Oh, the comforts of reliable routine. Shower, shave, dress. Campaign, take office, lie. Find the body, investigate the murder, solve the crime. In the British TV series “inspector Lewis,” the standard elements of crime drama and detective puzzle come together in a satisfying, craftsman-like fashion.
Kevin Whately plays the Detective Inspector of the title, a surprisingly busy murder investigator among the spires and starchy collars of Oxford (where apparently you can’t swing a dead don without hitting another dead don or professor or housemaster or whatever). With his trusted partner Detective Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox), he solves the murder of the week in dogged fashion and with the requisite twists and turns of plot. In this release of Series Six, there are three feature-length episodes.
In terms of character longevity, Whately has reached and surpassed the rarefied air of Kelsey Grammar/Frasier Crane territory, having played Lewis since 1987. He started as the late John Thaw’s partner in the run of Oxford-set “Inspector Morse” episodes, now continuing on in his own series since 2006. He wears the role like a well-worn, much-loved tweed, and his Lewis has the air and comforting presence of your favorite vicar, never too edgy, just gruff enough, having a pint every now then just like the lads. The more intellectual and reserved Hathaway makes Lewis an enjoyable counterpart, and Fox’s baritone rumble of a voice seems somehow ideally suited to the tasteful proceedings. And Hathaway is also that most rare of species on contemporary TV, a smoker. Weird how that jumps out at you now.
That this is all formula television is, well, duh, of course it is. By the time you reach the sixth series, most shows and their audiences have settled into a high-walled groove of expectations. The idea of stretching the form or pushing the characters in unpredictable directions is a lottery-ticket chance that few producers are willing to take. “Inspector Lewis” is no exception, and the three episodes here run a familiar ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ sequence of the time-worn detective genre. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The crafty, complicated mysteries are well-written and respect its audience’s intelligence, with smatterings of philosophy and science scattered about. No pandering violence or phony glam settings, no speedboats, no ginger-haired tough guy extricating his sunglasses from his oaken, expressionless face and staring manfully while making ludicrous hard-ass remarks. There’s a thesis worthy of an Oxford professor—the mathematical principles behind the inexplicable success of David Caruso. Man, that guy’s acting sucks. Get on that, theoretical physics types. Solve THAT mystery.
But he’s not on this show, and I digress. Back to “Lewis”– I like the mosaic-style opening credits introductions to the important guest players of each episode, sort of throwing the viewer right into the puzzle. For viewers used to the hyper-visual geegaws and emotive histrionics of American-style TV mysteries, the pace may be a bit sedate, the conflicts muted. But the longer episode length and relaxed feel allows for breathing room and relatively complex characters, and a quality of acting that shows half that length can’t provide
Of the three episodes—“Down Among The Fearful,” “The Ramblin’ Boy,” and “Intelligent Design”—“Ramblin’ Boy” was the most satisfying, with a neat conclusion and some sly touches of humor in the story of a missing corpse and dark events surrounding a funeral parlor. The twists of “Fearful” are a little less convincing, with its dead psychology professor who was moonlighting as a psychic. Befitting the show’s probable long-term hiatus after this season, the investigation in “Design” of a murdered professor recently released from prison ends on a note of finality. Lewis and Hathaway each make important decisions about their futures, and there is a resolution of Lewis’ long-simmering attraction with police forensic expert Laura Hobson (Claire Holman).
“inspector Lewis–Series Six” is presented in Widescreen with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is excellent, capturing the architectural details of Oxford as well as the character close-ups in good detail. There is an option for English subtitles in the set-up menu. In the original TV showing, each episode was divided into two parts, but here each is shown as one continuous feature.
Audio: The audio track has options for 5.1 Surround or Stereo 2.0. There are no other audio options.
It’s all very suit-and-tie, but “Inspector Lewis—Series Six” provides twisty, enjoyable mysteries with the comforting, undemanding air of a visit from an old friend.