Lewis – still fit for duty?

Kevin Whately as Lewis in series finale The Indelible Stain. Pics: ITV

Script developer Charlotte Biermann investigates ITV1’s latest series of Lewis…

Last episode of the season, The Indelible Stain, is on ITV1, Wednesday 6 June, 8pm

The sixth series of Lewis returned amid a hiatus; before the first episode had even aired the creator of its forefather, Inspector Morse,  provocatively stated in a Radio Times interview that he did not think Lewis ‘can go on much longer’, which promptly forced ITV’s hand to retort that it remained ‘committed’ to the show. So, of course, the question is being asked: Is Lewis’s time coming to an end?

David Soul guest stars in ‘The Indelible Stain’

The current series has been inconsistent. After Colin Dexter’s heralded doom, the first episode – The Soul of Genius – with its theme based on Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, seemed to strike back. With strong, and at times witty, writing that tightened the almost father/son relationship of Lewis and Hathaway and with a delightfully self-conscious Hathaway being awkwardly seduced, it was a joy to watch.

Third episode of Lewis was disappointing
Then came the second, Generation of Vipers, which continued the literary theme with Troilus and Cressida and the (un)romantic theme of our leading men, albeit in a more subtle manner. However the overall story was not quite as tight and did leave a few ‘hang on a minute…’ questions in its wake.

Sadly, episode three, Fearful Symmetry, while obviously taking its title from Blake’s poem The Tiger, failed to keep ‘the ball up in the air’ so to speak. It was disappointing in that the investigation hinged on a soft toy and failed to fully intertwine all the strands; instead, it lazily gave the perpetrator a mental illness that came out of the blue at last minute.

To use Dexter’s own words it was ‘not up to scratch’.

British audiences these days are too sophisticated to be fully satisfied by such one dimensional and frankly, flat writing. Not when recent dramas, the Scandinavian series in particular, are offering such complex and detailed storylines.

Jason Durr as DI Peterson, Kevin Whately as DI Lewis and Laurence Fox as DS  Hathaway

So when episodes such as last Wednesday’s Fearful Symmetry are aired, then it is hard to convince those critical of Lewis that he is worth holding on to. Perhaps he should happily retire and make way for new blood. However, clinging to the hope that the next and last episode – The Indelible Stain, starring David Soul – will return the richness of the series’ earlier offerings, I do think there is still a place for these more gentle and comfy police procedurals.

Diverse TV audience
TV schedules should be diverse. We don’t always need to see bloody and mutilated cadavers and follow overtly gruesome plots of a human being’s twisted behavior.

Some audiences want to be able to sit back and feel the poignancy of death rather be horrified by human cruelty. Not everything has to challenge or have the zeitgeist, providing there are other such shows around.

Lewis needs strong writing
Ultimately, TV audiences tend to be loyal; look at when Silent Witness tried to kill of one of its leading characters, Harry. Outrage abounded. And remember, Lewis has been threatened before. In 2009 ITV was all set to cancel it but audience demand saw it return.

If Lewis is soon retired it will be because the plots have failed to intrigue and thrill, so strong writing is a must, but for now it would seem the everyman detective is still too fondly appreciated to be relinquished just yet.

• Charlotte Biermann studied acting at drama school, before going behind the scenes to work at the BBC on shows from Crime Watch to the One Show and with Stephen Poliakoff. She subsequently worked at two talent agencies and is now a Film & TV Script Developer

Lewis series 6 with Kevin Whately PREVIEW

Back on the case – Kevin Whately as Lewis. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV1: starts Wednesday, 16 May, 8pm

Story: Botanist Liv Nash accidentally digs up the body of recently buried English Professor Murray Hawes. Lewis and Hathaway have to discover how a man fixated upon ‘solving’ the riddle of Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ ended up in a shallow grave.  Was his obsession dangerous enough to get him killed?

Can anyone get hugely excited about the sixth series of Lewis?

It might seem ill-mannered to be rude about a venerable TV institution, but – let’s face it – we all know how it’s going to go.

It will start with dreaming spires and lush music. There’ll be a corpse, and Lewis and Hathaway will appear at the crime scene. Lewis will dance round that blonde pathologist, but nothing will happen romantically, while Hathaway will show off his Latin and at some point the two lonely detectives will have a pint at a nice pub. The murderer will be apprehended from a line-up of snooty cleverdicks and local oddballs at the end of two hours.

Having a laugh down the pub – Hathaway and Lewis

Would-be Miss Marple
And that’s exactly what happens in the first of the four latest mysteries – ‘The Soul of Genius’. Lush music over and we’re at the crime scene, a botanist having found a body buried in the woods. ‘Male adult, must have been in there a couple of weeks,’ Dr Laura Hobson says.

The suspects include the dead man’s intellectual snob of a brother, the Reverend Dr Conor Hawes (a dead ringer for The Bride of Frankenstein‘s Dr Pretorius), played by Alex Jennings, and local ‘gentleman scientist’ Dr Alex Falconer, aka James Fleet.

Then there’s unstable Professor Wright – actress Matilda Ziegler – and interfering would-be Miss Marple, Michelle Marber, played by Celia Imrie, who switches from eccentric to tragic beautifully.

Kevin Whately’s 26th year as Lewis
It’s all very polished and as comfy as an old cardigan. Lewis looks great and there are good performances, intriguing twists of character and tender scenes – particularly when Lewis bonds with Mrs Marber over their mutual grief (his departed wife and her son).

Kevin Whately and Celia Imrie

So, why am I not aquiver with anticipation for the new series?

When Showtime (Homeland), AMC (Breaking Bad) and HBO (Boardwalk Empire) in the States, along with the Danish and Swedish networks (The Killing, The Bridge) – damnit, even Israeli TV looks worth a peek at the moment (Prisoners of War) – when all these are all producing such riveting and original series, it’s hard to get worked up about Kevin Whately’s 26th year playing Lewis (if you include the Morse years).

Let’s have a crime series that’s daring
OK, a lot of people love Lewis (a hefty 6.3 million watched series 5), and it sells everywhere from Russia to the Middle East. Despite this, Colin Dexter, the creator of Lewis‘s guvnor Inspector Morse who still has input with the spin-off, caused a rumpus in this week’s Radio Times by saying, ‘They’ll probably do one more series.’

This prompted ITV to say it is ‘committed to Lewis‘ and series 7 goes into production next month. But even if Lewis did retire, there is a new series of Endeavour for fans to look forward to, but good luck to these staples, so long as there is an audience for them.

But against what to me is the homegrown Mogadon of same old, same old – Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Lewis, New Tricks – it would be deliriously intoxicating to see ITV and the Beeb sometime soon stepping out of the comfort zone of the past hits and formats to produce a crime drama that is an intelligent, ballsy, 10- or 20-part epic.

Cast: Kevin Whately DI Robert Lewis, Laurence Fox DS James Hathaway, Clare Holman Dr Laura Hobson, Rebecca Front Ch Supt Innocent, Oliver Johnstone Vincent Vega/Simon Dawkins, Daisy May Mia Wallace/Isobel Strong, Nadine Lewington Liv Nash, Paul Jerricho Mr Atkins, Alex Jennings Rev Conor Hawes, Celia Imrie Michelle Marber, Matilda Ziegler Helena Wright, Richard Durden John Gracey, James Fleet Dr Alex Falconer, Lotte Rice Kirsty, Annabel Mullion Verity Falconer 

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