Sunday, August 4, 2013

Endeavour - Series 1

I am a fan of BBC's Sherlock. I live in the US, so I watch it on PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Since there are only three episodes of Sherlock each season, with year-long breaks in between, there is a lot of time spent waiting for it to come back. During that time, other British crime dramas have to fill the void. Detective Inspectors, Agatha Christie adaptations and mystery TV movies like Page Eight or The 39 Steps would keep me from going crazy while waiting, but recently, I realized: I'm doing it wrong! I should be really enjoying all these shows I use to "get by." I opened up to them, and they flooded in. Through Inspector Lewis, I was introduced to Endeavour from its beginning.

Endeavour takes place in the very early years of Inspector Morse's career. I've never actually seen any of Inspector Morse, but I know Lewis was his DS, and when the show ended, Lewis continued on with a promotion and his own show, and now with Endeavour, we're going back in time to see what shapes Morse into Morse.


The time is the mid-1960's, Oxford, England. Endeavour Morse is a young Detective Constable. He's introverted, sometimes awkward socially, and quite good at solving mysteries -- seeing connections where most see coincidence, and never cutting corners to close a case quickly. He is played by Shaun Evans, and I can tell you right now the majority of this review is going to be praise for this actor and the character he has inherited, which should be acceptable considering this show is just as much about the crime-solver as it is the crime.

Last year when the pilot movie aired on Masterpiece, I felt a little out of the loop not knowing the previously established characters, but I immediately liked Morse for one very particular reason; his countenance around a dead body. It's not wholly uncommon to see characters look away from a victim if it's particularly sad or gory; it lends the character sensitivity, but with Morse there's an obvious, but hard to pin-point difference. At a distance he stares intently, then turns sideways, no matter if it's gory or not -- and not in a "horrified, going to be sick" kind of way, but in a habitual way; sad and uncomfortable, but respectful. Instead of a gimmick to make us feel sympathy for the victim, it's a natural part of a character we're already identifying with, and the brief moment isn't wasted.


And that's just one of his many defining traits, but I think, my personal favorite. Morse is such a richly complex character, that when I watched series 1 over again to pick up any tidbits I'd missed, I instead was even more perplexed; not by the murder mystery, but in trying to fully understand the hero. His awkwardness bluntness and reserve make him easily misunderstood to some co-workers but the audience also sees his quality, romanticism, determination and loneliness and he becomes endearing. There are as many clues to his character as for the murder; no sideways glance or casual movement is meaningless. Even shot compositions complement the character; in group shots, he's sometimes out of place with everyone else synchronized; when he's featured, the composition is slightly too high or angled, or off center in the wrong direction... and it's perfect.

I couldn't find a picture to show my above point, so here's a picture of Morse and some coins. Just as good.

Since I haven't seen Inspector Morse, I judge these characters without prejudice, and little if any knowledge of their future incarnations, if they even have any. So I have no idea if Shaun Evan's Morse matches John Thaw's at all; all I know is that he does an incredible job with an incredibly complex character. Mannerisms and ticks and odd traits are wonderfully fleshed out and the entire character is set apart, but totally believable. Fred Thursday is the DI of the show though, and leads all the investigations. He's a goodhearted, knowledgeable leader, played by Roger Allam, and is one of few who actually likes Morse, but it's a tough love -- he gives good but sometimes difficult advice in Morse's best interest. We also see Thursday's family, which is a lovely touch. There's two regular antagonistic characters, Chief Superintendent Bright, (Anton Lesser) and DS Jakes. (Jack Laskey) CS Bright is a puny, cowardly authority with a temper, and a huge interest in wrapping up cases as quickly as possible, no matter if the right guy is arrested. Obviously, he doesn't care for Morse and his "find every speck of truth" attitude. Jakes' dislike of Morse stems more from envy, and he's not a wholly bad sort, just a bit of a self-absorbed grump. And PC Strange (Sean Rigby) is a nice chap, and a good, encouraging buddy for Morse.

Jakes, Morse, Bright and Thursday.

I still feel as though I'm new to British crime dramas because I still have to really pay attention to understand the plot. I like my American shows, but when my family watches them, we try to "call" the bad guy or plot twists as early as possible, and we're pretty good at it. Endeavour is so different though, that I don't even think to try and predict it. I spend all my mental efforts paying very close attention. The plots aren't too complicated; they keep you thinking, but by the end, you understand. Upon my second viewing though, I noticed there's usually enough clues to let someone possibly figure out the puzzle, not just guess it through predictability. (By the way, I look forward to a third viewing in the future.) I loved all four episodes, but I must say Fugue stands out as the best. I have a fondness for serial killer mysteries, but besides that, Fugue was exceptionally sharp and well made in general -- very intriguing, taut suspense, and even had some action.

So, in close, Endeavour is a rare high quality "triple threat" TV series; immaculately acted, cleverly and thoughtfully scripted, and artistically filmed, each complementary to the other two. At the complete opposite spectrum from a forty-five-minute drama flash-bang that has become the norm -- it's wonderfully refreshing, deep, and classy. I'm glad to have expanded my horizons to shows like this, but now I realize it doesn't solve my original waiting problem... in fact it doubles it. I guess I'll just have to learn to wait patiently. A hard task, but the payoff is always fully rewarding.

I'll leave off with my favorite quote of the series:
Morse: "I'm a good detective!" Thursday: "And a poor policeman! No one can teach you the first; any fool can learn the second."

3 comments:

  1. I have not seen it, but I am certainly interested in it now.

    -James

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    Replies
    1. If you like Sherlock you might very well like it, even though it doesn't have as much action and excitement as Sherlock does.

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    2. Oh, and I forgot to mention this in my post, but they are currently available to watch online on the Masterpiece site. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch-online/)

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