Episode 1: Endeavour
By: Carlos Uribe
Endeavour is a show about Inspector Endeavour Morse's early days as a detective.
On January 1975, a novel was published by Colin Dexter that introduced Inspector Morse to readers. The books would become a hit and ITV would adapt them into a television show called Inspector Morse. The series lasted from 1987 to 2000. It was a big hit across the pond and it managed to find limited success in the states thanks to PBS. Endeavour acts as a prequel series to Inspector Morse. It's set in the sixties and follows the titular character's progression from detective to inspector. The pilot started out as a television movie but a television series of four additional episodes were ordered. It has since been renewed for a second season and PBS has brought the pilot and first over to the United States under the Masterclass Theater brand. The series has a built-in fanbase as people who liked the novels and original series are going to be drawn to it. It helps that the author of the novels is working on Endeavor, which helps add a layer of credibility to the series that it would not have otherwise. The series might have a built-in audience but it still needs to be able to stand on it's own two feet. It's going to have to keep the fans happy while trying to win news ones. It's been over ten years since the last episode of the original aired. This means it's going to have to try harder to give people a reason to try than it would have to otherwise. While part of that is going to depend on marketing, the question is if the quality is there to keep people coming back and for word of mouth to spread. It's true that Endeavour does have some advantages in the United States. PBS doesn't care about ratings as much as any other broadcaster but it's important to note that it does exist to attract an audience. Ratings do matter for public television, just on a different level. Even then, it's ITV who ultimately makes the decision to renew or not and I imagine they do care about their British ratings. It's found enough success to come back for a second season. I may have only watched the pilot but it's easy to see why: this is an excellent production.
It's true that there are countless crime procedural in the television landscape. If you flip through the channels, chances are high you'll find a television series about a special detective leading an investigation. This means that a series has to do something different to try to attract an audience. The special detectives all have a skill that's supposed to be unique to that series. They can have a different look or maybe they try to set themselves apart by giving that character a separate goal from solving the weekly crimes. Endeavour is a lucky show because it has three different hooks that work well. The first is that it's a prequel to an already existing series. This helps to attack old viewers of the series. The second hook actually has to do with it's time period. The sixties time frame sets it apart from most cop shows. It allows Endeavour to harken back to nostalgia while presenting a grimmer look on the decade. The third is that the detective has his own special skill. He's not just a brilliant, educated cop with some vices but he doesn't like to look at dead bodies. It's clever because it manages to humanize him in a way that simply makes him hard to connect with other people or giving him other vices simply don't. It makes him feel vulnerable not because he's damaged but because his profession is deeply impacted by the outside world. He solves murders but he has trouble actually looking at the victims. It's a wonderful little trait that makes him more unique than most of the special detectives on television. Of course, none of these hooks would matter if the plot wasn't strong.
The narrative for Endeavour is solid but it does have it's weaknesses. It has a tendency to slow down to a crawl at certain points that makes you wonder what the point of what your watching is. There is nothing wrong with having a slow pace and sometimes it does work for Endeavour. It does become a problem when it calls attention to itself. As for the investigation itself? There were the usual numbers of red herrings but the actual killer was rather predictable. As soon as I learned that there was the possibility that the professor might have had an affair with the victim, I started to suspect the wife. It makes sense considering the prominence she's given by the script as an idol for the young detective. When they finally get the piece of evidence that makes them realize the truth, it's a twist that most viewers should have guessed by then. It might have been a tad predictable and outright dull at some points but the larger picture was strong. There were moments where it was truly compelling and others that do catch you by surprise. The character beats are all very strong and the pilot is able to build some surprisingly fleshed out characters because of the time it's able to spend on them. This pilot movie had a pretty strong plot that promises that Endeavour could turn out to be a perfectly splendid procedural as a series.
The characters of Endeavour are largely strong. We do spend a lot of time with specific characters that helps the show develop them beyond most shows. The characters directly involved in the weekly case of the pilot are all written well and they make an impression. It's a strong sign when a procedural is able to properly flesh out it's weekly suspects. I'd wager that even the victim is slightly more developed than on other shows. As for the main characters, they are also strong. It should come as no surprise that Endeavour is a strong three-dimensional protagonist that helps to carry the show. He must have been the easy part as he's been developed by books and a television show. It's not like the writers were actually establishing a new series. I'm not sure if it's the same for his partner, Fred Thursday. Thursday isn't as developed as I would like but he remains a strong character nonetheless. I'm not sure if any other character is going to come back but I did like the pathologist, Dr. Max DeBryn. His scenes with Endeavour were really great because Endeavour couldn't look at a dead body. Overall, the characters in Endeavour are without a doubt the strongest part of the show. It's good when everyone, even the minor characters we only see once, seem to at least be three-dimensional human beings rather than fictional constructs.
Endeavour is a strong television film that acts as a good pilot. It sets up strong characters and promises that the weekly cases will have just as developed characters to help match it. The pacing and actual mystery may need some help but it largely has a good plot that develops organically. It sets itself apart with the time period and the special quirk that Endeavour can't look at dead bodies. If anything, Endeavour is a show that original fans should be happy, should attract new ones, and is simply deserving of the “Masterpiece” label that PBS has put it under.