Appellate Judge James A. Stewart remembers typewriters.
What do you do when the star of your detective show—in the case of Inspector Morse, John Thaw—dies? You could do a sequel series with a co-star, such as Inspector Lewis. You could also reboot, with a younger actor playing the neophyte Morse in a period piece. Endeavour does just that, with Shaun Evans as the literally just-off-the-bus Endeavour Morse, starting his career in Oxford in 1965.
Facts of the Case
Endeavour: Series 1 features five TV movies on three discs:
• "Girl"—Morse becomes interested in an epileptic woman while investigating the case of a woman too young to have a heart attack. He turns to the periodic table for inspiration.
• "Rocket"—At least the coppers can rule out Her Royal Highness, who's in Oxford for trade talks, in the murder of a rocket fuselage assembler.
The pilot sets the scene for Endeavour right away, with characters listening to news of the Vietnam War on the BBC Light Programme, which was still lit in 1965. Peace and anti-monarchy protests turn up in two episodes. Constable Endeavour Morse's duties include a lot of typing, which reminds us that in the '60s, they still used typewriters. One would expect that a lot of coppers go to university now, but Morse is derided at first as a "college boy." A few such hints keep the story grounded in the '60s, although the emphasis is still on detection, not nostalgia.
Shaun Evans' version of the character works hard, coming in early and staying late, yet looks like he's lost in a daydream as he looks out a bus window in the opener. He's not so dedicated in the pilot; he's already failed at the Royal Signals, and he's ready to throw in the towel as a copper within days of turning up at Oxford. His tenacity and eagerness to rise through the ranks—he's keen on detective work and studying to be a sergeant—is quickly evident, though. An eye for the ladies plays a role in his demotion to general duties.
Personal quirks about the young erudite detective play a large role in the stories—at times, too coincidentally so—but the show is always entertaining. The most effective combination of personal quirk and detection comes as Morse chases an operatic serial killer in "Fugue." It's helped by creepy twists, such as a kidnapping that turns out to be a red herring, making for an intense, moody story. The story also takes full advantage of the series' operatic score.
There are some broadly dropped hints about the future Inspector Morse, most notably an injury that could produce a limp later. However, I've seen little of Inspector Morse, so I came into Endeavour relatively fresh. It still works well as a detective thriller.
Most notable among the supporting cast is Roger Allam as Inspector Fred Thursday, Morse's mentor. Since the show is Endeavour, the veteran policeman plays a sometimes unlikely second fiddle to the show's star, but Allam gets a good turn in "Home," as he mulls a violent solution to a problem. It shows Thursday as a good copper, albeit one who keeps a lot inside, not sharing with either his wife or his young partner willingly.
The show is too dark for younger children, but at the same time, the emphasis on clues such as the periodic table or poetry might be something that makes it good for, say, teenagers. Even if no one ever believes me, an intelligence about the stories was as least as much a part of my youthful interest in British TV as a catsuited Emma Peel.
The quality of PBS' 1.78:1 standard def widescreen transfer and Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is strong but not spectacular, as befitting a recent British production. There are no extras, although the pilot is billed as one.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The emphasis on Shaun Evans' young Endeavour Morse leaves Endeavour a little unrealistic at times, since the neophyte police typist solves all the cases. Given the premise of shaping a young detective, the series would do better to use the ensemble cast more.
There are commercials—er, underwriter spots—from the public TV broadcast at the start of every episode. A few British commercials we haven't seen (Not too many, of course!) might have been more entertaining.
Endeavour works hard to be fresh, although it doesn't stretch the familiar whodunnit and procedural formulas. I'd definitely recommend it if you're at all into British detective shows, although I'd check for episodes online or even on actual television, something that was popular back in 1965.
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