Endeavour, Episode 1,
14 April on ITV
Lewis may have gone for a rest, but the third opera of the Morse cycle is back for a full series and it’s not just marking time until ITV can get away with commissioning Hathaway. But rather than following the next generation of deductive minds, we’re skipping back one to Morse’s first days in Oxford CID.
The constants are here: the opening montage, classical music and academic allusions. The franchise has always been ‘intellectual’ in a very ITV way, the characters must be educated because they listen to classical music, use Latin phrases and went to a natty university, but that’s also its strength.
The atmosphere is one of intelligence, but the mysteries are solid and don’t sacrifice plot in favour of high-mindedness. It’s a Sunday evening, this is ITV and you want a good mystery, not Swedes having crises of masculinity. Leave that to BBC Four.
Morse the character is a conduit for this. An Oxbridge dropout, he has the capacity for intellectual engagement but is not divorced from the common experience of life. It’s what sets him apart from so many of those he investigates: the dons, doctors and poetic undergraduates whose analytical or poetic mind-sets frame all life in the vernacular of Homeric odysseys, periodic calculus or Lewisian fantasy.
To any guest cast in Morse, Lewis or Endeavour, the rigours of justice look like the crude demands of a philistine. That it is these people who so often form the cadre of suspects is a satisfying twist on the Promethean archetype of the hero: Morse is the fallen god come back to burst some Olympian egos.
But in Endeavour we have a Morse who is yet to fully realise that ability. He is less certain in his questions, but already has the streak of individualism that makes him equally ill-suited to the hierarchies of the police as academia. He wants to listen to Wagner and solve murders, and doesn’t want his ‘superiors’ telling him what he should be thinking about either.
Those high-ups take the form of Roger Allam and Anton Lesser. Both have the sort of demeanour that can play rough-but-acceptable or posh-but-relatable depending on how you frame them: here, Allam goes for the former, while Lesser takes something approaching the latter.
Perhaps Lesser’s ruthless superintendent works a little too hard to mark the difference between the imagined, proper postwar period and the far-from-revolutionary revisionism the murders themselves present; The decade of Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home and The L-Shaped Room is quite capable of critiquing itself.
That is, however, a minor quibble. The vintage cars and choice LPs add period flavour, and gives ITV a replacement for Heartbeat as well as Lewis in these belt-tightening times, but Endeavour is comfortingly familiar. Sticking to the formula has paid off in this case and Morse is a franchise that is very happily extended. Oh, and he stills gets his obligatory moment of inadvertent revelation, LEWIS!