Monday, 2 January 2012

Endeavour: review

Endeavour, shown this evening on ITV, is a relative rarity in detective fiction, a prequel. You can guess from the title that it concerned the early days of Colin Dexter's much-loved Inspector Morse. We have, of course, seen attempts at the early life of Sherlock Holmes, although as yet we've been spared stories about the youthful exploits of Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple (though, who knows, perhsaps some TV mogul somewhere is even now thinking about suitably inappropriate casting ideas.)

The first question I asked myself before watching was: do we really need a prequel? It is clearly a money-spinner, but does it really add anything to our appreciation of the character? After all, there are plenty of excellent books (and also some written by me!) that it would be good to see on TV, yet which are unlikely to make the small screen any time soon. You can argue that it's a pity that TV companies prefer the safe, the tried and tested, to taking a risk with something unfamiliar. And, joking and personal bias apart, I do think this is a pity. But it's also commercial reality. TV is a business, and the Morse franchise has been hugely successful. Artistically succesful, too. What's more, although I was initially resistant to the concept of Lewis, I've found it so entertaining that I've become a real fan. So I was more than ready to set aside instinctive prejudice against the concept.

My conclusion is that the experiment was definitely worthwhile. Russell Lewis, the scriptwriter, did an extremely good job (again I find myself doing a bit of teeth-gnashing, since although I've never met him, Russell Lewis was once mooted as a prospective scriptwriter for a TV version of the Harry Devlin stories, which more than once were the subject of an options deal that never turned into something that was filmed.) In particular, I liked the nods to the original stories - not just the cameo appearance of Colin Dexter, or the casting of Abigail Thaw, daugher of the irreplaceable John, but various neat bits of scripting. Oxford, of course, remains one of the most photogenic of settings for a classic mystery.

Shaun Evans did a decent job of the very difficult task of playing young Morse. I also very much liked Roger Allam's performance as his boss, Inspector Thursday. As for the whodunit plot, it followed a formula familiar to Morse fans. I shall say no more! But it was entertaining from start to finish.

The big question now is whether Endeavour will prove to be a pilot for a series. I have mixed feelings, for the reasons I've mentioned. But I did enjoy this show, and I certainly wouldn't bet against our seeing more stories about Morse's early career before too long.

One final thought. I remember clearly watching the very first episode of Inspector Morse. Apparently it was back in 1987, four years before I had a mystery of my own published. Talk about time flying...

15 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for this review. I'm glad you found this prequel worth a look. In general I completely share your views about prequels, so it's good to hear this one was well done.

Megan Adamson said...

I don't think I've ever sat and watched a whole episode of Inspector Morse, let alone watch tonight's Endeavour, but saying that, I think I remember an early Poirot and how he got his silver button-hole holder from a woman that he helped when he was an ordinary policeman in Belgium.
A very interesting and amusing post!

Jae said...

Sad to say it was reported last March that Disney purchased the rights to develop contemporary Miss Marple adaptations, set in the US, with none other than Jennifer Garner tapped for the titular role. My reaction to that news was far different than the reaction I had to the news of Endeavour.

It will be a few months before Endeavour airs on PBS here in the US but, as with Sherlock, I'm very much looking forward to it.

Katie said...

You're clearly far better qualified to comment on crime dramas than me, and I enjoyed the programme. But it did strike me as feeling rather similar to the episodes of 'Lewis' that I've seen. It would be a shame if a series was commissioned just as a formulaic means of extending the 'Lewis' franchise, with the addition of a few beehives hairstyles and sheepskin coats.
Less critically, I love what they do with Oxford in all the 'Morse' programmes: make use of the wonderful architecture but mix it up to create an alternative reality that's far from twee.

Fiona said...

We watched Endeavour and enjoyed it enormously...are we the only couple in England who have never seen an episode of Morse or Lewis, I wonder? My husband wanted to watch because we know the owner of most of the classic cars shown on the dealer's forecourt (though fortunately not the one which had its windows smashed!) and we found it such an absorbing and entertaining production that we're hoping for a full series and also now intend to watch the originals.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for your comments.
Megan, thank you. I looked at your blog and was sorry to read about Emily.
Jae - thanks. I'm optimistic you'll like both shows. Share your view about Ms Garner's casting.
Katie, I agree. There is a certain plot device, involving the nature of the murderer, that has been used many times and was used again last night. But very well done, all the same.
Fiona, the originals may have dated a bit, but they were masterly in their day, and you have treats in store.Interesting about the cars!

Bill Carlin said...

I look forward to watching this on the basis of your review, Martin. Totally agreed with your assessment of "Sherlock" also. Best wishes for 2012 and thanks for producing a consistently excellent blog.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Bill. Will you be at Crimefest this year?

Big Al said...

I have watched Morse from the very beginning, read all the books (including the short stories) and enjoy Lewis so was really looking forward to this. Glad to say it really hit the spot.
To those who haven't seen either Morse or Lewis it would still have been a greatly entertaining piece of drama but when you know the stories & films inside out (as I do) you see all the links to characters which appear in the other series (Max, Alex, Susan etc) and it really added to the 'feel' of the film.
Being born & bread in Oxford I still like to spot locations and chuckle when they are driving down dead-end streets, are in the wrong part of town (or even a different town entirely!) but it all adds to the enjoyment I get from these fine pieces of entertainment.

Bring on the series so I can add it to my DVD collection!

Hannah Dennison said...

Great review - I look forward to ENDEAVOUR airing in the US. Jennifer Garner as a contemporary Miss Marple? Really? As a Brit who lives in Los Angeles all I can do is groan. And yes, I echo Bill Carlin's comment. Love your blog.

Jae said...

In some ways, the recent direction taken or planned for all three shows: Endeavour, Sherlock and Miss Marple, is very similar. Introduce a well-known character at an earlier time in his life which will (I assume) show the development of some of his more memorable behaviors and characteristics or introduce an iconic character in another century, demonstrating the parallels between centuries through that character's quirks and intellect. In each of these cases, only one major element is changed, when it takes place. The essence of the characters, the locations and the types of stories they engage in remain the same so the changes are comfortable and even anticipated. My reservations with the proposed Miss Marple adaptations isn't with Jennifer Garner, who is a decent actress. It's with the number of changes being suggested in what appears to be an attempt to make something that is already successful more commercial to a younger audience. Age, era and country being changed which also means the character loses nearly all identification with who she is and what she represents. The only thing left is her name at which point it seems that might as well be changed too and something original developed. That's not to say the adaptation can't be done. Just that it is more difficult with such an internationally familiar character. There are numerous shows adapted for US television that originated in the UK and vice versa, Romeo and Juliet became West Side Story. Using another angle, the Agatha Christie books inspired the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies as well as the many variations of And then There were None. Assuming it gets through production, I'll watch despite my reservations because I love a good mystery... and I hope it does turn out to be good.
A good mystery is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog. Through it, I've discovered and rediscovered writers and entertainment I might not have come across otherwise. So, thank you.

Bill Carlin said...

Sorry to say that I don't think I'll make it to Crimefest this year. My wife, Anne, has been ill and needs some follow-up treatment which doesn't finish until June. Thinking about Harrogate later in the year.

aguja said...

Wishing you a happy and productive year ahead, Martin!

Nan said...

I'm so glad to hear it was good. It is supposed to head over this way. I had a thought as I read your wonderful piece - that if John Thaw has lived maybe we wouldn't be so needy for more Morse. One of the more touching parts of Lewis is when Morse is referred to. I don't think it would feel the same if JT were alive.

I actually think Lewis is better than Morse was. Hathaway and Lewis are a wonderful team.

There are so many mystery series which seem to me to be good candidates for a visual version - Deborah Crombie's comes to mind, and Laurie R. King's. Sometimes it just takes years, so there's hope for your fine work as well.

Martin Edwards said...

Again, thanks very much for your comments. It's interesting to see how popular Lewis has become.
Jae, many good points there, well made. Glad you like the blog.