December 26, 2016


Murder in Paradise : Mysteries like Inspector Morse remind us of lost Eden. (ALAN JACOBS, December 26, 2016, American Conservative)

There's a wonderful moment in one of the old Inspector Morse shows--the one called "Promised Land," set in Australia instead of the series' home base of Oxford--when Morse has reached a dead end in his investigation (and in his life as well, more or less), and he's talking to his sidekick Lewis and calls him Robbie. Which is indeed Lewis's first name, but in all the many episodes before that, Morse had never called him anything but Lewis--often in a distinctively sneering way: Lyeeewis.

A certain habitual guard has been let down, partly as a result of exhaustion, but mostly, I think, because of location--displacement yields disinhibition. Morse never would have called him Robbie had they remained in Oxford, where the structures of everyday routine reinforced their differences in class and rank. And if he calls him Robbie again later, it is only because of the barrier that came down, however briefly, when they were in the antipodes.

I haven't seen that episode in 20 years, but I still remember it vividly, in large part because of the reaction of Kevin Whately as Lewis: an almost imperceptible flickering of the eyelids and then the resumption of stoicism. It's a wonderful bit of acting by Whately, and not only does he not speak, he doesn't even move.

Whately played Robbie Lewis for the first time when Inspector Morse began, on ITV in England, in 1987, and has now played him for the last time, the sequel-series Lewis having ended in November 2015. There were hiatuses along the way--six years separated the wrapping-up of Morse and the beginning of Lewis--but still, that's quite a run with a single character, and I've been watching pretty much the entire time. The end of Lewis is the end of an era for Kevin Whately, certainly, but also for me.

Neither the original Inspector Morse nor its successor Lewis was uniformly excellent. The productions were clearly done on a strictly limited budget; the plotting was sometimes muddy, often convoluted, and hole-prone. But the acting was always fine, and my wife and I tuned in so regularly not because we were intrigued by any particular mystery but because we wanted to see Morse-plus-Lewis and then, later, Lewis-plus-Hathaway. (James Hathaway, a young policeman assigned to work with the now-senior Lewis, is played superbly by Laurence Fox.) These are buddy shows, but of a high order: Morse acts always on impulse and instinct, like Don Quixote, to whom Lewis acts the grounded and rational Sancho Panza. The Lewis-Hathaway dynamic differs, though Hathaway also has some windmills to tilt at, in a comparatively subdued way.

There is nothing worse than cop shows that try to depict the detectives' home lives.  The relationship that matters is with their partner.

Posted by at December 26, 2016 4:07 PM