by Brad Nelson 3/31/14
John Thaw starred as British detective Inspector Morse for twelve seasons, from 1987 to 2000. Morse is an intense, thorough, no-nonsense, but mild-mannered inspector who, according to the summary at IMDB.com, has “an ear for music, a taste for beer and a nose for crime.”
Morse and his trusted subordinate, Sergeant Lewis, tended to find the most interesting and bizarre cases…such are the necessities of a crime series destined for television. The plots tended to be convoluted and gadgety with so many twists and turns that it could be difficult to keep track of them. This seems to be true of the genre, in general.
So when you watch one of these detective series (whether Morse or Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect) you’re likely watching because of the interest and charisma of the main characters, not because the plots are all that well done. (I find that usually they are not, even in the best of crime dramas.)
John Thaw as Inspector Morse certainly fits the bill in terms of a compelling character (in a dry sort of way), plowing his way sometimes through plots so convoluted and constructed that they might make Agatha Christie blush. But through it all, Morse is Morse, and if you like Morse (I do) then you’re good to go.
If memory serves, that original Morse series ran its course with (small spoiler alert) Morse eventually dying from his ongoing heart ailment. So along with convoluted plots you got this dour element of realism….for a genre of TV that is already stretching it in terms of watchability. But Thaw still made it work.
By mere chance, I recently discovered that there is a two-season mini-series (four episodes each) streaming on Netflix chronically young Morse when he was just entering the force and hadn’t yet earned even his sergeant’s stripes. It’s called Endeavor.
Young DC Morse is played by Shaun Evans. And I was reluctant to take a chance on viewing this series because it has become de rigueur to cast in 20-something roles metrosexual yutes who typically wise-ass their way through their parts. We see this so often these days, including the truly atrocious portrayal of Sherlock Holmes by Robert Downey Jr. It’s as if today’s filmmakers are saying that it is impossible for them (or their viewers) to put themselves into the mindset of another person and place. Instead, they make historical figures our contemporaries (well, not mine, but you know what I mean).
Not only does this change the very nature of the characters, but it’s like an admission of societal narcissism — the idea that all things should always reflect our self-gratifying image of ourself. But isn’t the greatest aspect of fiction (let alone history) being able to walk in someone else’s shoes?
So I expected very little when I took a chance on this prequel series to Inspector Morse. And in some ways, I got what I expected. The actual plots of the two episodes that I have watched so far are typical of this genre and nothing at all special. But what a surprise to see that they didn’t cast young Morse as a modern metrosexual hipster-dufus girly-man, perhaps with tattoos running all up and down his arms while soap-boxing about the supposed dread of CO2.
Instead, Shaun Evans gives a rich, even complicated, performance of a 1950’s (or thereabouts) serious young Englishman with a sharp mind for code-cracking if not a particularly endearing personality (to his co-workers). He’s not a girly-man or an environmentally-squishy man. He’s a man. It seems almost inconceivable to me (there are six episodes left, so there is plenty of time to disappoint) that a series could be produced today in Britain that didn’t take on the socialist-secular-environmental-whacko ethos of the modern day. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t set this in the actual time period. Kudos to the filmmakers.
Young Morse (in a sort of role reversal compared to Lewis) is mentored by the truly likable DI Fred Thursday, played expertly by Roger Allam. These are your two primary characters in Endeavor, with a couple more satellite characters including Morse’s boss, who has a personality clash with him, and Morse’s peer rival who is simply jealous of him. This isn’t super-riveting TV, but it won’t insult your intelligence. And for me, that goes a long way.
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