This complete set of Inspector Lewis mysteries, inspired by the Inspector Morse novels of Colin Dexter… Includes the Pilot, Series 1, 2, 3, 4.
Inspector Morse fans had a long wait after that show stopped production in 2000, so the arrival of Inspector Lewis in the mid-'00s must have seemed like a cool drink after a long drought. Robert "Robbie" Lewis (Kevin Whately) had been Morse's sergeant before being promoted to detective inspector, and his former boss's unusual methods continue to resonate here; what's more, his new superior, Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front), isn't a bit sure that Lewis can fill Morse's shoes. That's not all that weighs on him. As the series begins, he's returning from two years "on attachment" in the British Virgin Islands, recovering from the death of his wife in a hit-and-run car accident; Lewis both mourns her and rages that whoever's responsible hasn't been brought to justice. And then there's his workplace: the genteel environs of Oxford, England, home to a world-famous university and a population that Lewis, a man not exactly to the manor born, derides as "fashionable idiots." But at least he has James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), his detective sergeant, who's not only a good cop but a learned Cambridge man with a bone-dry wit. It's a treat to watch their partnership evolve as they solve all sorts of murders in the course of the twenty 90-minute episodes offered in this ten-disc set (comprising the pilot and first four seasons). There are multiple killings in every episode, and the culprit is never the first or most obvious choice, but refreshingly, there's little or no gun violence; in one episode alone, victims are run over by a car, shot up with heroin, and strangled. And considering the locale, it's not surprising that both perps and victims tend to be a rather different sort than you'll find in the average American procedural. These are educated people who perform Shakespeare, listen to Wagner, quote Nietzsche, worship the god Dionysus, and forge letters by the poet Shelley (on the other end of the spectrum, one delightful episode centers on legendary '60s rock band "Midnight Addiction," whose sound Hathaway compares to "[the group] Status Quo whinging about the biscuits in the old people's home"). Law & Oxford? That's as good a description as any for this witty, literate, highly entertaining program. --Sam Graham