We continue to catch up on recent TV with Sherlock, the BBC’s first rate modernization of the Sherlock Holmes classics.
As with the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock focuses on the unlikely friendship between Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant, eccentric “consulting detective” who solves various knotty crimes, and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), an army doctor forced out of the service by injury. Holmes is caustic, dismissive and supremely self-involved. Watson is a brave-hearted “everyman” type who is one of the few people capable of connecting with the irascible genius.
Set in modern-day London, Sherlock follows the intrepid duo through various adventures, as Holmes becomes a celebrity crime-stopper. Each extra-long installment sees the duo through a variety of intricately-plotted cases that intersect into one main plot in surprising ways. Challenges include a serial killer who somehow talks his victims into poisoning themselves; a hellish hound stalking a country town outside an army installation; and a fiendish media mogul with a penchant for blackmail. Even Watson’s wedding offers the opportunity to prevent a murder. Episode titles pay winking homage to classic Holmes stories (“A Study in Pink;” “A Scandal in Belgravia”).
Sherlock doesn’t ignore modern technology. Indeed, the episodes are immersed in it, with ever present mobile phones, computers and forensic technology. But the plots don’t rely on it. In the end, Sherlock’s ability to observe and analyze information and make startling deductions remain the heart of the series. The producers and writers come up with various rather clever ways to dramatize Sherlock’s thought processes to bring viewers into his mental world.
Cumberbatch and Freeman are outstanding as Holmes and Watson. It’s no surprise that Cumberbatch’s intelligent, towering work made him an international star. Freeman provides the grounding the series needs to allow Cumberbatch to go big. They have a spiky fraternal chemistry and bounce off one another quite well. The actors derive a lot of appealing humor from their contrasting characters, but also are believable as devoted friends. Freeman mines Watson’s classic exasperation with Sherlock’s anti-social traits without a trace of rancor, while Cumberbatch embroiders smart details that communicate Sherlock’s regard for Watson without effusion. The duo handle drama, comedy and action with equal aplomb and make for a powerful screen partnership. In a nod to modernism, Watson’s famous accounts of his and Sherlock’s adventures are housed in a blog that becomes a viral sensation. In other nods to the times, Sherlock struggles to kick a cigarette habit instead of wallowing in cocaine addiction. The running joke of everyone mistaking Holmes and Watson for a couple wears out its welcome fairly quickly, however.
Sherlock surrounds its core duo with the classic supporting cast, often sporting their own modern twists. Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is the boys’ maternal landlady, with a somewhat spicier past than that envisioned by Conan Doyle. Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) remains Sherlock’s biggest supporter on the police force, even as he faces media scrutiny, press conferences and internal department politics. Sherlock has a somewhat pricklier relationship with older brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), a powerful government operative, than is traditional. The writers also come up with clever spikes for essential villains Irene Adler and Moriarty. And the reimagining of Watson’s wife Mary (Amanda Abbington) is one of Sherlock’s biggest curve balls.
The writers add a few new creations to the mix, as well. Molly (Louise Brealey), the pathologist at the hospital where Sherlock often performs research, harbors a (mostly) one-sided crush on the detective. Donovan and Anderson (Vinette Robinson and Jonathan Aris) are cops who work with Lestrade and have a decidedly dim view of Sherlock’s involvement in police business.
Sherlock is a beautifully shot series. The show’s strong visual sense is a vital complement to its imaginative writing. It does as well with moody, shadow-drenched alleys, grimy street scenes and glittering towers and halls of power. The occasional foray into the countryside makes nice use of the show’s UK location. It’s a slick, propulsive production that’s attention-grabbing and involving.
With very short seasons (each of the first three runs only three episodes apiece), Sherlock is an easy show to catch up on. Though once you have, the wait for season four (not expected to hit PBS in the U.S. until early 2017) will seem quite long.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on June 18, 2015.