Inspector Morse is paradoxically both the best of all of the popular British detective series and also the hardest to recommend to friends.
It is one of the hardest to recommend for quite a few reasons. The outfits and hair styles are dated (and not charmingly so). The video and sound quality is poor by today's standards (if practically 4K compared to the Hickson Miss Marples). The stories take their time to unfold. So Foyle's War might instead be for those wanting something with gravitas and historic weight, and Midsomer Murders to those wanting something lighter.
Nonetheless Morse is, well, Morse. Or more specifically, Morse is John Thaw. Inspector Morse is no ensemble show (although the supporting regulars are serviceable and Lewis is as affable as ever). Instead, Thaw turns in one wonderful performance after the next. (He owns the role, unlike his far-too-smiley Kavanagh performances, which may in fact be more aligned with his off-screen personality.)
If there is a candidate for best supporting actor in the series, it would be Oxford itself. The architecture and culture permeate every scene. And the writing, in plots and characters. demands re-watching . One also appreciates the music and Morse's flat (so the combination of the two is near perfection.)
Here are some favorite episodes (or characters or scenes or...):
- Last Seen Wearing - Morse's best line, "We ought to be able to arrest him for his taste", after surveying a suspect's flat. The headmaster gives a nearly-comedic dramatic performance (and in one scene in a very nice Irish Fisherman's sweater).
- Last Bus to Woodstock - Oxford politics; pub murder; an old Volvo; and perhaps Morse's best withering glance.
- Ghost in the Machine - A supremely snobbish and delightful performance by Patricia Hodge; a discussion of appropriateness of school ties worn as belts; and Morse's commentary on the distastefulness of social envy. This might be a good "first episode" to watch.
- Deceived by Flight - Simply marvelous cricket scenes with equally marvelous cricket clothing.
- Driven to Distraction - A love of the Mark 2; creepy; Morse on the edge.
- Happy Families - Two dreadful grown sons (one of whom is played by Martin Clunes, Doc Martin) with the most enviable knitwear. And a moat.
- The Day of the Devil - By far the creepiest of all, complete with church pipe organs, vicars and the underground of Oxford.
- Twilight of the Gods - Sir John Gielgud using Oxford England and Oxford Mississippi in the same sentence; and the always wonderful Robert Hardy.
- Death Is Now My Neighbour - Richard Briers (Hector Naismith MacDonald from Monarch of the Glen), Roger Allam (who would later be in Endeavor), and Maggie Steed more than make up for Holley Chant's American accent. Oxford politics and the reveal of Morse's first name.
- The Last Enemy - Good Guernsey in the opening scene; impressive Master's quarters; and bespoke clues.
- The Infernal Serpent - Terrible topic but stars the wonderful Geoffrey Palmer (Lionel from As Time Goes By).
- The Sins of the Fathers - Morse solving a crime at a brewery.