Friday, October 29, 2010

Sherlock: The Game is On

Even though I'm a big fan of mysteries and of all things British, for some reason I've never gotten into Sherlock Holmes. I haven't read any of the stories, I didn't watch last year's movie (because I can't stand Robert Downey, Jr.), and honestly my favorite adaptation so far had been the Wishbone episode of The Hound of the Baskervilles. But after watching the first installment of Sherlock on Masterpiece Mystery this week, I think I finally get it! This is a modern-day adaptation and obviously I can't really comment on how faithful or accurate it is to the original source material, but it was just FUN (especially after three weeks of the very good but very depressing Wallander with a very mopey Kenneth Branagh). I definitely need to check out Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.

Our new 21st century Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (best name ever) and Dr. Watson is played by Martin Freeman (the future Bilbo Baggins) and they're really great together. This week's episode, "A Study in Pink," showed how they initially met. Watson is just back from a tour in Afghanistan, and though his therapist thinks he has post-traumatic stress syndrome and encourages him to write in a blog, it turns out that he actually misses the action of war. In a chance meeting with an old friend in a park, he mentions he's looking for a flatmate and gets introduced to Holmes, an unofficial police consultant who describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath." Holmes has just rented the infamous 221B Baker Street and without really knowing what's happening, Watson quickly finds himself as both Holmes' flatmate and sidekick. (The two of them get hilariously mistaken for a couple on a few occasions. Holmes' sexuality seems to be ambiguous, while Watson is definitely straight and keeps unsuccessfully trying to pick up women.)

So Sherlock Holmes is pretty...weird. His hallmark is deductive reasoning, which he uses on everyone in every situation, even when not investigating a crime, and it tends to piss people off. Detective Inspector Lestrade (played by Rupert Graves, who is everywhere these days) calls on Holmes because he knows what he's capable of and has some measure of respect for him, but the rest of the police force is openly hostile. But as the audience we see him more through the eyes of Watson and can't help but like him. He's brusque and socially awkward (characters like Brennan on Bones clearly owe some debt to him) but his eccentricity is amusing and almost endearing.

The series is from two guys from Doctor Who and I can see a lot of similarities, which isn't a bad thing. Sherlock and the Doctor are both brilliant and quirky, and Dr. Watson, like a companion, is our window into their worlds. The writing is sharp and London manages to look contemporary but have that moody period feel. Another touch I liked was in scenes where Holmes is doing his observation thing, little bits of text pop up on the screen to show what he's thinking.

There are two more installments for this first "season," and I believe a second season of 3 "episodes" has already been ordered. (Each episode is 90-minutes without commercials, so is basically a movie.) Highly recommended!


burkie said...

i'll check it out!

burkie said...


i watched episode 2 last night (The Blind Baker). your review is spot-on! incredibly well done. while not true to the letter, it's certainly true to the spirit of the source material. you're right about brilliant-but-awkward characters like Brennan owing a debt to Holmes, but the Holmes-Watson relationship has inspired every hero-sidekick pair as well (in this episode, they reminded me strongly of House & Wilson).

one big difference that i noticed in this version compared to every other version that i've seen or read is that they call each other "Sherlock" and "John" rather than "Holmes" and "Watson." perhaps it's more natural in real life, but it rang false (to my ears, anyway) every time i heard it. i guess i'm just too used to "Holmes" and "Watson."

anyway, thanks for the recommendation, jenn!

(i'm now looking more forward to The Hobbit as well, if that's possible. i think this Freeman fellow will be excellent!)

Jennifer said...

So glad you liked it, Burkie! You can still stream the first episode online if you're interested!