
- Completely Missing the Point: When Carla freaks out over the fact that her husband was once married to a man, all he does is casually chide her about the fact that she's being "a bit homophobic."
- Connect the Deaths: Deconstructed/criticised in the episode "The Coonskin Cap" in which Carla's crime show speculates that a recent serial killer is targeting women that have floral names, the three victims being called Rose, Iris and Heather. It turns out that two murders were the work of a disturbed young woman who had no discernable motive and the third was by a police officer who used the first two deaths as a cover for his own murder. The names were a coincidence, but until it was cleared up, Jonathan points out that thanks to the show's fear-mongering, women named after flowers were scared out of their wits (including a publicist called "Coral", at least until Jonathan tells her that coral is actually an animal).
- Continuity Error: An In-Universe example in "Angel Hair". Disgusted at her boss's adultery with an air-line hostess, Dorothy tries to make it appear as though the woman has faked her own kidnapping in order to extort money from her lover. This involves a bunch of actors grabbing the woman off the street and having her read out a ransom note, and then cutting off her hair for good measure. Unfortunately, directly prior to this, the wife catches her husband and his lover kissing on the front lawn and engages in a hair-pulling Cat Fight with her rival. When Dorothy puts in the tape that she supposedly found in the woman's suitcase (though she planted it there herself) and presses play (though she's actually recording the staged kidnapping that is happening live), it poses a serious continuity problem considering the kidnappers display the day's newspaper directly before cutting off all the woman's hair, making it look like she got her hair cut off in the morning, only to grow it all back again by that same afternoon. The Cat Fight rendered the possibility of a wig or hair extensions completely impossible. She notes with some frustration that the actor she hired to stage the kidnapping was only supposed to remove a few locks of hair for dramatic effect, but got too immersed and ended up getting carried away with it.
- Contrived Coincidence: This was usually avoided by Maddy (or Carla or Joey) going in search of crime or people coming them for help, but in "Murder at Gallows Gate", Jonathan heads into a nature reserve for a badger watch, taking with him an old woman who ends up witnessing a strangulation in a cottage window. And the reason she sees this is because she needs the toilet at just that exact moment.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: "Black Canary" involves a magic trick featuring a table saw that... doesn't stop cutting when it's supposed to.
- Cut Apart: It looks like two people are on opposite sides of a locked door and one even rattles the handle as the other watches, but it later turns out that this was an extremely elaborate trick and they were in two separate locations.
- Cut Away Gag: In one episode Jonathan and Adam are attending an event and are introduced to a frail old man in a wheelchair whose carer explains to them, "He's been dying to show you his magic trick." Cut to a man attempting a Houdini style escape whilst strung upside down in a body-bag over burning coals.
- Deadpan Snarker: Many characters tend towards this, but Jonathan masters it.
- Deal with the Devil: "The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish" revolves around a man who thinks he's made one of these.
- Death by Looking Up: In "The Clue of the Savant's Thumb", the killer attempts to topple a stone angel off the roof on to Fariba. She looks up and sees it coming. Her adoptive mother knocks her out of the way and is instead killed by the statue.
- Defective Detective: Subverted somewhat; Jonathan was a bit weird and anti-social, but often came across as more down-to-earth and well-adjusted than Maddy and especially Carla.
- Derailing Love Interests: Nicola from "The Grinning Man" dumps Jonathan in order to run off with a man she's never met.
- Detective Drama
- Doing It for the Art: In-Universe, Jonathan loves building gadgets, and goes out of his way to make whatever he builds to solve a mystery look absolutely gorgeous.
- Disproportionate Retribution: In "Murder at Gallows Gate". On realizing that his Love Interest is sleeping with one of his friends, Duncan Proctor fakes his own suicide in order to punish her. Even Jonathan calls it "a sick joke."
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Used as a plot-point in "The Scented Room" in which Lady Theresa's abuse of her husband is first seen as amusing (when she puts stinging nettle in her Jerk Ass husband's sandwich) and then deadly serious when she hits him over the back of the head with a trowel. Later, after a valuable painting mysteriously vanishes, her husband uses this head wound to make it seem as though he'd been attacked by an intruder in order to claim money from the insurance company. A witness also points out that Lady Theresa's behaviour is completely inappropriate, especially in front of her young son.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: An old lady in "The Eyes of Tiresias" believes she's capable of doing this.
- Driven to Suicide: Played with in Murder at Gallows Gate. Not only do we have Duncan Proctor (who faked his own suicide), but also Felicity Veil, who attempts suicide, only to be prevented by a friend, only to then be murdered by her flatmate.
- Drives Like Crazy: The DI in "Mother Redcap" which greatly unnerves Jonathan.
- Maddy, at times. At one point Jonathan freaks out because she's dialing a number on her cellphone whilst driving.
- Subverted with Jonathan, who when forced to drive Maddy's car, drives so slowly and carefully that it creates a pile-up behind him. When asked whether he's ever driven an automatic before, he replies: "I've never driven a car before!" One hilarious Gilligan Cut later, and Maddy's is back in the driver's seat.
- Elephant in the Living Room: The really big Black Canary statue next to the stairwell, in "Black Canary", is never mentioned by anyone and has no connection whatsoever to the murder.
- Embarrassing First Name: "Adam" Klaus, called "Chester" by his sister.
- Establishing Character Moment: Jonathan is first seen in a grocery store, mentally tallying up the numbers that appear on the checkout computer screen and then insisting that the total sum is wrong. One manager with a calculator later, the checkout is closed thanks to the faulty equipment. What further establishes his character (slightly weird but sharply observant and essentially decent and good-hearted) is that it's the shopping of the woman in front of him that he's figuring out is charged wrong, not his own—and that the woman is nonetheless weirded out by the fact that he's buying a doll and some knives (in order to make a scale model for a planned magic trick).
- Adam Klaus is first seen making a heartfelt and sincere thank you to an audience, calling them the best crowd he's ever performed for. The next camera shot reveals that it's an empty theatre, and he's just rehearsing, thus instantly demonstrating what a smarmy, insincere phony he is.
- Ethical Slut: Joey, who will sleep with a guy knowing only that his name is Brad, but back off and apologise sincerely to his girlfriend when she realises he has one.
- Eureka Moment: Ex-Trope Namer
- Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Francesca in "The Wrestler's Tomb." The actress was actually Dutch but they made her character French because they didn't think Dutch was sexy enough.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "The House of Monkeys".
- Fair Play Whodunnit: The audience typically has the same set of clues that Jonathan does (bar one or two pieces of evidence - often police or medical records — that would make the result too easy), but the solutions often take a bit of lateral thinking, making this an interesting case.
- Also subverted in that the audience rarely knows whether an episode is going to be a whodunnit or a howdunnit until The Summation.
- Failure Knight: Maddy, to a certain extent. Her particular niche of crime writing - bungled police investigations - is implied to have been inspired by her mother's suicide shortly after being brought up on a (possibly) false shoplifting charge.
- Fake American: In-Universe one, with Adam Klaus. In one episode Adam Klaus's (much) older half sister appeared, and she had a strong Scottish accent. No one comments on it.
- Fanboy: In "No Trace Of Tracy", Jonathan completely geeks out when he gets to investigate a case surrounding his prog-rock idol, Roy Pilgrim.
- Jonathan meets a group of his own look-alike fanboys (complete with long shaggy hair) in Miracle on Crooked Lane. On seeing a photo of them all lined up at a table Maddy comments: "I see what you mean about the last supper."
- Fanservice: Jonathan gets naked a lot. He also has a fair number of snogging scenes.
- Finger in the Mail: The titular hair in "Angel Hair".
- Friendly Rivalry: In his two appearances Inspector Gideon Pryke has one with Jonathan. He's just as smart and almost as good at lateral thinking. He just doesn't get the Eureka Moment.
- Funny Background Event: Twice. In "No Trace of Tracy", Maddy interviews a man in a sound-proof room whilst his colleagues have a brawl in the two-way mirror behind them, and in "Time Waits for Norman", Maddy holds a conversation with a man outside his house whilst Jonathan snoops around for clues and gets attacked by a vicious Jack Russell. A dismayed Maddy sees all this through the bay windows.
- What makes it even funnier is that the man then walks to into a different house.
- Gambit Roulette:
- The plot of "The Judas Tree" hinges on the assumptions that Emily wouldn't just quit her job, that the local vicar wouldn't be asked to identify the body, and that the police wouldn't do a tox screen on the body or a paternity test or look up the family of Emily's previous victim. See the Headscratchers page.
- The first explanation Jonathan gives for how the murder could have been done in "The Wrestler's Tomb" is also one...which is why Jonathan dismisses it as too unlikely to be plausible.
- Gaslighting: In "The Judas Tree". Jonathan also refers to the Trope Namer during the episode.
- Gender-Blender Name: Joey Ross in the 2009 special, the character being played by an actress who herself has a Gender-Blender Name, Sheridan Smith.
- Genius Ditz: Joey Ross has the same level of lateral thinking skills as Jonathan, but without any technical knowledge whatsoever.
- Genre Savvy: See Broken Pedestal above, Jonathan knows exactly how meeting one of his icons in the flesh is going to destroy his image of him.
- Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: No affair is ever portrayed in a positive light, though many occur in understandable circumstances.
- The Unresolved Sexual Tension between Jonathan and Carla in season four is based on the fact that she's married to another man, and yet still obviously attracted to Jonathan. Somewhat deconstructed however in that Jonathan has no interest whatsoever in messing around with a married woman, despite his rather low opinion of Carla's husband. Also subverted in that her husband doesn't bat an eye at Carla passionately kissing Jonathan right in front of him — he's just that secure.
- Groin Attack: "Black Canary" has a very, very nasty example indeed.
- Handicapped Badass: Gideon Pryke in "The Case of the Savant's Thumb". Since his previous appearance he was hit by a sniper's bullet, and can only move one finger ... which was apparently enough to tell his superiors what he thought of being retired.
- Haven't You Seen X Before?: In "Time Waits for Norman", when Maddy is caught coming out of the men's toilets.
Maddy: Yes, all right. Haven't you ever seen a transvestite before?
- He's Back: About half an hour into "The Case of the Savant's Thumb", advertising exec Jonathan Creek finally gets interested enough in the case to go to the wardrobe, shove the nice suits out of the way, and pull out his trademark duffel coat.
- Honey Trap: Gillian Bailey in "Gorgon's Wood".
- Hypocritical Humour: Meta example—Alistair McGowan appeared in the pilot episode, but later repeatedly mocked the show's complicated plots on his own show The Big Impression. One sketch has McGowan, as Creek, trying to give The Summation by coming up with increasingly far-fetched solutions implicating each unlikely suspect in turn, while ignoring a man in the corner carrying an axe, covered in blood and grinning.
- Identical-Looking Asians: Played for laughs in "Mother Redcap" in which a police detective passes around several photographs of potential assassins from an Asian crime family — the joke is that they're all the same actor in different clothes. It's inverted later in the episode when the murder victim's wife is brought to the station to look over some possible suspects. She confidentally identifies one who was prowling around in her back garden, although again — they're all the same actor.
- Identical Stranger: Gillian Bailey and the prostitute, though the latter has a badly burnt face. They're played by the same actress.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Several times. There is even one example where someone gets impaled by two spikes at the same time.
- Incest Is Relative: "Gorgon's Wood" involves a woman sweet-talking her uncle into letting her museum host a priceless statuette. It gets even more icky when it's realized that she went so far as to hire a prostitute to pretend to be her.
- Informed Ability: Although certainly clever and brave, Joey is initially introduced as Jonathan's intellectual equal, described on a television show as "someone whose powers of deduction and truly phenomenal flair for solving seemingly impossibly puzzles are beyond cool." Yet apart from ascertaining that the Nightmare Room is inescapable and discovering a clue that Jonathan misses (one which she slightly misinterprets), she doesn't solve any part of the mystery, and eventually admits: "I'm out of my depth here."
- Intrepid Reporter: Both Maddy and Carla will go to considerable lengths to land a story.
- Innocent Innuendo: Happens quite a few times; usually with Maddy. At one point she tells Jonathan over the phone: "I need you, here in my bedroom." The next scene shows Jonathan taking off his shoes and getting on the bed while Maddy watches nervously...only for Jonathan to reach up and tip the cockroach on the ceiling into a glass jar.
- There was also a very dark usage of this in "Gorgon's Wood", in which a videotape is found showing what appears to be a young woman having a screaming orgasm. Turns out the camera had tipped onto its side, and what everyone was seeing was her getting impaled against a tree by a large garden fork.
- Inn of No Return: "Mother Redcap".
- Inspector Lestrade: Rarely played straight. Some variations on the Lestrade them used in the show include...
- Gideon Pryke from "Black Canary" and "The Curse of the Savant's Thumb", who is a genuinely brilliant detective in his own right, just not quite as good as Jonathan.
- Inspector Ted Parnevik in "The Coonskin Cap", who seems like a pretty straightforward Lestrade except he turns out to be behind one of the murders he's investigating.
- Ridley in "The Letters of Septimus Noone", who is the particularly hilarious combination of a Lestrade who thinks he's a Holmes, coupled to being a Teen Genius.
- Interdisciplinary Sleuth: Jonathan designs conjuring tricks for a living and is relectantly brought in to the world of crime-fighting by a chance meeting and a love of puzzles.
- Maddy (and Carla and Joey, for that matter) technically avert this trope. While none of them are cops or law enforcement, they are all journalists of different sorts specializing in crime stories.
- I Was Quite a Looker the old (dead) homeless lady in Mother Redcap was once a fairly literal femme fatal.
- Jerkwitha Heartof Gold: Maddy can be bitchy, petty and immature but she also works to clear the name of wrongly accused people for little money.
- Knife-Throwing Act
- Lethal Chef: Maddy. Almost literally - Jonathan is appalled to find that she's got a canister of petrol in her kitchen at the same time the gas stove is on. On fire, specifically. The meal turned out alright, funnily enough.
- Locked Room Mystery: Pretty much the show's trademark, and often lampshaded. Even if the mystery isn't literally in a locked room, it will inevitably be an "impossible" mystery in the same vein.
- Loving a Shadow: Played rather poignantly in Ghosts Forge. Initially Robin Priest seems like a jerk for cheating on his wife with the vile Mimi Tranter. By the end of the episode it turns out that Shirley is not only not his wife but that he was only attracted to Mimi because of her resemblance to his real (long dead and much mourned) wife. Though the show never explicitly spells it out, the portraits displayed throughout Ghosts Forge explain why he was so instantly drawn to her, even though he probably didn't understand the attraction himself.
- Magician Detective: Jonathan's a magician's assistant technically, but he has far more knowledge of the material even than the magician itself, so he definately counts.
- The Masochism Tango: Platonic version with Jonathan and Adam.
- Meet Cute: Jonathan and Maddy meet at a magic show when Jonathan mistakes Maddy's thumb for a cocktail sausage and sticks a toothpick into it.
- Mistaken for Masturbating: In "The Sinner and the Sandman", Jonathan sprains his wrist while attempting to get ketchup out of a bottle. However, saying that he hurt his wrist "whacking the sauce bottle" and similar phrases causes The Vicar's wife to believe he is a chronic masturbator.
- Mood Whiplash: The Grinning Man has a plot about a stage magician killing people and just generally being a Magnificent Bastard and a sub-plot about... 3-D porn.
- An in-universe example; in one episode, Adam is forced into a date-from-hell with an uncouth woman who won (second prize in) a raffle to date him. It's comedically embarrassing, and Jonathan gets plenty of amusement from it. The next morning, Adam shows up to the theatre shell-shocked, and recounts the rest of the evening; it initially continues in the same humourously embarrassing vein as before, but much to Jonathan's shock swerves wildly into Black Comedy territory when Adam reveals that she ended up choking to death on her own vomit.
Several large crustaceans lodged in her windpipe. Kind of brings it home to you, doesn't it? How important it is to ... always chew your food
- Then there's the slapstick montage of Maddie and Shelford getting a wardrobe up three flights of stairs followed by Maddie opening the wardrobe and screaming in horror as the dead body of her client falls on her.
- Moral Dissonance: The end of The Judas Tree in which a pregnant woman is killed and a girl is framed and sent to jail for a crime she didn't commit. The whole thing was a set-up for a crime they committed when they were teenagers. Jonathan and Joey know the entire story, and yet apparently decide to keep quiet.
- It's not so much they decide to keep quiet as they actually can't prove any of it. Harriet Dore directly states that Jonathan's previous failure in court will pretty much destroy any credibility he has in presenting any new telling of events. Additionally the housekeeper who is also aware of the truth pretty firmly tells the pair that because she overheard it from a confession box, she's obligated to keep it a secret.
- Mummies at the Dinner Table: In the episode "The Seer of the Sands".
- My Sibling Will Live Through Me
- Naked People Are Funny: The series is all over this trope, especially in "Mother Redcap"... when Maddy accidentally starts dating a guy who lives in a nudist commune.
- No Periods, Period: Referenced in a couple of lines of dialogue
Maddie. Come on Jonathan, this is a difficult time of the month for me
Jonathan. You said that two weeks ago.
Maddie. Oh trust you to keep count.
- The Power of Acting: Carla reminds Jonathan in "Satan's Chimney" that all the suspects are trained actors who will naturally be able to put up a convincing show of grief for the murder victim.
- Odd Friendship: Jonathan and Adam. Sure, Jonathan is employed by Adam and so has to spend time with him, but as the series goes on, the two occasionally socialize with each other outside of work and act as each other's confidants.
- Once More with Clarity: The show enjoys doing this as part of The Summation. For example, in "The Coonskin Cap" we see a scene which appears to be setting up a Ret Irony / Fatal Family Photo type moment by having a policeman proposing to his female colleague before she ends up being the villain's next murder victim. However at the end we see the scene again in flashback and it continues, showing the engagement ring-looking box actually contained a necklace he used to plant a false clue that she was killed by the villain when he did it himself, and that their relationship was less close than it seemed in the first scene.
- Only Sane Employee: Jonathan's role within the Adam Klaus magic act.
- Operation Jealousy: Maddy tries this in "The Reconstituted Corpse", but unfortunately her date ends up looking and acting like (in Jonathan's words) "The bastard son of Forrest Gump."
- The Perfect Crime: Well, all of them to one extent or other, but special mention but go to the killer in "Jack in the Box", considering everything, including his own suicide goes according to plan, and the master-mind behind the events in "Angel Hair" who was thwarted by completely unforeseen circumstances, and still got what she wanted out of the entire exercise, though not in the way she planned: getting her employer to stop cheating on his wife.
- Poor Communication Kills: That damn harvest fly. And there's also a difference between "East Barn" and "EA St Barn.".
- Positive Discrimination: Averted. Throughout the series there is only one female police investigator. She's just as useless in solving the crime as all the males.
- Put on a Bus: Maddy moves to the US for a while. Jonathan keeps in touch, and she helps him solve a case at one point via email.
- Put on a Bus to Hell: This didn't exactly happen to Carla Burrego, but in "The Grinning Man" she still gets a rather mean-spirited mention, in which Jonathan Creek learns that she's been telling people that he died of a wasting illness. Apparently writer David Renwick and actress Julia Sawalha didn't get along, which may explain the pettiness of the comments.
- Quote Mine: Sinister example in "Satan's Chimney", using an edited recording.
- Rear Window Witness: In "The Problem at Gallows Gate", Adam's sister Kitty witnesses a murder through a pair of high-powered binocculars during a badger watch.
- Red Herring: Being a mystery series, this is par for the course. There is, however, a tendency to play with and subvert the idea of a red herring — clues dismissed early on as insignificant will often come back in an unexpected way. Of course, other times it is played deadly straight.
- Refuge in Audacity: Jonathan specifically states several times that the reason people fall for elaborate magic tricks and locked room mysteries is because they're unwilling to believe that someone would go to such insane lengths to fool them.
- Reverse Whodunnit: The main plot of "The Letters of Septimus Noone", unusually, where the audience sees how an impossible (near-)murder was committed before Jonathan figures it out.
- Ripped from the Headlines: In series 4, Adam Klaus does several copycat tricks inspired by those of Derren Brown and David Blaine (the originals are mentioned, so this is an in-universe example of Follow the Leader).
- Romani: In "The Seer of the Sands" a couple pose as a romantic gypsy couple in order to better con a gullible American woman.
- Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: "Mother Redcap" (two electrocution traps), "Satan's Chimney" (a piston that crushes its victims), "The Coonskin Cap" (a constricting flak jacket that suffocates the wearer) and "The Grinning Man" (a bathtub mounted on a trapdoor that drowns the victim in a tank below). To add to the mystery, all of them are deployed in sealed rooms.
- Saying Too Much: In the episode "Murder at Gallows Gate" Maddy is at the house of the woman whose flatmate was murdered. During their conversation, the woman offhandedly mentions that Maddy had recently experienced a burglary, along the lines of: "I moved out here to get away from crime. You know how bad burglary gets in London; you've just been on the receiving end of one." It's not until much later that Maddy realizes she never actually mentioned this burglary to the woman, and the only way she could have possibly known about it was if she was at the crime scene in the seconds after the murder, when Maddy and Jonathan were investigating and Maddy is griping about how her burglar didn't just give up when he found her place locked up.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Jonathan in "The Scented Room", when Asshole Victim Le Fley (who had given scathing criticism to Jonathan's magic shows in the past) offers a huge financial reward for finding his missing painting.
Jonathan: I know exactly how your painting was stolen, Mr Le Fley. I'm just not going to tell you.
- Which he is then forced into anyway, by way of victim's wife applying Screw the Rules, I Have Money! to threaten to shut down a major performance by Adam Klaus.
- Scully Syndrome: Discussed and inverted in the first episode: Jonathan points out that his entire career designing tricks hinges on the fact that people, when confronted with a seemingly impossible series of events, would rather accept that it occurred "by magic" rather than believe that someone actually would undertake a preposterously convoluted, intricate and lengthy series of events in order to make it look like it happened by magic. Furthermore, when faced with the inevitably quite mundane and prosaic ways in which a magic trick is performed, the result is inevitably disappointment, so why tell anyone?
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A sad variation. An old woman is having precognitive dreams, including one involving the initials R.P. and a creature with wings. The next day, a woman is killed in a car accident (the registration number was R.P. and she drove a Jaguar (a car has wings). However, the dream the woman had was about a harpy (the Greek monster) and was not precognitive at all. But because she had been going around telling everyone about them, the woman - whose name was Rebecca Philips and who was about to go on a business trip despite a terrible fear of flying - thought that it was a warning about her imminent plane trip. She was so worried and distracted that she got into a car accident on the way to the airport. If the old woman had kept quiet, the accident would have never occurred.
- Share the Male Pain: A female example in Maddy's reaction to the story of the woman being sawed in half "lengthwise" in Black Canary.
- Sherlock Scan: Rarely played straight - Jonathan tends to look and then only really see the key point later on in a Eureka Moment. Parodied with Ridley in "The Letters of Septimus Noone", who does a textbook Sherlock Scan and draws Entertainingly Wrong conclusions from it.
- Shoot the Rope: Done fantastically in Black Canary. A very decrepit old man manages to snipe the rope of his daughter who attempted to hang herself from at least 300 feet away.
- Shout-Out: Part of the plot of Satan's Chimney is centered around the filming of a movie entitled Black Snow. An obvious homage to the works of David Lynch, it even has a dwarf called "The Man from the World of Shadows" in a nod to Twin Peaks' Man From Another Place.
- The 1998 Christmas Special is called "Black Canary" and even features a large statue of the DC Comics character.
- In "The Letters of Septimus Noone", there's a character with a son called Ridley, a daughter called Ripley, and a house called Nostromo. As Jonathan says, you can guess what her favourite movie is.
- Slut Shaming: In the episode "Miracle on Crooked Lane", an ex-model and "professional bed-hopper" sells her story to the papers and the townsfolk shun her. She ends up committing suicide over it.
- The Summation: Every episode, always intercut with scenes of the crime itself being committed.
- Averted in "The Judas Tree", where all we see is Jonathan's hypothesis and the implication that it is true, quite a way before the end of the episode.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Maddy to Carla, and then Carla to Joey.
- Although the Unresolved Sexual Tension common to Maddy and Carla is averted for the most part with Joey. Otherwise played straight.
- Sweetie Graffiti: A clue in "Gorgon's Wood", though it wasn't carved by "sweethearts".
- Take That: Season 4 is a giant Take That to ITV. Producer Brendan Baxter makes crap television (in one case literally), is willing to manipulate any footage just to get better ratings... and at one point cheerfully mentions he's about to have lunch with Michael Grade.
- A slightly more affectionate Take That occurs in "The Letters of Septimus Noone". Jonathan is accompanied in his investigation by the son of a friend of his wife, an affectionate parody of Sherlock Holmes as portrayed in Sherlock, wearing a similar scarf/trench-coat ensemble. Not-Sherlock routinely attempts Sherlock scans which are always completely inaccurate due to his Awesome but Impractical interpretation of the evidence Seriously, a crossbow bolt made of blood?.
- Tap on the Head: Played straight in "No Trace Of Tracy"... which is extremely noticable considering that in just the previous episode, someone actually died from a blow to the head.
- Thanatos Gambit: Andre Masson rigs up his suicide to make it look as though he's been murdered by one of his employees.
- Theme Song Reveal: In the episode "Satan's Chimney", Allan Kallanak's first appearance shows him rehearsing his escape act to the sound of the Eurythmics' Missionary Man. In hindsight, this not only gives away his identity as the killer, but his motivation as well: "don't mess with a missionary man..."
- Time-Delayed Death
- Toad Licking: A hallucinogenic toad turned out to be a major plot point in one episode. The toad wasn't native to England and had been imported by a local hippie colony for this very purpose. The presence of the toad, allegedly in the prime suspect's house, was what led to Jonathan solving the case he was working on.
- Traitor Shot: Used frequently with suspects, yet Maddy was instinctively good at spotting them.
- Tsundere: Maddy and Carla. Carla's deredere side is vestigial.
- Twin Switch: Used in "The Black Canary" in which one twin takes over her sister's life after her accidental death in order to spare her family the grief. In a twist on expectations, the discovery itself wasn't a big twist - Jonathan had it figured out by the middle of the episode, and the mystery is finding out how the latter twin died (though of course, the switch played a significant part in motivation).
- Also the basis of the same character's career. The twins were magicians and most of their act was based around the fact that the audience was unaware that the magician was actually two people.
- Unreliable Narrator: When the crime is shown being committed in flashback during The Summation, this is often just Jonathan's hypothesis rather than what actually happened - sometimes because all the witnesses are dead, or because the suspect doesn't confirm it until after he's spoken. This rarely comes up, however - the best example is in the pilot "The Wrestler's Tomb", where we see the main suspect pulling off the impossible alibi that would let her commit the crime as Jonathan explains how it could happen - but at the end we find out she wasn't the killer, so she never did the acts shown in the earlier reconstruction scene. Heck, Jonathan even admits immediately after the aforementioned summation that while it's a working theory it hinges on too many random things going right to be plausible.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Like any good male/female detective team, Maddy and Jonathan have this in spades. Lampshaded in the first episode, when Jonathan point-blank asks Maddy if she's trying to bed him.
- Plenty of UST with Carla as well, with the added twist that between their first and second meetings, she's got married.
- Hinted at toward the end of Jonathan and Joey's first special together, when their respective romantic interests end up with each other at the end. Other than that, notably averted for Joey as she and Jonathan operate more Like Brother and Sister.
- By the time they meet again for The Case of the Savant's Thumb Jonathan is married.
- The Unreveal: Jonathan tells Maddy who he thinks Alice Spearfish's real father is - on a piece of paper that we don't see.
- The Vamp: Francesca Boutron, Zola Zbzewski, Heather Davey, Gillian Bailey, Selima Al-Sharad and the prostitute in Mother Redcap.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Jonathan seems pretty much incapable of forming any other type of relationship.
- The Watson: Maddy, Carla, Joey.
- What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic? — In "Angel Hair", Jonathan works out the core mystery pretty quickly but keeps schtum about it while he tries to work out the details. To help Carla along, he writes two proverbs on a piece of paper and she spends half the episode trying to find any hidden meaning in it. After spending hours agonising over it, her husband leans over and casually notes that it's the first two lines to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind", in the wrong order.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: In the episode "The Tailor's Dummy" there is an entire subplot about Kenny helping the Mafia kidnap attractive women. Jonathan demands that Kenny get them out of trouble, or he'll go to the police, but he and Carla are imprisoned in one of the theatre's props by the men before this can happen. Kenny is last seen being dragged away by the Mafia, and neither he nor the women are ever mentioned again.
- From "The Judas Tree": whatever happened to the man in the grass? Did anyone ever find him, or did he die out there? The ending implies that he was a fragment of Emily's suppressed memory about her murder.
- A few episodes in the second series show that Adam has a pet Bengal tiger. It disappears completely after series 2.
- In "The Curse Of the Bronze Lamp", the kidnappers gain access to their victim by knocking out the DJs at her party and taking their place. The real DJs are never mentioned again.
- What Have We Ear?: Jonathan and Adam do this on a few occasions (but Jonathan draws the line when Adam asks him to design a trick that allows him to pull a postage stamp from under the Queen's tongue).
- Will They or Won't They?: Maddy and Jonathan. They're on the edge of dating for entire seasons, without actually dating. They share a snog and a grope occasionally, but inevitably, one of them then immediately cocks it up. They have platonic sleepovers, Jonathan irons Maddy's bras, Maddy gets intensely possessive every time Jonathan has a date with someone else, and they still don't manage to actually have sex. They eventually do. Turns out it was a bad idea.
- You Got Murder: Occurs in "The House of Monkeys" in which a self-addressed envelope laced with poison is sent to the victim. On licking the flap, he trips out on hallucinogenic drugs and manages to impale himself on a sword.