Sometimes I gaze at an alternate timeline where “Sherlock” never existed and wonder if “Endeavour” and its star Shaun Evans may have claimed the secret chamber of our hearts that Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective conquered.
The two detectives have a few things in common, after all. Sherlock Holmes and Endeavor Morse are two of many crime solvers adapted from literature featured as part of the “Masterpiece Mystery!” tries recently performed as younger men in their prime.
Each has a long relationship with television, although Holmes’ overcoat has been worn by an assortment of actors. Morse is paired with two: Evans and the late John Thaw, who originated the character in “Inspector Morse,” which aired from 1987 to 1993, and was revived for five special installments that ran between 1995 and 2000 .
Combined, they have allowed Endeavor Morse to be with UK and US viewers in one form or another for over 30 years, and longer for readers who have forged a loyalty to the character in Colin Dexter’s books. Evans, however, achieves something we don’t often see in many modern detectives, in that he both creates and solves the mystery of the birth of the flinty, drunken, yet lovable Detective Thaw.
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“Endeavour” is at its best when it draws our attention to solving its title character’s puzzle, a mission that Evans’ performance draws us deeper into with each new season. His 1960s Morse is resilient, but not a hard case; refined, but put off by the popular diversions that excite ordinary mortals. One of the most amusing twists of the eighth season sees the Detective Sergeant visibly suffering from a live game show taping that he would never have chosen to endure without a mission.
Morse’s willful ignorance of commonly loved hobbies infuriates his DCI mentor Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). Thursday is also one of the few people to respect Morse’s insight and empathy. But in these 1971 chapters, he fears that his partner’s loneliness, sharpened by despair, poses a danger to himself and others.
Roger Allam as Thursday and Shaun Evans as Morse on “Endeavour” (Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE)
And that is where the theoretical emotional ground shared by Holmes and Morse ends. In the seventh season, Morse fell in love with a mysterious woman he met in Venice, Violetta (Stephanie Leonidas), only to find she was cheating on him before sacrificing herself while walking in front of a ball meant for him.
Legendary Sherlock, as Cumberbatch plays him, probably wouldn’t have been so careless even if he had allowed himself to be as vulnerable as Morse, who made a habit of drowning his sorrows in alcohol.
It’s perhaps easier to understand than why I’m invoking a “Mystery” series that hasn’t aired in years alongside a very different series that has been a reliable presence in our lives. over the past decade.
The explanation is in this word: reliable. “Sherlock” hasn’t had a new episode since 2017 but is flying like a ghost, as it hasn’t been officially canceled and can theoretically keep people hanging on to hope of its return forever. This is the ultimate example of emotional restraint.
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By contrast, “Endeavour” has been returning with new mysteries on a regular basis since 2013, each carving new contours and curves into its detective’s soul. But it also means that the wider audience may not have enjoyed the show as intensely as Evans and Allam’s performances warrant. It’s never had a Comic-Con panel or an Entertainment Weekly cover, for example, which says nothing about its merit or quality, but a lot about the average couch potato’s passion for classic British mysteries.
There are other reasons why “Endeavour” may not have caught fire so easily, namely series creator Russell Lewis’s adherence to the relatively simple structure of whodunit, drawing more attention to the puzzles woven through the dialogue and implied by the behavior of its characters.
The cases themselves are not very complicated, tending to err on theatricality rather than plausibility. Continuing the focus on style and character progression, these three new episodes take Morse and Thursday into the world of professional football, a nudist colony and an Agatha Christie-style mousetrap.
Each hums with a light energy that masks the silent illness that slowly takes hold of the hero until the situation in the final episode, titled “Terminus”, makes it impossible to conceal.
Season 8 of “Endeavour” is the series’ penultimate, with production on the ninth and final set of episodes already underway. By the end of the series, Evans will have played Morse in more TV episodes than Thaw. With the end in sight, the bond between Evans’ Endeavor Morse and Thaw feels closer than ever, previewed in a few surreptitiously placed lines of dialogue and the detective’s amplified pain.
Watching Evans mature Morse of an incorruptible young man weave his way through the 1960s into the disillusioned and heartbroken shadow we encounter in 1971 was a pleasure. There aren’t many examples of TV shows that feature younger versions of established sleuths who have enough stamina to last more than a season or two.
‘Endeavour’ will have lasted nine by the time it’s finished, and owes its longevity to the crumpled, poetic humanity that Evans brings to a detective that millions have come to know but have only begun to fully appreciate. .
“Endeavour” airs Sunday, June 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS. Watch a trailer, via YouTube.
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