|Lovejoy: The Complete Season One (1986)
Starring: Ian McShane, Dudley Sutton, Chris Jury, Phyllis Logan, Malcolm Tierney, Amelia Shankley
To American audiences, the face of Ian McShane conjures up only one thing: memories of some of the most consistently colorful language ever seen on television, courtesy of his performance as Al Swearengen, owner of The Gem Saloon on HBO’s “Deadwood.” (Example: “In life, you have to do a lot of things you don't fucking want to do. Many times, that's what the fuck life is: one vile fucking task after another.”) While there’s no denying the fact that Swearengen is one of the more memorable characters on McShane’s resume, in the UK, he’s far better known for his work as the roguish antique dealer known as Lovejoy.
On the surface, the concept of a television show about a British antique dealer wouldn’t seem to be one that’d catch the eye of the American viewer, but, then, Lovejoy – his first name is never officially declared – isn’t exactly the most scrupulous member of his profession. Not only has he been known to create fake items to fool his fellow dealers in order to find his own way to the real items, he’s resorted to outright theft on occasion, having pocketed valuable coins and knickknacks, rationalizing that he’s doing it only to keep his bills paid.
Yes, despite being one of the best in the business when it comes to knowing his antiques, Lovejoy manages to only live a rather meager existence. His house is a slum (that’s putting it mildly -- it’s a full-on wreck at times), and he’s always ready to accept a “charitable donation” from his colleagues. Part of this is due to the fact that he consistently does his best to pay for the schooling of his daughter, Vicki (Amelia Shankley), but most of it is because he loses out on great deals as often as he succeeds. His regular rival in antiquities is Charlie Gimbert (Malcom Tierney), who also serves as his landlord. The two butt heads constantly, but their relationship is rather like that of Batman and The Joker, where their regular battles are what keep life interesting for them. Assisting Lovejoy at things both scrupulous or not is Tinker Dill (Dudley Sutton), his barker. He also maintains a unique relationship with Lady Jane Felsham, one that’s rooted in friendship but also involves a considerable amount of flirtation. Additionally, Lovejoy has an apprentice in Eric Catchpole (Chris Jury), who hasn’t a clue about antiques, isn’t much better at helping Lovejoy hunt them down, and seems most at home when he’s rocking out to heavy metal on his omnipresent Walkman.
Speaking of music, it’s worth noting that there’s a remarkable amount of good music in the background of these episodes, including Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and Big Country’s “In A Big Country.” (When it’s cranked outside a Hard Rock Café, Lovejoy’s daughter observes how her father doesn’t enjoy places where Big Country is cranked at loud volume.) It’s also extremely nice to hear semi-obscurities pop up in prominent scenes, like Nick Lowe’s “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and The Flying Pickets’ cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.”
“Lovejoy: The Complete Season One” is a nice look at Ian McShane in the days before every other word out of his mouth started with “F” and rhymed with “luck,” but it’s a pleasant, intelligent series all around. If you enjoy the blend of humor and mystery of a show like “The Rockford Files” but also find your kicks via regular viewings of “Cash in the Attic” and “Antiques Roadshow,” definitely pop ‘round and check out “Lovejoy.” You might never trust another antique dealer, but at least you’ll enjoy the show.Special Features: Alas, there’s only just the one: a new interview with Ian McShane about his experiences getting involved with and working on “Lovejoy.” Given his “Deadwood” success, it’s nice that he took the time to sit down and discuss the series, but the interview lasts just over seven minutes, making it ultimately disappointing.