Spin off series rarely succeed in the same way as their parent. By their nature they are already familiar and often try to reproduce the same magic that made the original series so well liked. Lewis grew from the popularity of Inspector Morse whose deliberate slow style it copied. However whereas Morse episodes unfolded with puzzle like dexterity, Lewis often seems to merely plod. A number of the stories do not really contain enough plot elements to sustain the running time and when they split the last season into two part stories it actually slowed things down further exposing the treading water that fluffs up the middle. Where Lewis does succeed though is in its two central characters who are likeable, gel well together and make even the most long winded plot watchable.
|"Sir, we appear to be stuck together"|
It is fitting that the series ends with the two of them sitting outside a pub enjoying a drink and a chat, both having decided to leave the police force for different reasons. It is a contemplative ending with no last minute dramatic death or disaster – remember how the last Touch of Frost threw a humdinger in to the last quarter hour- because that is not really what Lewis is about.
The times the series has tried to be more radical did not really work- there was an episode which concluded with Hathaway being carried out of a burning house by Lewis which just seemed ridiculous. Thankfully intervals like this were kept to a minimum as the duo solved crimes without due hurry, one crime at a time. Despite police cutbacks in the real world, the Oxford constabulary depicted in the series appears to have unlimited resources.
Lewis’ northern roots and everyman view of an academic world gets more space than it did when he was Morse’s sidekick. In his own series, he uses this facet to cut through the dusty obfuscation that seems to pervade much of Oxford’s elite. Kevin Whately is in his element, so much so that when it gets to the last episode you wish he could continue playing Lewis because he is unlikely to get such a suitable role again. There is something satisfying about him getting the better of the academic and business world. It’s pleasing that the writers have given Lewis a down to earth wit as well; otherwise his increasingly gravelly voice would be too dour. Whately is very subtle and convincing in his performance helped by the writers eschewing the over the top behavior that many television cops seem to display.
|"Aye, it seems we are"|
The show itself can sometimes make Midsomer Murders seem speedy but the quality of the guest casts and strong direction usually ensure it wins through in the end. Sometimes you appreciate the pace and some of the flourishes with which it presents itself. It does share with its parent series the trick of leading the viewer in the wrong direction in terms of what the crime is, let alone who committed it, but as several other shows now do this it no longer stands out as much. Of course Oxford always looks gorgeous and there is the swelling incidental music to soothe any irritation that matters are not progressing as quickly as you might like.
A lot of modern shows favour style over substance, quick edits, wobbly camera work etc. This works sometimes, other times it is a distraction. Lewis stands apart from the melee. It’s only ended because both actors wanted to move on but as a body of work is the sort of show that does bear repeated viewing and in the long term may weather better than the louder, faster shows that are its contemporaries. Hopefully ITV will not abandon this kind of drama because sometimes a slow stroll is more enjoyable than a high speed drive.