It's been said many times before, and often by me, that the British have a particular penchant for making high quality crime and detective dramas for television. Inspector Lewis, a spin off from Inspector Morse, maintains this tradition of excellence in its fifth series. (Please note that this is Series Five only in the United States, because of differences in the way PBS aired and grouped the episodes throughout the life of the show. In Europe and the rest of the world, the below episodes would be considered Series Six.
Series Five brings back all the old characters, familiar as a comfortable hand me down sweater by this point: Old fashioned pro DI Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately), his intellectual but devoted sergeant DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), their boss Chief Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front), and medical examiner, and perpetually almost love interest of Lewis', Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). Testing their investigative mettle are a number of malcontented students, self-important professors, murderous medical researchers, jilted wives, angry entrepreneurs, and all sorts of other nefarious folks that seem to glom on to the otherwise delightful town of Oxford, with its ancient colleges and quaint ways.
Inspector Lewis has maintained the quality of its mysteries over the years, and after all that's what the fans of this kind of show want: a juicy murder that's fun to solve, neither too difficult nor too easy. Lewis strikes just the right balance. The central puzzles keep us guessing, often incorrectly, but never deploy such gimmicks as introducing new characters at the last minute or deliberately withholding vital information. Half the fun is trying to figure out the murderer, and reevaluating your theories as new data comes to light. The intellectual interplay and subtle humor, all presented against the backdrop of stuffy academia, provide a lot of refined enjoyment, while never detracting from the visceral murder mystery thrills.
Of course, the production values are very high. The viewer is never distracted from the drama by a bad performance, shoddy sets, fake looking props, or any of those niggling items that destroy the suspension of disbelief. Kevin Whately continues stolidly on as the somewhat behind the times, but very tenacious and exceptionally moral inspector. His relationship with Hathaway is still basically the same, old sage to inventive young go getter. The always on the cusp of budding romance with Hobson continues its slow creep forward, though it is somewhat complicated by the arrival on the scene of dashing DI Peterson (Jason Durr), who makes his amorous interest in the good doctor quite clear.
Series Five consists of four episodes on two discs. Short descriptions, as provided on the case, are below:
The Soul of Genius
Generation of Vipers
The Indelible Stain
Perhaps the only criticism of the show is that the characters and their interactions don't seem to have developed much since the first series. Lewis has mostly gotten over the death of his wife, and Hathaway is somewhat less callow, but overall they're in something of a stasis. If one likes to see the same old thing done over again with high technical and artistic skill, then Inspector Lewis is just the thing. It is buckets of fun, but rarely strays much from the basic formula. Nevertheless, considering all the delightful positives of the show, this is Highly Recommended.