Diverting if utterly disposable, "Masterpiece Mystery" kicks off its summer season with three installments of the "Inspector Morse" spinoff "Inspector Lewis," featuring Kevin Whately as the down-to-earth detective.
Diverting if utterly disposable, “Masterpiece Mystery” kicks off its summer season with three installments of the “Inspector Morse” spinoff “Inspector Lewis,” featuring Kevin Whately as the down-to-earth detective. It’s old-fashioned fun for those pining for “Murder, She Wrote,” distinguished by the nice rapport between the title character and his buttoned-down sidekick. What’s more, no one can accuse “Lewis” of pandering in the name of mass consumption: The premiere’s riddle is steeped in Greek mythology.Having cut his teeth at Morse’s side, Lewis subsequently moved centerstage while still smarting from his wife’s death in a hit-and-run accident. Not that such baggage should interfere with his day job, which in the opener finds him wrestling with a murder he quickly links to a onetime association of college friends who pretentiously dubbed themselves “Sons of the Twice-Born.” Teamed with the erudite, almost Spock-like Det. Hathaway (Laurence Fox), Lewis seeks a mystery woman who may be responsible for the killings while attempting to unravel how references to the Grecian god Dionysus and the philosophy of Nietzsche figure into the plot. The second case sees Lewis protecting a notorious computer hacker with powerful enemies — and sharing a past with a victim’s wife — while the final chapter begins with an unusual suicide by a soccer mom. Lewis is no Sherlock Holmes, but as played by Whately, he’s a dogged pursuer of the facts, and there’s a refreshingly no-frills quality to the proceedings — underscored by the extended, methodical interrogation of a suspect in the first movie. Mostly, the entire “Masterpiece” franchise and its “Mystery” subset (introducing Alan Cumming as its new host, with further adventures of “Foyle’s War” and “Inspector Lynley” on deck) stand out for their decidedly old-school charms — in keeping with PBS’ role of catering to underserved audience segments under the age of 5 and over 55. In short, these mysteries feel unabashedly designed for an older audience that doesn’t require whooshing computer graphics to sit through a crime drama.