by Larry Brody
My favorite police show returned for 2012 via Masterpiece Mystery! last week and gave me exactly what I wanted: A warm, comfortable, only somewhat surprising 90 minute excursion to Oxford, England, where Detective Inspector Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Lawrence Fox) solve serial murder after serial murder (mostly on the sprawling and gorgeous Oxford University campus) by walking around, asking questions, and, most of the time, being grumpy.
The crime in the latest episode was no big deal. In fact, I already can’t remember the first victim. The second victim (who actually died earlier than the first but ya gotta go with the twists) was more memorable: A young genius working for an Oxford doctor. He stays in mind not because of anything about him, but because his bereft mother so brilliantly turned from an obnoxious Miss Marple wannabe/nuisance to the “sympathetic client” the best U.S. cop shows used so well in the ’70s. She was so sympathetic, in fact, that brusk, impatient Inspector Lewis was soon cuddling and reassuring her like a real dad.
Which brings us to what I really love about INSPECTOR LEWIS: The two leads and the way they interact with each other and the various intellectuals around them. Or don’t interact. Because beneath their surface differences (Lewis is practical and, for all practical purposes, anti-intellectual; Hathaway is a Cambridge-educated seminary drop-out), both men possess a stubborn reticence to share anything of themselves with anyone…and each worries about that trait in the other, well knowing the loneliness it causes.
What these personalities mean is that nothing relating to the leads’ humanity is out there for us to readily understand. It’s all subtext. As a writer, I’m intrigued by the fact that the most important part of each episode is always unspoken. And by the fact that the motives of the killers and their victims are nowhere near as important to the proceedings as Lewis’s and Hathaway’s reactions to them. Reactions that also aren’t expressed verbally but with the real tools of the actor’s trade: Their eyes.
Viewers’ eyes are also well-served on this series. It’s shot like a feature film, with panoramic views of blue skies and beautiful scenery (did you know Britain had places like that?), and we get plenty of time to linger on the town/university architecture and gardens because not one moment is rushed or cut short. In all likelihood, the story and dialog in last week’s episode, like almost every other one I’ve seen, could have fitted comfortably into a U.S. 46-minute-hour slot. But even I, who have been known to be far more grumpy and impatient than Inspector Lewis, am glad that the INSPECTOR LEWIS team has never bothered to try.
A final word on how well-done and popular in the UK this show is: Kevin Whatley has been playing Robbie Lewis for 25 years, first on the show’s predecessor, INSPECTOR MORSE (as the young sergeant in those days), and on INSPECTOR LEWIS since 2007. Amazing, no? But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself: