Inspector Lewis, Series I

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Airdate: 9-10:30 p.m. Sunday, June 22 (WNET New York).

Fans of the late John Thaw's portrayal of curmudgeonly English detective Inspector Morse should enjoy the return of his formerly bland sidekick, DI Lewis (Kevin Whately). The clever updating of the series, still dealing with homicide in the urban wilds of Oxford, also seems designed to cultivate new viewers.

The first three episodes in the series, presented on successive Sunday nights by PBS under its "Masterpiece Mystery!" aegis, demonstrates that Whately can shoulder the load. The character of Lewis also is given more responsibility: He is embarking on a formal educational regimen, and his musical tastes are beginning to incorporate the operatic repertoire of which Morse was so fond. In addition, Lewis, who recently lost his wife to a hit-and-run driver, finds himself increasingly if incongruously irresistible to some vixenish members of the opposite sex.

The mystery in the first episode, which involves, as all three episodes do, an abundance of convoluted clues and obvious suspects, concerns the serial murders of members of an academic cult devoted to the Greek god of revelry.

As Lewis' coolly brilliant and daring assistant, Laurence Fox makes impenetrability seem a highly desirable, even sensual trait. Like Thaw and Whately in the previous series, the interplay between the two anchors some surprisingly fast-paced plot development and crime-solving. The supporting cast is superb, with each actor painting a compelling portrait of someone who just might have committed the foul crimes.

Among the new regulars, Clare Holman makes an adorable medical examiner, and Rebecca Front serves indomitably as the precinct's highly volatile supervisor.

As always, the photography of Oxford and its environs are as delicious to consume as a travelogue, while Barrington Pheloung's low-key music is pungently atmospheric. Four more episodes, comprising "Inspector Lewis, Series II," are tentatively scheduled to air next summer.

Production: Granada and WGBH Boston. Cast: Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox, Sasha Behar, Richard Lintern, Crispin Redman, Clare Holman, Anna Massey, Rebecca Front.
Director: Marc Jobst. Writer: Daniel Boyle. Executive producers: Michele Buck, Ted Childs, Rebecca Eaton, Damien Timmer.


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