Morse. Inspector Lewis. Endeavour. The Morseverse, in addition to its intricate mysteries and compelling detectives, is one of the most fertile mystery series (maybe even just TV series) in recent memory. Colin Dexter’s original run of thirteen books has generated three very successful series and Endeavour finished its fifth season run last week on PBS.
I can remember watching Morse’s final episode when it aired across the pond, dutifully tuned in for every episode of Inspector Lewis (and Hathaway), and re-bingewatched much of Endeavour in preparation for this latest season.
As an avid mystery reader and viewer, having an interesting crime puzzle is the primary quality of a solid detective show, for me at least. Endeavour rarely lets viewers down in this regard and season five has maintained, if not raised, this standard. Endeavour is written solely by Russell Lewis rather than a writers’ room, meaning the variations in characterization and overall quality that sometimes plague TV series have been largely smoothed over. Russell Lewis’s scripts are well constructed, so much so that rewatching his work (even when I remember whodunnit) remains engaging. The city of Oxford, with its neverending supply of academics and students, paired with Morse’s love of crossword puzzles and classical music, lends endless opportunities to embellish the average murder (or three, more likely).
Even more so than in Morse and Inspector Lewis, Endeavour’s characters stand as a lovely counterpoint to the macabre suspects and killers who crop up in its weekly cases.
- His Man Thursday: Roger Allam plays the family man detective Fred Thursday perfectly, even down to his reactions to his sandwich fillings— a long-running joke at this point. Sometimes gruff—even frightening when he needs to be—Thursday’s largely gentle mentorship of the too-clever-for-his-own-good Morse and the pair’s trusting camaraderie surpasses even that of the original Morse and Lewis. Allam’s and Shaun Evans’ ability to portray the emotional depth of their characters’ relationship without stating it explicitly creates a beautiful thread running throughout the series as a whole.
- He Should Be Named Anton Greater: Anton Lesser’s Chief Superintendent Bright has grown on me the most of any character over Endeavour’s five seasons. Initially, he seemed to be the ultra-conservative manager who didn’t “get” Morse’s genius. However, (and I think Lesser’s performance and Lewis’s writing share near equal credit for this) this season in particular has shown that, while he is part of the police force establishment, he is not unfeeling and in fact cares about his officers, even if his approach differs from both Thursday’s and Endeavour’s. Bright’s vulnerability (especially during his hospital visit last season) and his mentorship of WPC Trewlove have softened the harsh disciplinarian of the early seasons. His decision to resign after the death of one of his officers and the closing of their station in the season finale only reaffirmed his leadership role going forward as the characters presumably reassemble in a less official capacity to find PC George Fancy’s (Lewis Peek) killer next season.
- Trewlove, Please Don’t Leave Us!: Endeavour’s period setting has always increased its style quotient but recent seasons have seen the late 60’s providing even more atmosphere and historical context. The addition of Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards) in season four as the department’s first WPC (Women Police Constable) was a welcome one that shed new light on our series regulars and provided insight into changes in the force. This season, Trewlove faced more pointed misogeny while also showing skills that would make her Morse’s heir apparent (given the chance for promotion). She was also paired romantically with George Fancy (a somewhat average newbie who was played for laughs until his surprising death in the season finale). Giving shades of Prime Suspect-Lite, I love that we see Trewlove’s skills as a WPC while the show also demonstrates the challenges she faces moving into the all-male ranks. (If the Morseverse results in yet another spinoff, Trewlove and Hathaway both have my vote to anchor shows of their own.) Unfortunately, it seems as though Trewlove won’t be returning for the confirmed sixth season as her character is moving to the London Metropolitan police.
- The Morse of It All: Finally, so much rests on the character of Endeavour Morse himself. As Thursday says of Morse in the season finale, “Morse’s as decent as they come.” Although the intelligence, crosswords, and classical music carry over from the original series, Endeavour Morse, as the audience knows him here, works as a character in his own right instead of just as an imitation of John Thaw’s Morse. Although Endeavour’s often clueless about how to approach relationships both personal and professional (and who isn’t?), he usually operates from a motive of uncovering the truth regardless of who it inconveniences, even the police force itself. Endeavour’s tenacity when working a case and his seeming inability to put aside small details which don’t support the police’s working theory of a crime makes him an excellent guide for the audience when working through each week’s mystery. Shaun Evans does such an effective job playing Endeavour it’s hard for me to isolate a single trait or tactic to highlight. (Although if you’re interested, look up some interviews with Evans to hear his native Liverpool accent and marvel at his technical brilliance in creating an entirely different one for Morse.) I truly can’t imagine another actor playing Endeavour. I’ve seen Evans in a couple of other British TV shows in guest starring roles which I also enjoyed, but his ability to make the young Endeavour compelling over five seasons and also show his development as a character is captivating.
Endeavour has already started production on its sixth season so hopefully it will air next summer on PBS (I believe it usually airs first in the UK). Shaun Evans will direct an episode next season in addition to his starring role which gives fans even more to anticipate! In the meantime, check out what I have dubbed the ‘Morse-stache’ in the production stills that have been released. I’m not sure if Morse is having a quarter-life crisis or just leaning hard into the 70s. Either way, I know Endeavour fans won’t be far behind.