I loved Sherlock from the opening, where we’re introduced to Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman, Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the very nice porn stand-in in Love Actually). Dr. Watson is still an Army medic, but that means a very different thing to the viewer when the war was in today’s Afghanistan instead of that of 1880. He’s living in a tiny flat, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with a leg wounded in action, and blogging instead of writing stories in his journal.
This approach is fresh, moving the classic detective and his supporting cast to today’s London. Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), for example, instead of being a bumbler, is a working detective stumped by the unusual, and he has his own methods of persuasion. Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is a nice older woman who worries about Sherlock and keeps muttering “I’m not your housekeeper, love, I’m your landlady.”
This modern revamp was created by Steven Moffat (who created and wrote Coupling and is the current producer of Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who writer; he also plays Mycroft here).
Sherlock Holmes (played by an actor with the glorious name of Benedict Cumberbatch) is as prickly as ever, almost inhuman in his interactions and observations, but up-to-date on today’s technology, texting and hanging out in mortuary labs and running a website. He’s gangly and effete-looking, almost alien-ish with light almond eyes (if I’m noticing right, one blue, one green) and impressive cheekbones, very eye-catching. His emotional extremes are wonderful to watch, and more energetic and understandable than the remoteness of some previous portrayals.
The current-day twists are amusing, as when Watson stumps Holmes on a key item after the consulting detective reveals a stunning chain of logic or Mrs. Hudson wonders if they’re a couple, without judgment, or Mycroft plays phone games. One particular clue from the first episode turns on the same premise as in the original story, but where over a century ago, it was based around a latchkey, today it’s a cell phone charger. It’s also refreshing to see a Watson worthy of being Sherlock’s friend, capable in his own way.
This set only contains three “episodes”, which I’m quoting because they’re more like mini-movies, an hour and a half each. “A Study in Pink” tracks a string of serial suicides through a mysterious poison. Warning: don’t search for information on the show before you see it, because everyone seems to think it’s just fine to reveal the mystery solution, presumably because it’s based on an old book. It felt like something new to me, though.
Sherlock’s observations are noted for us by text floating through the image, as are the various cellphone messages. It’s a bit showy, but a lot less so than the flashy techniques used in the recent movie. The performances are excellent, especially Freeman in the less attention-getting part, as is the production. It’s frightening, suspenseful, full of adventure, and with welcome touches of humor. “I’m in shock! Look, I’ve got a blanket!” says Sherlock, trying to distract Lestrade from something he’s said he doesn’t want noticed.
In “The Blind Banker”, a missing museum worker, a robbery marked with striking yellow graffiti, and a dead financial trader’s apparent suicide are connected to a mystery full of codes and Chinese artifacts. The banking world makes for an excellent update, as these are just the kind of people Holmes would have worked for in his day but still seem very of the moment. I liked best the bits about Watson trying to have a date.
“The Great Game” starts with Sherlock listening to an accused murderer, more interested in teaching him proper English than helping him escape the punishment he deserves. He’s bored, until the flat is blown up, but that still won’t convince him to help his brother in the case of the death of a civil servant. Instead, he’s occupied with a mad bomber who’s setting Holmes puzzles, with victims as bait.
Special features for the Sherlock set are commentaries for episodes one (the producers) and three (the actors); the unaired pilot (a 60-minute version of “A Study in Pink”); and a half-hour making-of documentary, “Unlocking Sherlock”. All features are listed as appearing on the DVD version as well, for those who haven’t yet upgraded formats to Blu-ray.
I wanted to rewatch the episodes immediately after viewing, always a high recommendation, and to reread the original stories as well. The next season of three episodes is due next fall. I can’t wait! Highly recommended as enjoyable, well-made television. It’s brilliant! (The studio provided a review copy.)