Thursday, June 28, 2012

Endeavour: the Young Inspector Morse

Consider it a portrait of the curmudgeon as a young man.  Inspector Morse would make a name for himself as the prickly but refined Chief Inspector with a taste for opera and poetry.  However, in 1965, Endeavour Morse was an Oxford drop-out just hoping to catch on with the Thames Valley force after a stint in the military.  His first case will be difficult, bringing him back to his former college in Endeavour (promo here), the one-off Inspector Morse prequel, premiering this coming Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.

Mary Tremlett, a local school girl, has been murdered and her former lover, an Oxford student, has committed suicide.  It is supposed to look like an open-and-shut affair, but the details do not quite fit.  Constable Morse’s inquiry leads him to the faculty member tutoring Tremlett (under questionable circumstances), who happens to be married to Morse’s favorite opera diva.

Though preoccupied on several fronts, Morse doggedly follows the clues leading to sleazy car dealer with half the force in his pocket.  To proceed, he will need the career-risking assistance of his prospective mentor, the somewhat Morse-like Detective Inspector Fred Thursday, who drives a Jaguar and has little patience for his colleagues’ corruption.

For a television mystery, Endeavour is fairly successful misdirecting viewers, despite dropping some fairly obvious clues.  It also comes fully approved and vouched for, featuring a cameo appearance from Morse author Colin Dexter, as well as Abigail Thaw, the daughter of the late John Thaw (the star of the original Morse series), appearing briefly as the editor of the Oxford newspaper.  Frankly, it seems strange that Endeavour was initially produced as a one-shot, much like the Morse spin-off, Inspector Lewis, but in each case, the viewers have clearly spoken.  A full four episode season of Endeavour is reportedly already in the works.

In his eponymous first outing, Shaun Evans looks appropriately awkward and earnest as Constable Morse, but it will be interesting to see how the character and his performance evolve over time.  Indeed, it is easy to understand how this early case would appreciably contribute to his disillusionment.  Fortunately, Roger Allam (who once played a suspect on the flagship Inspector Morse) provides plenty of color as the flamboyant but principled DI Friday.  The only real weaknesses on Constable Morse’s maiden voyage are his suspects, who are a rather bland lot, in an English upper crust sort of way.

Sure to please the preexisting base, Endeavour should also appeal to viewers of PBS period dramas.  There is definitely a sense of nostalgia here that should help the prequel series establish its own discrete identity.  An entertaining feature length murder mystery that has plenty of potential for growth (again, much like Lewis before it), Endeavour is easily recommended for Brit TV fans when it airs this Sunday (7/1) on most PBS stations nationwide.