Endeavour, PBS

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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PBS Masterpiece Mystery!
Starring Shaun Evans as Detective Constable Endeavour Morse
Created by Colin Dexter, author of the Morse books, and the series’ plots and characters
Screenwriting by Russell Lewis
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Co-production of Mammoth Screen Ltd for ITV and Masterpiece
July 1, 2012; 9:00 pm ET/PT

Morse Lives! “Endeavour,” the new prequel to the legendary “Inspector Morse” series takes us back to the young rookie Constable Morse in 1965.

“Inspector Morse” aired on Masterpiece Mystery! from 1988 to 2001 and ended with the death of the Morse character. Its star, the late lamented John Thaw, died in 2002. During the 33-episode run, “Inspector Morse” was a heavily watched and admired series because of its excellent writing and ingenious plots by Colin Dexter, but also because Thaw brilliantly developed the iconic character of Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse.

Five years after Morse’s death, Sergeant Robbie Lewis (played by Kevin Whately), Morse’s subordinate in “Inspector Morse,” became Inspector Lewis in a new series starring a more Mature Kevin Whately. The success of that show, now in its fifth season, is boosted by Dexter’s skillful writing, and Lewis’ new sidekick, the young, cool, cerebral Cambridge graduate, Detective Superintendent James Hathaway (Laurence Fox).

These are descriptions of Morse and Lewis that SCA Schulman and I wrote in our 2010 piece, “The Use and Abuse of Grief in TV Detectives Series”:

“Morse is old school. He drinks early and often; he’s equal parts brilliance and irascibility; he neglects his health; he’s a melancholy loner. Morse just misses being a pure classic detective because he does occasionally make mistakes. Nevertheless, Morse is nearly a tragic figure, with his erudition competing with his undermining flaws and loneliness. Lewis, on the other hand, is Morse’s more modern counterpart, a stable family man who lacks Morse’s angst, intelligence and education.”

And now comes the prequel. The imaginative premise for this new PBS Masterpiece Mystery! series (more to come next year) is that we are back in the year 1965 as Oxford dropout, now rookie Constable Morse, is about to resign from his post. But when he and other rookies are brought to Oxford from a neighboring town to help search for a missing 15-year-old girl, Endeavour becomes fully engaged in the difficult case.

We watch him hone his deductive powers as the case devolves into a complex murder inquiry led by Morse’s new mentor, Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam, “The Queen”). A Jaguar owner and ale drinker, Thursday allows Endeavor to pursue his own obscure clues, which include first-edition poetry books and hidden crossword puzzles. Suspects abound — the girl’s boyfriends, an Oxford Don, a Jaguar salesman, various women and certain higher-ups.

Shaun Evans (“The Take,” “The Virgin Queen”) is outstanding in the title role. His Endeavour is edgy, with an incisive mind and a manner so neurotically insecure that he is lucky to be able to get to work on time. He portrays well the early development of Inspector Morse’s brilliance, remoteness and idiosyncrasies, but without Thaw’s piercing blue eyes.

If anything is wrong with “Endeavour,” it is that the foundation of the older Morse’s personality is presented with an overabundance of foreshadowing (the ale, the Jaguar, the opera, the crosswords). Nostalgic, but perhaps too heavy-handed. Ultimately, to succeed, “Endeavour” must stand on its own. And so far, so very good. Evans delivers a convincing and complex Morse; the story line is inventive and engrossing; and Oxford never looked better.
©Emily S. Mendel 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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