Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fancy A Pint Sir?: Musings on Morse and Lewis

I became an avid viewer of Morse (ITV, 1987-1993, 1995-2000) after I saw and fell in love with it after seeing the first episode of the series, "The Dead of Jericho", on PBS probably sometime in 1987. I loved Morse's intelligence. I adored its literariness. Unlike so much on American television I learned something every time I watched an episode of Morse. I loved the central characters of the bright, cynical, yet romantic, and very lonely Oxford educated Morse (John Thaw) and his rough-hewn down to earth Geordie partner Lewis (Kevin Whately). I adored the quality of its writing and its acting. I loved that it was set in the beautiful leafy college town of Oxford. I loved the fact that so many of the murderers committed in Oxford were by its dons, its academics. I was saddened when Morse died in 2000, bringing the show to and end, and John Thaw died two years later. But I was delighted when ITV and PBS's Masterpiece brought a little bit of Morse back to us viewers in 2007 thanks to the Morse spin-off series Lewis (ITV, 2007-2013).

As was the case with Morse I became an avid watcher of Lewis through its seven series, the last airing this year. Recently I rewatched every earlier episode of Lewis thanks to the series one through six ITV box set I recently purchased and an all region DVD player. The reasons why I initially watched and loved Lewis are much the same as the reasons I watched and loved Morse. Like Morse Lewis was superbly crafted by a host of writers Stephen Churchett, Russell Lewis, and Alan Plater amongst them. As with Morse I learned some new obscure reference to some historical and literary fact every time I watched Lewis. Lewis like Morse assumed I was intelligent and that it didn't need to ignore my mind's intellectual functions in order to get me to watch it. Like Morse Lewis was superbly acted down to its minor recurring characters like Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) and Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front of The Thick of It Fame, another one of those British actors who can so easily and superbly jump from comedy to drama to tragedy) and its guest stars (far too many to list). Like Morse Lewis had a wonderful and memorable old school musical score by Barrington Pheloung). Like Morse I loved the main characters of Lewis, Lewis and his somewhat Morse like brilliant former Cambridge Theology student partner James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). I loved the repartee between the two, the portrayal of their developing and caring relationship with each other, and the tidbits that we learned about their back stories as the series progressed. As with Morse I loved the fact that it was set in Oxford, a city that reminds me so much of the gorgeous college town where I did my undergraduate work, Bloomington, Indiana, that we got to see some of that Oxford, and that most of the murders in Oxford, or at least the ones Lewis and Hathaway investigated, were committed by Oxford's mostly arrogant dons or its arrogant sense of entitlement elite going to bes. As with Morse I loved how Lewis took its time to get to the dénouement of who the murderer was and that it showed us viewers the intellectual work that went into solving the intellectual puzzle of the most recent Oxford murder. It is, as characters in Lewis occasionally say, Oxford after all. As with Morse I loved how Lewis jumped effortlessly from comedy to drama to deep tragedy.

Like many other lovers of British television and British detective fiction I have been avidly awaiting with some trepidation what appears to be the last Lewis's ever made, Lewis's that are running on PBS's mystery summer this year. I liked the first episode of series seven of Lewis, the two part "Down Among the Fearful", a two-parter which is being broadcast as a one parter on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery and which has no doubt been slightly cut as were previous episodes of Lewis on PBS to make it fit into the Masterpiece time slot. The second two part episode, again being broadcast as a one-parter on PBS, "The Ramblin Boy", was a bit odd, however. I don't ever recall being so aware of who the murderer really was during the opening act of the series as I was with "The Ramblin' Boy". Nor do I ever recall an episode of Lewis that seemed so hurried as this one was. It did tie up some loose character development ends, Lewis and Hobson finally get the romance many of us viewers were hoping they would. From the evidence of these two episodes I have to say that it is probably a good time for Lewis to go out, going out on a high note leaving many of us in the viewer audience wanting for more before it gets too tired and clichéd like one of those American television that goes on long after it has become less than fresh because it makes money for the commercial networks. It is still clear from series seven that Lewis, like Morse before it, was one of the finest television programmes or films, at least in my opinion, to ever grace the small or big screen in my lifetime.

In a way, of course, those of us who loved Morse and Lewis still have something to look forward to, Endeavour (ITV, 2012-), a prequel to Morse that takes us back to Morse's early days on the force and whose pilot episode, which I saw on PBS last year, was excellent. I am eagerly anticipating the first series (and hopefully many series to come). Endeavour, by the way, is part of the mystery summer PBS lineup along with Lewis and the most recent series of the excellent Foyle's War.

I want to end this brief blog with an appropriately heretical sentence. I like Lewis as much if not more than I liked Morse.

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