My Contemporary British TV Detectives

Inspector, Find Thyself

Inspector, Find Thyself

Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately) isn’t what you’d call lucky. As the sidekick in Inspector Morse, Lewis was a beat-up, working-class dad/husband/copper with baggy cheeks who, for 13 seasons, played straight man to Morse’s older, wiser, eccentric genius.

Then Morse died and Lewis got a promotion and his own show, Lewis, to keep solving murder cases in Oxford, the university town he dislikes. You’d think they’d let Lewis to retire to Newcastle, but no. At the start, his wife’s killed in a car accident. And his children virtually disappear once the new show begins. Instead, Lewis is saddled with Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) for a sidekick—a younger, smarter, eccentric dreamboat. 

But Lewis wouldn’t be Lewis without grist. On Morse, he was the underdog, and nearly always stole the show, earning him the number four slot on my list of favorite detectives. In the latest season of Lewis, which is currently running on PBS, he’s still the underdog, but now he’s in charge.

As the boss, Lewis is adrift and confused—he seems confused from the beginning to the end of every episode. Thankfully, it’s not the cheap confusion that’s frequently assigned to older male characters—finding their thumbs and minds too arthritic to operate a cellphone—but something deeper. Lewis is unsure of himself. He barely seems to solve cases. He could have almost anything he wants, including the attractive coroner, but he’s lost. Perhaps when sidekicks earn their capes, leaping over buildings no longer seems so attractive.

It should be said that Kevin Whately, who plays Lewis, at all times appears completely sure and in command of his excellence. Maybe next season Lewis’s producers will retire him to a beer garden; Lewis has no other hobbies that we’ve been shown. We’ll see. In the meantime, he’ll plod through murder plots with a three-victim minimum—why does the contemporary two-hour British mystery demand that a minimum of three people die? Could this, plus whites-mainly casting, be the evidence of Midsomers domination?—while Laurence Fox pouts, smokes, and smolders, wondering how Benedict Cumberbatch stole away all his fans.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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