Reviewer's Note: Way back in 2007, I began reviewing the BBC's boxed sets of Lovejoy for DVDTalk. Those sets subsequently went out of print, and are now being re-released by Acorn. As far as I can tell, these are the same fullscreen transfers used for the previous releases (Acorn's now-standard disclaimer about audio/visual imperfections for these older U.K. TV shows is present), but again: no extras from the previous BBC release. So, I'll port over my older review (with a few minor tweaks)...because my opinion of these delightful mysteries hasn't changed a bit, I found, after watching these charmers all over again this past weekend.
Acorn has released Lovejoy: Series 3, a four-disc, 13-episode continuation of one of my favorite light British comedy/mysteries. Starring the irrepressible Ian McShane as Lovejoy ("Not 'Mr.' Just 'Lovejoy.'"), these lighthearted romps through the surprisingly treacherous world of antiques continue to deliver the requisite laughs and minor suspense we've come to expect from the East Anglia "divvy" who's always one step ahead (or behind, if it's a bad week) of his creditors. Big changes almost come this season to Lovejoy's personal life--love, that is--before order is restored and our randy 1990s Tom Jones is unfettered and let loose back into the wild.
Beginning where "series" 2 left off (they even include a bit of footage from the last episode of that season, The Black Virgin of Vladimir, to orient us), we find out what Lovejoy did with all that money he scammed off the unscrupulous Russian art dealer Harry Catapodis: he went to Spain for some time, to paint. With Lovejoy, a true artist as well as an antiques dealer (he has to be, to restore quality works of art - as well as to make all those forgeries to fool the crooks), the screenwriters always make sure to show us his unabashed appreciation of a beautiful work of art. It goes a long way towards legitimizing the character and ameliorating his equally unabashed love of money and luxury. So it's somewhat sad to learn that he tried to paint "for real," as an artist and not a restorer, and came up empty. It's an interesting way to open the season, and adds a level of seriousness to the character, a sense of wistfulness and regret, that further deepens the character.
However, never a series to dwell on the maudlin, Lovejoy quickly regains its comedic footing when Eric Catchpole (Chris Jury) and Tinker Dill (Dudley Sutton) are reunited with their old friend Lovejoy. Eric, now a newly minted security guard (complete with ill-fitting uniform), is initially reluctant to get back together with Lovejoy, having found peace-of-mind and a measure of respect in his new position (despite having to feed his firm's vicious watch dogs). Tink, however, in what may be the funniest moment ever in Lovejoy, has no such reservations. Having bought back his beloved Morris Minor convertible "Miriam," Lovejoy and Eric go in search of the frequently tipsy Tink, where they find him...at a monastery of all places. Tending the monastery's bee colony, the second Tink sees Lovejoy beckoning to him, the film goes into slow motion as Tink, overwhelmed with joy at being rescued from his plight, throws off his hat and comes running to his pals. It's an hilarious moment for the character (the first among many in these episodes) and sets just the right tone for the remainder of the season.
But Team Lovejoy wouldn't be complete without Lovejoy's financial benefactor - as well as his maddeningly platonic love interest - Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan). Perhaps Lovejoy's closest friend, the lovely Lady Jane proves to be a constant source of enticement unfulfilled for Lovejoy, who never lets an opportunity pass, to make a pass, at the "happily" married Lady Jane. How she deftly deflects, time and again, Lovejoy's ardor is one of the reoccurring jokes in Lovejoy, but it's obvious that she, too, feels something more than just friendship for Lovejoy, and should the circumstances present themselves, she might succumb to his charms. However, what interests Lady Jane at the beginning of this season is putting Lovejoy and Associates onto a firmer, more stable financial footing. She insists Lovejoy treat his business as such: a business, and repeatedly encourages him (i.e.: yells at him) to keep appointments and to stay focused. This move to put more emphasis on Lovejoy's business is a smart one by the producers. It allows more flexibility with the various characters (who now get to become catalysts for various stories, such as Eric's various bumbling efforts to execute antique deals--which almost always come up a cropper), as well as opening up more plot lines.
But certainly this season's (which ran from January to March of 1992) biggest surprise comes in the form of not one but two love matches for Lovejoy, first with Lady Jane's friend Victoria Cavero (Joanna Lumley), and second with...Lady Jane herself. In a three episode arc opening the season, Lovejoy meets Victoria, played with sexy, cool aplomb by leggy Lumley, who, recently widowed, takes a shine to the ever-so-slightly dodgy divvy. It's a nice chance for McShane to act romantic rather than just randy (evidently, McShane had asked the producers to spice things up a bit for his character, hence Victoria), and again, he's quite good at expanding the seemingly frivolous Lovejoy character into something with a little bit more weight. Of course the real shocker is Lovejoy's romantic tete-a-tete with Lady Jane. Long simmering passions come to a boil mid-way through the season when Alexander (Pavel Douglas), the frequently absent wheeling and dealing husband of Jane's, decides the marriage is over, and leaves for Hong Kong. In the series' two-part finale, Lovejoy and Lady Jane find themselves in Scotland, in a romantic mist-enshrouded castle, with nothing stopping them from indulging their barely-contained lust....(did you really think I was going to spoil that ending?).
Watching these episodes of Lovejoy: The Complete Season Three, I was trying to pin down exactly what it is that's so attractive about this show. Despite the series' gossamer-light tone, comedic tension runs through the entire concept, providing a hook for the admittedly thin premise (after all, how many different ways can you have antiques and works of art be faked or stolen in Lovejoy's little corner of the world?). Lovejoy himself is a pleasingly familiar creation (not unlike a standard American private eye in fiction and the films) in that his main preoccupation seems to be staying out of trouble with the law, while keeping creditors at bay. Each episode usually has some line acknowledging that Lovejoy is short this week, or that he dropped a considerable amount of money on a dodgy piece, that then must be sold for a profit. Will he get enough money for it? Will he get cheated out of it? Will he figure out whatever mystery comes his way?
Mixing nicely with this comedic tension (which, centered around his lack of money makes Lovejoy "one of us") is the obvious fantasy nature of the show itself. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't mind making my living swanning around lovely estates or auction houses, sniffing out a hidden, forgotten gem of a statue or chiffonier, while my entertaining, colorful friends provided an endless supply of amusing anecdotes for my pleasure. Maybe it's that family feeling, too, that all good TV entertainments like Lovejoy create, where Tink and Eric and Jane become most agreeable companions in our homes, while Lovejoy's vast network of loveable rogues, thieves and connivers provide a steady, predictable stream of laughs along the way. This isn't reality, to say the least (who has friends like these?), and that's why we invite Lovejoy back on our sets, again and again, to escape our own troubles. As Tink wistfully says to Eric, when Eric asks him why he reads so many travel brochures: "I live in dreams, Eric. In dreams." I can't think of a better description of watching good TV.
Here are the 13, one-hour episodes of the four disc boxed set, Lovejoy: Series 3:
Friends in High Places
Out to Lunch
Eric of Arabia
Scotch on the Rocks
Smoke Your Nose
Highland Fling (Parts 1 and 2)
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.