PBS' 'Masterpiece Mystery': Inspector Lewis returns

Masterpiece-Mystery-Inspector-Lewis.jpgIf you missed last week's premiere of the new batch of "Inspector Lewis" episodes on PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery," you weren't alone. Pledge drives pre-empted "Counter Culture Blues" in some markets, including Chicago.

But while you still have time to catch that episode online ( PBS.org), don't miss Sunday's second episode, "The Dead of Winter" (9 p.m. Eastern, Sept. 5, but check your local listings).

The "Lewis" franchise is an extension of the popular "Inspector Morse" series, after the death of both the character Morse and the actor who played him, John Thaw. Thames Valley (UK) Police Inspector Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately) is out from under the shadow of the legendary Morse and has his own No. 2, the enigmatic Sgt. James Hathaway (Laurence Fox).

In "The Dead of Winter," we learn a little of Hathaway's past when he and Lewis are dispatched to an Oxford country estate that may have been the scene of a murder. Hathaway lived on the estate as a child, wedged somewhere between upstairs and downstairs, and his old relationships threaten to become entwined with the murder investigation. But Lewis isn't about to let that happen, even as he continues to grieve for his late wife and take tentative steps toward a possible romance with medical examiner Laura Hobson (Clare Holman).

The team of Lewis and Hathaway lacks the feistiness and occasional flashes of brilliance of Morse and Lewis. But we do get plenty of the familiar class conflicts between inspector and sergeant. There's a welcome hint of Morse in Hathaway's Cambridge-educated theology-student-turned-detective, and Lewis is still a bit of a likeable plodder. Together, though, they always get their man.

Longtime "Mystery" fans will be amused in the episode's opening scenes, when a familiar face turns up during a historical re-enactment of an English Civil War skirmish. Nathanial Parker (Inspector Lynley in a different "Mystery" series) guests as one of the history buffs who winds up on the wrong end of a loaded musket.

"The Dead of Winter" will be followed by three more "Inspector Lewis" episodes, "Dark Matter" Sept. 12, "Your Sudden Death Question" Sept. 19, and "Falling Darkness" Sept. 26. Next up: Three new episodes of "Wallander," beginning Oct. 3.

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Photo credit: PBS