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Prequel Problems: Endeavour

Alex Richards

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It's probably worth noting that while Endeavour goes back and forth a bit on how severe Morse's alcoholism is in this period, what is consistent is a pattern of 'trauma, heavy drinking, pulled back'. And seeing as it's usually Thursday who's the one to mount the interventions, and he's most definitely not around in the 80s...
 
Very interesting and well-argued; it covers some of the problems that I've had with 'Endeavour' (and other modern prequels set in this period). I have been a long-term Colin Dexter and 'Morse' fan who read some of the books before the original TV series, and also know Oxford sites from the series well - including some of the interiors , eg at Hertford College and inside the Bodleian. (I've enjoyed sitting to work by the spot in the Bodleian where Morse finds the gun hidden behind the books in the episode where an opera singer gets shot from the nearby window.)

The main problem is the inevitable one that the younger 'Morse' does not look that much like John Thaw did on TV shows in the 1970s, and you have to suspend disbelief on that one. But the inconsistency between the views of 'Endeavour's younger Morse on women and other matters and those of Morse in the early, 1980s episodes , eg on women, does seem to reflect a general attitude by many modern writers of TV shows set in the 1960s and 1970s that the hero/ heroine must seem to be socially 'enlightened' on such matters, so as not to put off modern audiences. It doesn't ring true in terms of accuracy, or on how the majority of people in such positions and from that sort of background would (and as I remember) did think in the 1970s - and can be compared to the modern TV 'look back in horror' shows where old clips of sexist or racist TV shows, then hugely popular, are shown to younger modern celebs and they gasp in shock at some of the attitudes!
Being more careful about a possible 'hit' to viewing figures rather than careful to be accurate is probably inevitable in a commercial inter-show ratings war situation, or for selling such shows abroad. But perhaps this problem should be admitted more openly and flagged up as one of the dilemmas of modern TV writing, or else a lot of younger viewers could get a false idea of how social attitudes have evolved quickly. Logically, this also affects pre-modern era costume drama too - and is for example a major problem in 'Downton Abbey', whose 1910s and 1920s upper class characters treat their servants a lot better than they would probably have done in real life. 'Upstairs Downstairs', covering the same time period and issues but made in 1971-5 (well within the lifetime of those taking part in these events), was more accurate as to social attitudes, and in 'DA' I noticed that the 'sympathetic' characters were far more tolerant of Lady Edith's ilegitimate child or under-butler Thomas' homosexuality than would have been likely in real life.
 

Thande

Jabs First Brexit
Published by SLP
Very interesting and well-argued; it covers some of the problems that I've had with 'Endeavour' (and other modern prequels set in this period). I have been a long-term Colin Dexter and 'Morse' fan who read some of the books before the original TV series, and also know Oxford sites from the series well - including some of the interiors , eg at Hertford College and inside the Bodleian. (I've enjoyed sitting to work by the spot in the Bodleian where Morse finds the gun hidden behind the books in the episode where an opera singer gets shot from the nearby window.)
Thank you for your kind words. I went to a conference in Oxford in 2009 and confused my colleagues from overseas by saying "now you must realise, as academics in Oxford there is statistically a 36% chance we'll be murdered while we're here"
 

Alex Richards

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Of course one element of the 'oddly modern attitudes' is basically one of audience demands.

I'm quite aware that it would be more realistic for even a generally nice and heroic person in the 19th Century to be a massive sexist and racist. I can certainly tolerate somebody who is casually one of those when it comes up and contrasted with somebody else who perhaps has some other massive flaw.

But honestly if the entire cast of the TV show are period-appropriate sexists and racists, and period-appropriate in terms of being extremely vocal about this, and the point isn't that our Heroic Main Character has to actually overcome his preconceptions on something, then honestly it doesn't really matter how accurate this is, I'm probably not going to care enough about the characters to watch it.
 

Japhy

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But honestly if the entire cast of the TV show are period-appropriate sexists and racists, and period-appropriate in terms of being extremely vocal about this, and the point isn't that our Heroic Main Character has to actually overcome his preconceptions on something, then honestly it doesn't really matter how accurate this is, I'm probably not going to care enough about the characters to watch it.
This is kind of the biggest problem, yes.
 

Charles EP M.

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Published by SLP
The point about actors not looking as "weathered" anymore is a thing. That's weird. What are we doing to people's faces or, worse, what was happening back then??

Also, me, reading about the one-offs-to-prequels thing: "Hey, that reminds me of Rock And Chips--"

Article:

prequels of this type (see also the Only Fools and Horses prequel Rock and Chips, for instance
(re the Explicit Period Pieces, know that Film Stories #23 has a guy mention a planned Die Hard prequel show he was pitching, where McClane would be a NYPD cop in the early 80s!)
 

Fenwick

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There is something to be said in using modern morality when viewing the past. As in some ways it makes Morse seem like an exemplary character when in the 1960s and 70s he is actively battling racism, corruption, and more. Yet there is another thing about how odd it seems in episodes where EVERYONE seemingly is the racist/misogynist/pro-establishment strawman and only Morse is speaking of equality and what not.

Foyle's War to a degree suffered from the same issue.

Both really good shows with decent enough murder mysteries.

My favorite has to be Nero Wolfe however. It had three things I enjoyed: same cast for every episode, leaping around time periods, and consistently biased characters. So while the core cast remained the same the supporting cast of 6-10 people were played by the same people. So you did not instantly know who the killer was. Stories took place from 1930 to 1960s (same as the books) with Archie and Nero being the same folks. Last was bias. While in the 1930s characters said "negro" in really angry tones by the 1960s it was colored. Archie and Nero meanwhile always were the same kind of "well who cares if you can pay our fees" kind of fellows. So in a way by passing the issues of racism, and viewing the past from the present in simply having the characters always be about money and vague notions of justice.
 

Fenwick

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Published by SLP
The point about actors not looking as "weathered" anymore is a thing. That's weird. What are we doing to people's faces or, worse, what was happening back then??

Also, me, reading about the one-offs-to-prequels thing: "Hey, that reminds me of Rock And Chips--"

Article:



(re the Explicit Period Pieces, know that Film Stories #23 has a guy mention a planned Die Hard prequel show he was pitching, where McClane would be a NYPD cop in the early 80s!)
Oh. People are smoking less, working out more, using products, and of course better air quality. So people are looking better for no reason beyond we care about skin care more. Like have you ever seen a 19 year old from South London in the 1970's? You would think they put Meth in the water.
 

Alex Richards

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Oh. People are smoking less, working out more, using products, and of course better air quality. So people are looking better for no reason beyond we care about skin care more. Like have you ever seen a 19 year old from South London in the 1970's? You would think they put Meth in the water.
Not to mention less physically intensive jobs, more health and safety regulations, a lot less people are working outside all the time...
 

Fenwick

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So which episode do you think is the most "Retro Theme Park"ish?

For me it is the one where they use a computer and everything is just dripping in exposition of "well in this time period..."
 

Thande

Jabs First Brexit
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Foyle's War to a degree suffered from the same issue.
I'm not that familiar with Foyle's War (my parents watch it) but that would be a good example of how you can do what you like because it's standalone: if you want to make your period-piece protagonist more open-minded and an audience surrogate, you don't have to worry about anything else being established about them in the past/future.

So which episode do you think is the most "Retro Theme Park"ish?

For me it is the one where they use a computer and everything is just dripping in exposition of "well in this time period..."
Good question. I'd probably say the "Charity Mudford vs Marcus X" one just because the obvious stand-in names kept making me wince, but you can make a case for the computer one too.
 

Fenwick

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I think because I am American that the "theme park" idea is not so obvious. I see the suits, and the UK version of race relations and black power and nod my head cause it is not what I was raised with. If anything I view it as a cheap knock off of the US, I know it is not but... it is how it looks to someone raised in America.

A good example oddly enough is a cartoon called "F is for Family." It is set in the 1970s. Casual racism (Mohican Airlines is nothing but "Indian stereotypes"), casual sexism, idiotic news anchors, and more. One big thing however is no lava lamps, or afros. The creators spoke on it, and I like the comedian Bill Burr (Mayfield from Mandalorian) so I watched how big a deal it was to fight with the studio over "what if people do not get in the 1970s you still did not have color tv?" and more things which they, the studio felt, would be alienating to modern audiences.
 

Thande

Jabs First Brexit
Published by SLP
A good example oddly enough is a cartoon called "F is for Family." It is set in the 1970s. Casual racism (Mohican Airlines is nothing but "Indian stereotypes"), casual sexism, idiotic news anchors, and more. One big thing however is no lava lamps, or afros. The creators spoke on it, and I like the comedian Bill Burr (Mayfield from Mandalorian) so I watched how big a deal it was to fight with the studio over "what if people do not get in the 1970s you still did not have color tv?" and more things which they, the studio felt, would be alienating to modern audiences.
"The seventies equal lava lamps" is probably a good way of putting the dichotomy. Endeavour isn't a big offender for shoving it in your face (for example there's an episode with the moon landing, but it just happens in the background and is not part of the plot) but it does sometimes feel like it's going through a checklist of Sixties Things. But, similar to your example, it also doesn't do "Britain in the sixties equals swinging London and nothing else" as some depictions do.

The fact it's the same 'universe' and shares some of the same production people as Inspector Morse lets one do a neat side-by-side comparison of 'ripped from the headlines now' vs 'depicting the past'. For example, a few Morse episodes do feel like someone leaning hard on the 'It's the 80s / early 90s' button and could still happen now in a period piece of that era (like raves and drug culture and moral panic) but there are also others that probably wouldn't occur to someone trying to depict that era now, like Greeks in much of British society still being viewed as an insular, almost dangerously alien minority group.
 

Francisco Cojuanco

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But honestly if the entire cast of the TV show are period-appropriate sexists and racists, and period-appropriate in terms of being extremely vocal about this, and the point isn't that our Heroic Main Character has to actually overcome his preconceptions on something, then honestly it doesn't really matter how accurate this is, I'm probably not going to care enough about the characters to watch it.
I mean, it honestly depends. To use a video game example, look at LA Noire, where even the main character has certain attitudes towards women that in today's LAPD would have gotten him fired. And most of the other characters are hardly enlightened. But it makes a compellong story.
 

Japhy

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I mean, it honestly depends. To use a video game example, look at LA Noire, where even the main character has certain attitudes towards women that in today's LAPD would have gotten him fired. And most of the other characters are hardly enlightened. But it makes a compelling story.
I don't think TV and video games are comparable in regards to the issue tbh. Its a matter of access and investment on the part of the person experiencing either.

I think in regards to TV taking the line "Why isn't it more racist like it should be?" sort of ignores not just why but how people start watching TV shows.
 

Charles EP M.

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I think it's wussing out to set things in the past and not have the characters except Mr Bad be at all backward (to us) in their views, but nobody really wants to see the exact views of the time replicated by protagonists. We can see those in media made at the time and it often gets awkward & uncomfortable - and I don't just mean how frequent racial slurs are by racist characters in Flame in the Streets*, I mean we rewatched the Bill & Ted films in the last week and it really kills the mood when Bill and Ted drop a homophobic slur. Or a moment in Dad's Army where Mainwaring and Wilson wince uncomfortably over the sound of wife beating but don't do anything. Do we want that from heroic leads in our period-piece 80s and 40s fiction? I doubt we do.

* I've said it before, but it's a very "past is another country" moment when the mother in Flame drops the n-word from the jump and her daughter isn't phased, she doesn't see it as a sign her mother genuinely and virulently loathes the concept of her dating a black man, it's just "oh mum, you've just had a bit of a shock ha ha". If it was made today as a 1961 period piece, the n-word wouldn't be dropped until closer the end, when she coldly says how her daughter physically repulses her now.
 

Fenwick

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Which in a way is interesting when you look at media of the exact same period being invoked which was able to show racism, and sexism and still have those characters be good. A prime example to me, if we speak of the 1960's, is In the Heat of the Night in which the black Philadelphia detective solves a murder with a racist sheriff. It, and other films of the period, had the racist guy still be a good guy and place the very racism as both bad and a core character trait.

So it is... lazy? I think lazy is the right term. It is lazy for racism or sexism or anything we in the modern world KNOW is bad as the main traits of the bad guy. But in a general sense... it is not something you can avoid because of how modern audiences can view the past.
 

Charles EP M.

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Period dramas made in the past don't seem to have been any different in changing things to be more 'acceptable' to their contemporary mores either.
 
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