Back, and a little later than usual, this week’s Matt on the Box will be focusing on the first two episodes of one of ITV’s classiest dramas.
The drama in question is the brilliant Endeavour which has aired two of the four episodes that comprise this second series. The series began with Morse (Shaun Evans) returning to work full time after he’d been put on light duties following the events of series one. Although he tells everybody that he’s recovered from the trauma it’s clear that he’s still mentally unstable and has turned to alcohol to try to cope with the mishap. At the same time the death of an unidentifiable man seems like a case that’s right up Morse’s alley especially after several connections to other parties are made. The only problem is that Morse’s belief in his own crime-solving abilities is misplaced as he initially points the finger in the wrong direction. I personally really enjoyed the fact that Morse became somewhat of a flawed detective and that it took him a little bit of time to uncover the truth. However, and rather disappointingly, there was little evidence of this in the second episode which almost took the form of a ghost story. Episode two, entitled Nocturne, centred round the death of a heraldic expert who was killed at a museum by an Indian dagger that was being displayed there at the time. Also visiting the museum at the time of the murder were a group of girls who were summer boarders at a local school. After doing some research Morse discovered that the school itself was once home to the Blaze-Hamilton family who themselves suffered a massive tragedy when two of their daughters were murdered exactly one hundred years before. Morse later bonds with one of the girls who, like himself, is really good at noticing things and is often bullied by some of the other girls. Whilst I enjoyed this episode, and the reveal, a lot more I did feel that we lost sight of the damaged Morse who’d been presented to us in the first episode of this series.
Despite each episode of Endeavour being ninety minutes long I was personally enthralled from beginning to end. Part of the reason for that is that Russell Lewis’ scripts are incredibly clever as he manages to interweave plenty of seemingly disparate stories into one episode. For example the first story managed to incorporate the death of a private investigator, a local election, a beauty contest and the theft of a set of valuable jewels. While not everything turned out to be as connected as Morse would have liked the fact that everything was ultimately resolved is a testament to Lewis’ writing skills. Although the second episode was more focused it still had time to showcase the backdrop of the 1966 World Cup. Thankfully the period detail never engulfed the overall story and instead provided a bit of historical context for the programme as a whole. Although each episode includes its own individual mystery, Lewis also planted the seeds for a couple of other series long stories. One of which is Morse’s potential romance with his neighbour and nurse Monica (Shvorne Marks), a relationship that has already been fraught due to Endeavour’s unlikely date with Thursday’s daughter. In addition, there was a hint that Morse’s friends and family may be in danger after his arrest of two members of the Masons. This story really intrigued me and I’m hoping that the second two episodes of the series really build up to something involving this threat. Alongside the brilliant writing, I feel that the visual aspect of Endeavour really gives it its edge from the great shots of the Oxford scenery to the brilliant period detail.
But Endeavour wouldn’t be anything without its stunning ensemble cast all of whom have developed a winning chemistry over the years. Shaun Evans is a compelling screen presence and it’s clear that he’s tried to combine his own style with that of original Morse actor John Thaw. Evans plays Morse as a social outcast but one who has sort of been coaxed into social life by those around him. I personally feel that Roger Allam is the audience’s connection into the world of Morse and it’s his performance as Fred Thursday which really adds a human touch to the programme. Allam’s down-to-Earth style is strangely relaxing and I think you feel safe every time that Fred is on screen. Although Allam excels in the comedy arena he makes it clear that Fred isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty as witnessed when he attacked the two dodgy officers who’d previously attacked Morse. The chemistry between Allam and Evans is a joy to watch and I particularly enjoyed the latter’s attempts to talk about football with his World Cup-obsessed boss. As Chief Superintendent Bright Anton Lesser adds some gravitas to proceedings and is utterly believable as the only man who doesn’t always believe in Morse’s theories. Providing brilliant support throughout the series are Sean Rigby as the slightly naive PC Strange and Thaw’s daughter Abigail as journalist Dorothea Frazil. Ultimately, Endeavour is an old-fashioned drama series that appeals to a modern audience due to its fantastically gripping storylines and outstanding central performances. Based on the first two episodes alone, this series of Endeavour has really upped its game and I really feel that this could be one of the best UK TV dramas of 2014.
There have been other programmes on over the last week or so, most notably The Trip to Italy, which reunited Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for another round of restaurant reviews. The first series of The Trip saw Coogan being offered the chance to review restaurants in the Lake District for The Observer. He begrudgingly took Brydon along and it transpires that his friend actually ended up writing the majority of the reviews that Coogan then put his name to. This time it’s Brydon, who is finding it tiresome being a father to a young child, who offers Coogan the chance to review six new restaurants that are all located in Italy. The first episode saw them review a restaurant in Camogli and visit Byron’s former home in Genova. What I like about The Trip is that it works on so many levels whether it be two men trying to deal with the ageing process or just a couple of funny chaps trying to one up each other with their impressions. Indeed it is the impressions scenes that people will remember with the first episode’s take on The Dark Knight Rises, and in particular Bane, being a personal highlight. But I was equally involved in the discussions regarding Brydon and Coogan’s personal life and the fact that the latter doesn’t get the attention from pretty girls in the way he once did. While the first series built up to a very fine performance of ‘The Winner Takes it All’ this series looks to see the comic duo tackle the work of Alanis Morrissette at some point. Long-time friends Coogan and Brydon bounce off each other perfectly in the lead roles as they play exaggerated versions of themselves. As I did with the first series, I wonder how much of their real characteristics they bring to their roles in The Trip. Director Michael Winterbottom makes the whole series a cut above a regular sitcom with the cinematography really capturing all that the Italian scenery has to offer. Whether the story can be stretched over another six episodes remains to be seen but, for now at least, The Trip to Italy looks to be as funny and poignant as its predecessor was.
Last week I extolled the virtues of BBC3’s factual output and used the fantastic Kris: Dying to Live as an example of why the channel shouldn’t move online. However BBC3 has shot itself in the foot slightly by airing Invasion of the Jobsnatchers which gives the channel’s critics another show to be snooty about. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the concept of Jobsnatchers, which follows the exploits of eleven unemployed youngsters as they try to secure jobs in the sleepy town of Christchurch. The thinking behind the programme is that the majority of Christchurch’s population are in their sixties so the jobseekers will have more of a chance securing employment in a town which needs a youthful injection. The problems with the programme come from the casting of a few characters who are appearing on the show primarily to provide entertainment. Not that I found much entertainment value from the over-the-top caricature that was Benny, an overly graphic camp guy who delighted his new housemates with his potty mouth. Benny’s mouth soon got him in trouble in his new job, at Christchurch’s renowned party store, and he was forced to work behind the scenes out of earshot of any passing customer. Similarly annoying was self-styled bad-boy Adam who certainly dressed the part with his sunglasses and backward facing baseball cap. Adam took offence when his new boss, ferry owner Paul, told him that he couldn’t really understand what he was saying. To be honest though I think that Paul had a point as Adam’s faux gangster twang was fairly incomprehensible at times. I personally would’ve liked to see more from more candidates like 28-year-old Carl, who’s found it hard to get a job due to his criminal record. Carl ended up working at the butchers and it really seemed as if the job perfectly suited him and by the end of the week he’d really bonded with his mentor Robin. Invasion of the Jobsnatchers put me in mind of one of the channel’s other ‘social experiment’ programmes Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum. Both are more concerned with highlighting the antics of camera-hungry youngsters than they are in providing some serious social commentary. It’s a shame that a concept like this couldn’t be better-utilised as I feel it could’ve provided some real insight into the high unemployment rates in the country. But disappointingly this was all about highlighting characters like Benny who were more interested in acting up for the camera than they were in netting a job at the end of the process.
To me a much better example of teenage programming is My Mad Fat Diary whose second series came to an end last week. The latter half of the series had been fairly depressing as Rae (Sharon Rooney) launched into a disastrous relationship with the disgusting Liam (Turlough Convery). Meanwhile relations with her mum (Claire Rushbrook) had hit an all-time low and her therapist Kester (Ian Hart) also stopped her from visiting him at home. Meanwhile her friends started to abandon her as Chloe (Jodie Comer) went missing and ex-boyfriend Finn (Nico Mirallegro) went to Leeds to live with his uncle. However it was a letter from Finn claiming that Rae was the glue of their friendship group that made her adamant to turn things around. After a disastrous end to her pregnancy, Rae’s mum ended up critically ill in hospital while Rae herself was delighted when she became a sister. Meanwhile Kester gave her the confidence to stand-up to the evil older guys who were essentially keeping Chloe hostage. Obviously Tom Bidwell built things up to a happy ending where everybody was friends again and Rae and Finn reconciled with an extremely saucy final sequence. The only issue was that Bidwell had built up so many stories over the past few episodes that there were plenty of subplots to resolve. As a result some of the conclusions felt incredibly rushed especially Rae’s final scene with Liam which I felt should have been given more time based on the fact that he’s been quite a pivotal character this series. Ultimately though the episode ended in exactly the way it should have done and I think Bidwell did the right thing by giving the fans of the show what they wanted. I’m unsure at this point whether the show needs a third series as there’s not much I think that needs to be explored aside from Rae’s new role as a sister. Although I’m a fan of the show, and am delighted that it’s been nominated for a couple of BAFTAs, I don’t want it to carry on just for the sake of it. Finally I must praise the performance from Sharon Rooney, who was cruelly overlooked in the aforementioned nominations, who really holds the programme together. If this really is the end for My Mad Fat Diary, and my gut says it is, than I hope that Rooney goes on to bigger and better things a she certainly deserves to.
That’s it from me for now but don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites where you’ll be able to read more of my views about the week’s TV.