Year Released: 2012
Starring: Shaun Evans, Roger Allam
(90 minutes per episode)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense
“One day I'll send you out for a routine inquiry and it'll turn out to be just that. But I won't hold my breath. You'd find something suspicious in a saint's sock drawer.” Detective Inspector Fred Thursday
Can a prequel ever better its original? Such is the case in Masterpiece Mystery’s "Endeavour,” about the early career of the curmudgeonly Inspector Morse first featured in that spot. Tender and sometimes tentative, the young constable is also unrelenting, awkwardly outspoken, and quite often downright brilliant. It’s something akin to seeing the colt Secretariat kicking up his young heels in the pasture.
As in the best of detective fiction, the detective himself is almost more interesting than the crimes he pursues. In fact, in many cases, the crime itself is merely a backdrop to highlight some aspect of young Endeavour Morse.
The name of the series itself is a kind of sly joke, since Morse himself used only his surname and kept his somewhat pretentious Christian name Endeavour a secret to almost everyone. He was apparently named after the ship HMS Endeavour by his Quaker mother in the virtue name tradition of her faith.
Maybe that’s the same type of British humor that now brings us Sherlock, another detective who usually went by his surname. In fact, it almost seems sacrilegious to call Holmes by his first name, but that is, after all, the whole slant of that reinvention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation .
We see in young Endeavour (Shaun Evans) some traits of his older counterpart. He loves opera, their arias blasting over the somber antiquity of the Oxford University, in opening sequences. And in fact, the Oxford dropout detective wades the precarious waters between “gown and town,” his working class roots underlying a finely tuned scholarly brain. Morse's knowledge of Latin and Italian combines with his vast knowledge of operas to track down a clever serial killer who stages his corpses as tragic opera deaths.
But Endeavour’s new mentor, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), of the working class himself, is somewhat skeptical of the academic life. In the pilot episode, the routine of police work prompts Endeavour to go back to finish school:
DC Endeavour Morse: I was thinking I might pack it all in. Pick up my degree.
DI Fred Thursday: The world's long on academics, Morse, but woeful short of good detectives.
DI Thursday sees Morse’s raw talent and nurtures it. And young Morse, whose own father is cold and distant, thrives under his tutelage. Thursday is alternately stern and solicitous, warning his protégé of the emotional damage that goes with the job.
DI Fred Thursday: Case like this will tear a heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.
DC Endeavour Morse: I thought I had found something.
DI Fred Thursday: Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home. Put your best record on. Loud as it'll play. And with every note, you remember: That's something the darkness couldn't take from you.
The supporting cast is excellent. Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) is the perfect antithesis to his name, a dull bureaucrat forever defending the safe status quo, threatened and jealous of young Morse and ready to stifle him at every turn. Unless Morse’s brilliance works to his advantage. Then it’s all simpering smiles and taking credit. Bright is usually seated at his desk, engulfed in a haze of cigarette smoke, unless he’s striding out with a veiled warning, his narrow chest puffed out like a particularly arrogant crow.
Detective Sargeant Jakes (Jack Laskey) is more akin to a weasel, his slicked back hair and easy manner making him attractive to naïve females. He can barely tolerate Morse, whom he knows is brighter and more respected by DI Thursday. With sidelong glances and barely concealed contempt he waits at the sidelines, hoping for Morse to make a mistake. And a few times, he does.
It’s no wonder, though, since the plots are very complex, sometimes excessively so, where two cases converge and the number of assorted suspects make our heads swim. That and deciphering the English as it’s spoken across the pond make for some confusion at times. It’s probably not the best to watch this late at night or accompanied by more than a single glass of wine, but I don’t want to spoil your fun. After all, it’s free on Amazon prime and you can always watch it again the next day.
Especially with our new smart TV, this dedicated movie buff is finding more reasons to stay home with the very affordable excellence available in streaming. The traditional movie theater and Hollywood’s predilection to lecture us with politically correct posturing when it’s not doing a remake that we know was better the first time, have curtailed my weekly movie theater jaunts by about half.
This fine British Masterpiece Mystery series is perfect for a date night at home. Enjoy.
There is no better place to talk over a case than the local Oxford pub, where dark pints of ale gleam with ambler delight. Sometimes in those lighter moments, the details of the case suddenly come together, or the more lurid details are finally washed away.
But a pint alone is not enough. Let’s cook up Morse and Thursday a dish in the great English pub tradition, some crispy Fish and Chips.
This recipe comes from Differnt Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook. The chapter is titled “Chief Inspector Morse’s Fish and Chips to Die For: Wagner, Wordsworth and Worldly Wenches,” concerns the adult Morse, duly promoted to a higher rank.
Fish and Chips to Die For
4 or 5 potatoes, cut lengthwise, into 1/2-inch strips
1 pound fish fillets, cut into 2 by 1 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vinegar
2/3 cup water
Malt or cider vinegar
Heat oil (2 to 3 inches) in deep fat fryer to 375. Fill basket 1/4 full with potatoes; slowly lower into hot oil. (If oil bubbles excessively, raise and lower basket several times.) Use long-handled fork to keep potatoes separated. Fry potatoes until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain potatoes; place in single layer on cookie sheet. Keep warm; repeat.
Pat fish dry with paper towels. Mix flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix baking soda and 1 tbsp vinegar. Stir vinegar mixture and water into flour mixture; beat until smooth. Dip fish into batter; allow excess batter to drip into bowl. Fry 4 or 5 pieces at a time until brown, turning once, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Set oven control to broil at 550 degrees. Broil potatoes 6 inches from heat until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with vinegar and salt.