Wednesday, 8 June 2011

TV Review: Sherlock

So, I've been watching Sherlock. And I have to say, this is high-quality TV.

For those who don't know, it's a BBC mini-series, a contemporary update of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories set in modern London. The whole thing first aired in July last year (I'm pretty late to the party), with three episodes at 90 minutes each. The internet tells me there's going to be more episodes this year, hopefully also in July.

Now, I'm not really an Arthur Conan Doyle devotee, so I'm not totally familiar with the original content. The first episode is apparently Doyle's first Sherlock novel, A Study In Scarlet, re-imagined and re-named as "A Study In Pink". From what I could glean (from Wikipedia), they've deviated pretty heavily from the Scarlet storyline, probably to better reflect Our Modern Times, but they've also stayed faithful in a lot of ways, and where they've deviated they've littered the new parts with reference to the old.

"A Study In Pink" is a great introduction to this new Sherlock Holmes. The case features several very suspicious suicides, a lot of baffled police, and a very active Sherlock Holmes. This is no boring show about an armchair detective; "A Study In Pink" features, among other things, a high speed foot chase through half of London, with Sherlock in the lead, thrilled to be chasing a clue. The show itself is fast-paced, and if Sherlock works fast, the criminals work even faster.

I think the atmosphere of the whole thing is definitely why I liked it so much. It's gritty, quick, clever, and according to the showrunner, trying to capture the spirit of the source material as much as possible. Steven Moffatt was quoted as saying that "Doyle's stories were never about frock coats and gas light; they're about brilliant detection, dreadful villains and blood-curdling crimes...other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures, and that's what matters."

In a sense, the only major updates are about the crimes themselves, and the methods Sherlock uses to solve them. He texts (a lot), has a website, uses his smartphone to get weather readings to determine who was where at what time. Watson keeps a blog instead of writing diaries. Sadly, no-one smokes a pipe or has a monocle, but that could change in upcoming episodes. But overall, it's still Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, squabbling and solving crimes all over London.

Another strength of this series are the characters and casting. As I said, I'm not totally familiar with the original material, but this version of the titular character is frankly intriguing and I can't imagine Moffatt and Mark Gatiss (the other showrunner) have strayed too far from the source.

Sherlock is arrogant, misanthropic, and totally brilliant. He deduces facts from the smallest detail, obsesses until a puzzle has an answer, and allows nothing to stop him until the situation has been resolved to his satisfaction. He uses modern science, of course, but he seems to have the same drug problems, although he uses multiple nicotine patches instead of filling rooms with pipe smoke. He gets assistance from graffiti artists as well as the army of street kids the original Sherlock had to deal with, and he gets to 'detect' things like blow-jobs and infidelity. He also freely describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath, a diagnosis the original Sherlock probably wouldn't have admitted to (or even had access to, I'm not sure if they called them sociopaths back then).

Watson is famously the ordinary man up against Holmes' brilliant, analytical, emotionally-detached personality. He's a blogger in this new incarnation, and the blog was established on the recommendation of his therapist, the one he's been seeing since he got back from combat in Afghanistan. The old Watson had injuries as well, but this Watson has PTSD and a psychosomatic limp. He gets involved with Sherlock because they end up sharing a flat, but he stays involved because secretly he misses the excitement of war. I'm not sure if Sherlock and Watson have always been linked through their shared love of excitement and adventures, but it makes sense. Part of the fun is also watching Watson try to cope as our 'normal' rep in Sherlock's fast-paced and slightly deranged world - he comes home to find human heads in the fridge and eyeballs in the microwave, as part of Sherlock's "experiments", so he's got a lot to cope with.

Now, casting. Overall, this whole show is a great example of what the BBC does best - classic material, strong scripts, awesome showrunners (Steven Moffatt's responsible for the new Doctor Who, and Mark Gatiss did The League of Gentlemen and wrote a heap of great Doctor Who eps). But it could have all fallen apart (or been really boring) if they hadn't found two great leads, with great chemistry.

Benedict Cumberbatch is the guy playing Holmes (and I think he's fantastically appropriate for the job based on his name alone) and he's brilliant and slightly unusual-looking, which just heightens his effectiveness. Martin Freeman, who you might recognise as Arthur Dent or 'that dude from the Office', plays 'ordinary bloke with hidden depths' perfectly, as a perfect foil in acting as well as looks. As much as all the action and mystery and deduction make for a good show, the growing friendship between these two give it enough depth to make it a great show.

SO, hopefully I've convinced the 3 people reading this blog to get on board. I know I can't wait for more episodes - this show is a good time!


  1. Having DEVOURED series one of Sherlock over the weekend, I can say with complete authority that your review is both awesome and accurate.

    1. Excellent! I really must remember to put season 2 on the HD for the next time I see you...


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