Saturday, August 06, 2016

Inspector Lewis: The Final Season

Say it isn’t so, Robbie. Thanks to the original Inspector Morse (33 episodes running from 1987 to 2000), the prequel Endeavour (commenced in 2012 and still a going concern), and Inspector Lewis, the spin-off that made good (2006 to right now), Americans might think Oxford has a greater homicide rate than Detroit. At least those cases had a high degree of sophistication. After thirty years of playing everyone’s favorite Geordie Detective Inspector on the Thames Valley CID, Kevin Whatley is finally retiring, but he will go out doing what his beloved character does best in Inspector Lewis, The Final Season (trailer here), which premieres tomorrow night on PBS.

Despite retiring once already, Lewis has returned like a bad penny, as a DI contractor. Instead, it is his once skeptical Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent who has moved on. The new fast-tracked micromanaging CS Joseph Moody clearly rubs James Hathaway (now a DI himself) the wrong way and gives Lewis concerns regarding his contract renewal. Throughout One for Sorrow, both DI’s and their Detective Sergeant Lizzie Maddox will deal with the new boss’s constant check-ups and condescending suggestions as they investigate the murder of a performance artist who incorporated taxidermy in her installations. Of course, it also turns out the extra body discovered in an ancient campus well is directly related to the high profile murder.

Sorrow is pretty satisfyingly twisty and convoluted mystery, featuring Tim Pigott-Smith (the once and future Prince of Wales in King Charles III) as a slightly shady taxidermist. It also introduces the major themes of the final season: Hathaway coming to terms with his dementia-addled father and Lewis’s fear of losing what has always defined him, while finally starting to get serious about Dr. Laura Hobson, everyone’s favorite late-middle-aged forensic pathologist.

Moody starts to settle down and realize how helpful a crafty veteran like Lewis can be maintaining a high case-closure rate in Magnum Opus. Viewers might even pick up a little Christian theology during this case, in which a killer stalks members of an Oxford society inspired by the writings of Charles Williams, probably the third most influential member the Inklings, after C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Despite several dead mystical-evangelical Christians, Chris Murray’s teleplay treats their faith with respect and might leave some viewers intrigued enough to read Williams’ work (fyi, he also wrote fantasy). As a further bonus, Honeysuckle Weeks (from Foyle’s War) effectively plays against type as Carina Beskin, the first victim’s guilt ridden sister.

Lewis and Hathaway have a super high profile case on their hands when an apolitical murderer targets an Oxford geneticist with a letter bomb. Indeed, What Lies Tangled is another case with above average reversals and misdirection, but the real stakes involve Lewis and Hathaway’s personal issues. Not surprisingly, they are both better at diagnosing their longtime partners’ hang-ups than confronting their own. Regardless, Tangled does right by its beloved characters. There are no big life-altering developments or MASH-style tear-jerking goodbyes, but it offers us a thimble full of closure while staying true to the show’s spirit.

Lewis was consistently well written and the telegenic Oxford locations added a lot of flavor, but it is the chemistry between Whatley, Laurence Fox’s Hathaway, and Claire Holman’s Hobson that made the show such a reliable pleasure. (To his credit, new arrival Steve Toussaint’s Moody quickly starts to feel like he belongs as well.) In a way, Inspector Lewis directly compares to Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier, as they were both spinoffs that established their own identity and had long runs comparable to their source series. A lot of fans will be sorry to see them take their final bows, but thirty years of Robbie Lewis is a remarkable milestone for Whatley. Good show everyone. Highly recommended for all British mystery fans, Inspector Lewis: The Final Season starts tomorrow night (8/7) on most PBS stations nationwide.