There’s not much to say about the first story in the new series of Lewis – it’s very much the same old fare, with a languid mystery loosely weaving themes of religious faith involving suspects played by famous actors being played out against the beautiful backdrop of Oxford all set to the seductive lush score by composer Barrington Phelong.
Lewis (Kevin Whately) himself appears to have perked up somewhat since last we saw him, but Hathaway (Laurence Fox) is even more sour than usual, mainly because he’s lumbered with a neck brace from a car accident early on – which seems to have been done purely as a visual gag, and for a final scene pay-off where it comes in handy while making an arrest. Sadly there’s little time for the other two regulars, Dr Hobson (Clare Holman) and DCS Innocent (Rebecca Front) in this one.
All should be well in the premier-class of British TV detective mystery then, right? Well unfortunately, no. The programme itself might be business as usual, but someone at ITV central command has decided to shake things up scheduling wise: instead of showing the story in one two-hour block (as Lewis and its predecessor Inspector Morse have always been ever since 1987), with this series the airing is split into two hour-long chunks separate by a week.
Its possible that I’m just getting to be a grumpy old git who doesn’t like change, but for me at least this completely kills the show. The first part was fine and felt relatively normal, but by the time seven days had gone past I’d largely forgotten the events of the first hour and couldn’t remember who was who or what they were supposed to be up to. Within ten minutes I was so alienated from it that I pretty much stopped watching or caring, and just held on for the scenery and for the performances of Whately and Fox. As for the rest if it, it was a write-off.
The problem is that the pacing and writing of the show just isn’t meant to support a two one-hour episode format: the programme has always worked by a gentle build-up of atmosphere, an accretion of facts and information that slowly forms itself into a solution. It’s simply not a high-impact show with action scenes and tense moments of gripping suspense that you’ll remember in detail a week later. Characters that are introduced early in part one are then largely dropped until they’re required to pop up again for the denouement at the end of part two, which is frustrating rather than satisfying.
I tried to give this new two-part formatting a go, honestly I did; and all I can say is that the experiment was an abject failure as far as I was concerned. If I want to continue watching the show, then since the schedulers now seem to be actively working against me and the programme clearly I’ll have to record the two instalments and watch them later, back-to-back, as a two-hour special.
Or you know what, maybe I just won’t bother. If the channel doesn’t think much of its once-flagship show anymore, maybe I’m just better off following suit.
Lewis is on ITV on Mondays at 9pm. In lamentable one-hour instalments, in case I hadn’t made that entirely clear, so maybe you might prefer to wait for the DVD which is out on February 18, 2013.
And so another series of the Inspector Morse spin-off has come to an end, slipping so smoothly down our gullet that we barely even noticed that it was there.
The programme never had much bite, to be honest. That wasn’t the point of it. It’s a feel-good blanket to wrap ourselves in during uncertain times, where even cold-blooded murder is still firmly of the safe, cosy 1930s golden era vintage.
There’s only so far you can stretch these sort of syrupy confection, and I fear that Lewis is fast approaching the end of the road. There’s a lack of conviction or even interest in this series now by those making it, where before everyone was at least trying to do something interesting if and when they could. Now the writers just seem content to mix up the same old ingredients, and the actors just look increasingly tired of it all. “Didn’t we do this one last year, Hathaway?” you can imagine Kevin Whately’s eponymous detective inspector sighing at his sidekick.
Even Lawrence Fox’s impish, shamelessly scene-stealing performance has lost its sparkle this year, with Hathaway looking increasingly narked and sour. Lewis tells him that he needs to find someone to share his life with, which sounds like the promising start of a character arc but one that the writers promptly forget to do anything with other than by making him moon inappropriately over any pretty guest star of the right age that comes along in the course of the four episodes per year.
Lewis is meant to be the melancholic one, and it doesn’t work when both men look dejected and world-weary. Lewis’ touches of undeveloped romance with the pathologist (Clare Holman’s Dr Laura Hobson) are very sweet and brighten the screen, but all together they constitute little more than a couple of minutes of running time a year. Even Rebecca Front’s Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent has lost her sparkle and just looks fed up this year, although she did get the line of the final show when she snapped at her detectives, “Why are you all sitting there like dogs waiting for me to do a card trick?”
As for a quick potted review of the four stories of the 2012 season: “The Soul of Genius” was a bit of a pretentious study on Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” (the pursuit of the undiscoverable) and went out of its way to do the tourism promo for Oxford (with its botanical gardens, punts and open days at local country estates) and then grafted on a modern gothic ending that felt peculiarly disjointed from that which had gone before.
“Generation of Vipers” was Lewis’s attempt to go all modern by having online dating sites, internet entrepreneurs and cyberbullying behind it all. Obviously all the new-fangled stuff was bad, and done by bad people. On the plus side there was an interesting B-plot structure to the story in which Lewis and Hathaway experience both the highs and lows of media stardom along the way.
“Fearful Symmetry” was bizarrely laughable, a hodgepodge of Daily Mail hot topics and hoary series clichés which felt like a lazy self-parody, with swinger parties, kinky ‘artistic’ photo portraits and hints of bondage as red herrings proving to have nothing to do with the slender story at the heart of it. The sense of déjà vu was intensified by the actor playing the murderer having previously been arrested in a far superior episode of Morse 20 years ago.
And “The Indelible Stain” was also rather thin and familiar, with almost everyone acting out rather clichéd roles from lecherous lecturer to hard-nosed careerist wife. The person giving the most natural, convincing and warm performance therefore had to be the murderer. And Lewis found a reason to be even more anti-intellectual than ever, ending the series by concluding that having books around is unequivocally bad for you.
At least Lewis has managed to keep the formula reasonably intact, unlike its close relation Midsommer Murders which seems to have had a self-destructive spasm after losing its original series star (John Nettles); and then its creator-producer Brian True-May in a row over alleged racism in the show. It’s an unwatchable show now, sadly; whereas Lewis might have its faults but it’s still as easy to imbibe and promptly forget as it ever was, for better or for worse.
“Lewis” season 6 is out on DVD on June 11, and in a boxset with previous seasons.