Much left to be de­sired in Morse­less Morse

Hath­away presents as be­ing a lit­tle thick, but there’s a wit be­neath

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Mark But­ler

I AM among a very small group of view­ers, made up of those who can­not re­call hav­ing watched a com­plete episode of In­spec­tor Morse , star­ring John Thaw as the scourge of crim­i­nals in and around the gen­teel Bri­tish univer­sity city of Ox­ford.

This may have some­thing to do with the fact that it was shown on the Seven Net­work in Aus­tralia, and I have made a life’s work out of not watch­ing com­mer­cial free- to- air TV if I can pos­si­bly man­age it.

So, In­spec­tor Morse fans should stop read­ing now. As far as I’m con­cerned, Lewis is a new show, even if it does star Kevin Whately as de­tec­tive in­spec­tor Robert Lewis, who was Morse’s off­sider for the life of the ear­lier se­ries, and de­spite that he is also sta­tioned in Ox­ford. In other words, this is In­spec­tor Morse with­out in­spec­tor Morse.

Based on this out­ing, which re­lies rather too heav­ily on a con­ceit built around the life, work and even the tomb of ro­man­tic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thaw’s charisma must have car­ried the pre­vi­ous show, be­cause the plot­ting and pac­ing of this one leave much to be de­sired.

There is also an odd sense of un­re­al­ity. When you have char­ac­ters ca­su­ally toss­ing off lines such as, ‘‘ This is Ox­ford. There’s a Shelley scholar on ev­ery street cor­ner’’, you know you have en­tered that spe­cial land where much Bri­tish crime on television takes place: usu­ally in a rural or re­gional area pop­u­lated by char­ac­ters first con­ceived by Agatha Christie, who seem to have a half- life ap­proach­ing that of plu­to­nium.

There is one char­ac­ter, how­ever, who leaps out of that tired pack: Nell Buck­ley, an Ox­ford Univer­sity stu­dent ( played with de­light­ful in­sou- ciance by Emily Beecham) who runs se­ri­ously mis­lead­ing tours of the cam­pus that in­clude de­tours to view the ‘‘ croc­o­dile- in­fested’’ river.

She ends her tours with a flour­ish and a backhander: ‘ Thank you for be­ing such a lovely au­di­ence. You’re a credit to Charles Dar­win.’’

Quite clearly she can’t be al­lowed to live, and she joins the body found in the Bodlean li­brary as tonight’s mys­ter­ies to be solved by DI Lewis who, it must be said, has all the charisma of a prison warder and seems more than usu­ally per­plexed for a po­lice­man. His off­sider, de­tec- tive sergeant James Hath­away ( Lau­rence Fox, the latest in a long line of thes­pian Foxes), has some prom­ise as a wise­cracker, how­ever.

He presents as be­ing a lit­tle thick, but there’s a wit be­neath, as when he avers blithely, ‘‘ I never stand in the way of schol­ar­ship.’’

Un­like Whately, Fox has screen pres­ence, so he may yet save his su­pe­rior. Al­though there was one glim­mer from Lewis, when mus­ing on Nell’s odd, with­drawn artist boyfriend: ‘‘ Can’t I say he’s a bit weird? Or dif­fer­ently nor­mal?’’

Morse cod­i­cil: Lau­rence Fox, left, and Kevin Whately in Lewis

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