Saturday, February 22, 2014

Three Hurrahs for Inspector Morse

Oh, geez. I've discovered yet another great British show called Inspector Morse. It's a detective crime drama with a setting in the community of Oxford. Originally the show ran from 1987-95 with a few specials thereafter until 2000. Now there was a spinoff of this show called Inspector Lewis which I had actually discovered prior sometime last year after the amazing quality of BBC's Sherlock sent me scurrying to find similar British shows (Foyle's War is another good one I found). The one episode that I watched from Inspector Lewis impressed me enough to compel me to look further into that show. And when I discovered that Inspector Lewis was actually a spinoff/continuation of an earlier, highly acclaimed series of which this blog post is about I decided to table Inspector Lewis and watch its predecessor first. But I forgot it about this as I took up the ambitious task of watching ALL of the classic Doctor Who episodes ( a subject for a future post as this is still an ongoing project). Thankfully, last month Netflix reminded me that it had the first four series of Inspector Morse available for streaming and so I duly began partaking.

And what a great decision. This is a remarkably good show. One of the best that I have had the pleasure (so far at any rate) of experiencing. There are a great many things which set this show apart from other detective based dramas. But the key difference is the title character himself, Morse, played by John Thaw. Morse has some interesting character traits: he drinks on the job, suffers from bouts of melancholy, is a crossword fanatic, enjoys high brow culture (classical music, opera, poetry, etc), has terrible luck with women (a bachelor in his late 40's having never married), and, most importantly I would say, often gets things quite wrong, an attribute one would not normally expect let alone praise in a detective.

But this crucial fact is what makes the show quite unique in the bewildering world of countless TV shows based in one way or another on detecting/solving criminal cases. Now of course even the great Sherlock Holmes in the original 56 stories turned out to be wrong a few times, but those were exceptions that proved the rule that Holmes was a genius. But for Morse frequently coming to the wrong conclusions is absolutely central to his character and it is quite a refreshing take on the genre. (and it predates the majority that have since come out!) Moreover, when Morse does solve a case it's often the result of inadvertently stumbling his way to the solution. The bottom line is that though Morse is quite clever he's clearly no genius something he himself implies when responding to a question of why he chose to become a policeman instead of a scholar: "I have a good memory, but a prosaic mind," he mournfully admits.

My favorite episode to date (a bit of a spoiler alert here) is called the "Wolvercote Tongue" because it emphasizes an important aspect of the world that I've only recently begun to appreciate by accepting the fact that we probably live in a sovereignless universe, namely, sometimes there is no connection between events that seem, compellingly so, to be related. Without going into specifics concerning the plot suffice it say that it revolves around two deaths and a theft and throughout the episode Morse is dogmatically certain that there is a connection among these events. But in the end it turns out not to be so...simply coincidence. Though Morse does ultimately solve the case this can't erase the disappointment he feels at having been wrong yet again: "I was so sure, Lewis. So sure there was a connection," he dejectedly states. And though he uttered the following earlier in the episode it expresses how he must have felt at that moment: "If you need me, Lewis. I'll be looking at fish...through the bottom of a beer glass."

But it's not just the character of Morse that makes this a great show. Most of the stories are quite good only rarely being too contrived and are structured in such a way as to allow the viewer to piece together the clues and form their own conclusions along with Morse and Lewis, something few modern, especially US, detective shows are able to do because of their constrictive 45 minute format (Most of the Morse episodes are at least 90 minutes). Furthermore, the relationship between Morse and Lewis is just as stimulating as that between, say, Holmes and Watson. And on top of this the show is full of sharp and witty dialogue such as the following:

Morse: "They say sex can be very good for the over sixty-fives."
Lewis: "Oh, do they?
Morse: "Especially if you didn't get much before sixty-five."
And so I would highly recommend this show to anyone who likes British TV and detective crime drama. However, a bit of a warning. The pace of these episodes is deliberately slow. Some won't be able to handle such. But if you have the patience I guarantee you will be handsomely rewarded.

"I don't think, Lewis. I deduce. I only ever deduce." Chief Inspector Morse