In their quest to earn all they can from Colin Dexter’s charismatic creation, ITV now have two spin-off series of Inspector Morse running simultaneously. Lewis is the first. The second, which has recently aired its second season, is Endeavour, charting Morse’s early career in the 1960s.
For anyone who has seen either of the earlier series – or indeed, any of ITV’s other crime series such as Midsomer Murders – the format of Endeavour is immediately familiar. A crime is committed, usually a murder. The killer inevitably strikes again at least once, though sometimes the body count can be truly tremendous. Morse, working here with Detective Inspector Thursday, has a two hour timeslot in which to figure out whodunit and why.
So as the series wraps up its second season, the real question is this: if it’s much the same as we’ve seen before, is it really worth watching? Has enough been done to make it worth watching it for two precious hours every week?
At first glance, you might think not. But I’ve somewhat unfairly pointed out Endeavour’s similarities to other detective shows and not its differences. And those differences are what completely change the answer.
John Thaw’s portrayal of Endeavour Morse will be known and considered iconic by many, and picking up the reins in the prequel is an almighty task. Shaun Evans, however, really and truly shines in the role. He combines a remarkable sensitivity with grit and determination; the character wavers with doubt and finds new strength and resilience from that doubt. His performance is an arresting one, intriguing and enchanting in equal measure.
Roger Allam is the other half of the show as Inspector Thursday, and where he could easily be outshone by his young protégé, he is given full life of his own. Never reduced to the mere roles of sidekick or superior, Thursday is a full-fleshed character as worthy of attention as Morse. The past he must come to terms with in the episode “Sway” is almost as engrossing as the main mystery.
Evans and Allam really drive the show, and without them it wouldn’t work. Midsomer Murders recently replaced DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) with DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) without missing a step. Take Morse and Thursday out of Endeavour, however, and you take away what makes it great.
This is the story of Morse’s early life. More so than other detective shows, that life is a vital part of the story.
With many of ITV’s crime dramas, you can miss an episode here and there and it won’t affect future episodes. While this is still somewhat true of Endeavour, overarching narratives play a much bigger – and more important – role.
The recurring plot of season 2 has seen evident corruption among the police force. This has helped to give it a thread of consistency, and when it all came to a heady climax in the final episode “Neverland”, it was all the more potent for it. The danger seemed deeper and more real, the defeats were graver and the victories harder won.
Overall, Endeavour feels cleverer and more cohesive than its counterparts. It has a wonderful 1960s noir feel to it, which the theme of corruption only adds to. Thursday swanks around wearing a fedora and everyone has a cigarette hanging out the corner of their mouth. Under this gloss, even the grit seem classier.
Season 1 opened the premise well, and the second has continued where it left off, raising the stakes and the tension. A cut above ITV’s other detective dramas, Endeavour is a classy series which augments the mythos of Inspector Morse rather than just being a spin-off. Roll on season 3.