The last priceless piece at Lovejoy Antiques, sorry to say, has been sold. What a pity. And the mullet is gone! BBC Video has released Lovejoy: The Complete Season Six, the final go-around for the international hit mystery/comedy series starring the rascally Ian McShane as the intrepid, shady antiques "divvy" Lovejoy. There's no loss of quality in this last "series" of episodes which originally aired in the U.K. in the fall of 1994 (although there are some curious character backtracks from the previous season), so at least the series goes out on a positive note...with a positively delightful final wrap-up that sums up the roguish Lovejoy character to a "T." Of course, Lovejoy fans are going to bid on this 3-disc, 10-episode set, but newcomers - even at this late stage - are encouraged to browse for something they might like.
I've written before about Lovejoy (you can click on Season One, Season Two, Season Three, Season Four, and Season Five to read my earlier reviews), so I won't get into too much background detail about the series. If you're new to the series (and you can certainly jump right into the middle of Lovejoy; even though there are a few story arcs that thread through the various episodes, they're largely stand-alone, so you needn't be familiar with past episodes to fully enjoy the show), Ian McShane plays Lovejoy, a preternaturally gifted "divvy" (one who can spot and identify rare antiques with absolute accuracy) who also happens to be a horn-dog and a perpetual deadbeat -- as well as a genuine lover of all things priceless and beautiful. Constantly on the run from creditors who want his doss, and from the cops who suspect him of suspicious deals, Lovejoy breezes through life never knowing where his next pay packet is coming from - or where he might lay his head at night. Aiding Lovejoy in his constant treasure seeking is always slightly inebriated Tinker Dill (Dudley Sutton), an old hand at divvying who's as comfortable identifying a rare piece of Restoration furniture as he is propping up the bar at the Royal Oak. New love interest Charlotte Cavendish (Caroline Langrishe) runs a local auction house, and she's as often at odds with Lovejoy over his latest con job as she is running to and away from the irresistible divvy.
And speaking of Charlotte, why did the producers backtrack on Lovejoy's relationship with her? In my review of Season 5, I welcomed the addition of gorgeous Caroline Langrishe as auction house owner Charlotte Cavendish because it seemed like finally, Lovejoy would have a romantic relationship with someone who wanted to do more than banter. After years of teasing around with his soul mate and best friend, Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), coming this close to sleeping with her on more than one occasion, it was fun to see Lovejoy spar with a partner who was his equal on the auction floor and in the bedroom. However, in this last season, Charlotte's relationship with Lovejoy is deliberately (or perhaps sloppily) obfuscated from episode to episode. In one episode, Charlotte is getting cozy with Lovejoy on a couch; in the next, she's lamenting the fact that they have no relationship. In one episode, she'll be infuriated with Lovejoy's lack of attention; in the next, she'll moon at him and not-so-subtly suggest he give her a baby. Where's the build-up and continuation of the relationship that seemed so important in Season 5? It's not here, that's for sure. If anything, the Charlotte character is used more as a simplistic plot device to be plugged in, willy-nilly, regardless of her motivation or current dynamic with Lovejoy, just to advance the storyline (seriously - in the opening episode, Fair Exchange, the writers have Charlotte actually believing that Lovejoy not only robbed her home, but struck her in the process. Ridiculous). Charlotte seemed like a sharp cookie the last time out, but here, she's kidnaped (only to be rescued by Lovejoy, falling into his arms, crying); she's locked in an antiques store room (only to be rescued by Lovejoy, falling into his arms, crying), and she gets swindled repeatedly while either cursing or mooning over Lovejoy. It's a haphazard, careless approach to a potentially solid character, an approach that is sometimes reflected on the bored face of Langrishe.
By the series' final episode, we don't know what the hell is going on with Lovejoy and Charlotte (apparently, they don't sleep together anymore), so the "Hail Mary" return of Lady Jane, which should play like a final episode bit of stunt casting, is actually given more thought and weight and emotional gravity in her one or two brief scenes, than the Charlotte character received during the whole season...and that, perhaps, is an indication of what the producers felt about the Charlotte character all along. Luckily, we're given some more background on the delightful Tinker character, played so well by Dudley Sutton. In Breaking the Broker, Tink is arrested on a trumped-up charge (pornography...due to a lecture he was giving to the Women's Society luncheon), and then set-up for a possible drug conviction (planted on him) if he doesn't scam Lovejoy into committing a burglary. Tink, terrified of going to prison on such a rap, does betray Lovejoy, and some interesting scenes between McShane and Sutton follow; it's good to see this solid relationship badly shook up at one point. Even better is Somewhere Over the Rainbow, where we learn about Tinker's past, which includes an estranged sister (who tells Lovejoy Tinker was brilliant as a child, but ignored). It's a sad outing, particularly when we see how the years have passed not only between Tink and his sister, but also between Tink and his dreams. Unfortunately, the Beth character still doesn't work within the context of the series - certainly not the way the amusing Eric Catchpole did before leaving the series at the end of the previous season. I still can't quite figure out what purpose she fulfilled within the scheme of the program. Occupying the role of "novice" the way Eric did, Beth's bland personality is never put to any use within the stories, and her chipper piping up here or there with an inconsequential line or two, leaves no impression.
McShane, on the other hand, holds the whole series together, as usual. Sporting a new, sleeker do than the infamous "Lovejoy mullet," McShane looks fit as a fiddle and ready for action, and he's rewarded with some strong episodes this final go-around. The season opener, Fair Exchange finds the character in a classic Lovejoy quandary: he's going to be arrested for fraud because he bought a gong - the famous Rank movie company gong seen in at the beginning of all their pictures - with a phony check in the hopes of flogging the gong for a profit to pay off the original seller. What follows - aside from the silly machinations of Charlotte thinking Lovejoy robbed and assaulted her - is a fast-paced romp with switched paintings and a lovely, funny performance by Harry Jones as Scotch Doogie (I always enjoy the seemingly endless parade of experts/forgers/con men that Lovejoy knows from the trade). Double Edged Sword has a good turn by Dinsdale Landen as Jim Leonard, Lovejoy's old antiques coach who's still just as feisty and shady as he ever was. Guns and Roses has a fast-paced script that shows Lovejoy desperately trying to come up with a unique item for his Texas-based client. McShane gets a chance to direct his knockout wife, Gwen Humble (who's also funny as hell), in an excellent episode, The Last of the Uzkoks, that combines a dense mystery with high comedy (this one reminds me of the series at its best, in earlier seasons). And the final Lovejoy episode, Last Tango in Lavenham may clunk around clumsily with its unconvincing stab at tying down the forever-randy Lovejoy, but its ending is perfectly in tune with the series as a whole, and quite memorable. Lovejoy, agreeing to marry Charlotte, is kidnaped in a helicopter by an angry punter who was shut out of a deal by the wily East Anglian divvy. Lovejoy, circling over the church where a resplendent Charlotte is looking up at the copter, at first grimaces as he sees his wedding ruined...only to then break out in an overjoyed, beaming smile and booming laugh as he's taken away, spared once more the agony of fidelity and matrimonial harmony. But the final scene is much more somber, as Lovejoy talks to the audience one more time in front of Felsham Hall, the former home of his true love, Lady Jane. All he possesses is in the back of his beat-up old truck, and he lets us know that everyone in his life has gone on to do other things. Climbing into the truck, he looks over at the camera and says, "You gotta move on. The past is a foreign country, and Lovejoy doesn't live there anymore," and he drives off as we see the "For Sale" sign on Felsham Hall. End of episode. End of series. It's a bittersweet ending (as McShane rightly calls it in his interview included on this disc), not jokey or contrived, but simple and direct. And somewhat sad, as well, when we remember how much pleasure Lovejoy provided over its six seasons.
As with the previous Lovejoy releases, Lovejoy: The Complete Season Six will look better on a smaller monitor. The full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers look reasonable for this type of program, but the bigger your monitor, the more you're going to notice a slight blur (PAL conversion issue?) whenever the camera moves. It's not too distracting, though, and again, a smaller monitor will help. Colors look a little faded (or sometimes valued incorrectly), but that's about par for these unrestored elements. The picture is at times soft, but overall, this presentation is about on par with normal BBC Video releases.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 soundtrack for Lovejoy: The Complete Season Six is adequate, with all dialogue heard cleanly and crisply. English subtitles are available.
On disc four, Ian McShane Talks About Lovejoy, Part 6 is taken from the same interview featured on all the other releases of Lovejoy, with McShane discussing the series. McShane's a great interview: laid-back and funny. It runs 9:01, and was shot in 2004. There are no other extras included here - pretty skimpy.
It's always sad when a good series ends, but at least most of the episodes on the Lovejoy: The Complete Season Six set are good representatives of this beguiling, funny show. I wish the writers had paid more attention to the Charlotte character, but the mysteries are solid this go-around, and of course, there's always Ian McShane, a real charmer. The last go-around, unfortunately (it's not too late to do a Lovejoy special, Ian). I highly recommend Lovejoy: The Complete Season Six.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.