Sherlock (2010– )
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And that in essence is why Sherlock is so, so good. Holmes is not about the Victorian costumes and the environment in which the mysteries unfold. It's about the characters and the events that make the stories the defining mystery novels of so many generations. And Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss' take on Conan Doyle's master detective captures the essence of Sherlock Holmes magnificently. The stories are essentially the same (the first episode-A Study in Pink is a take on A Study in Scarlet-the first Holmes novel) but given a contemporary twist. This contemporary take (which I thought was going to be cheesy initially) is what shows the duo's exemplary creativity. The modern outlook does not take away anything from the essence of Sherlock Holmes- it adds to it. The three 90 minute episodes breeze past you at a breath taking speed- challenging your intelligence and making you yearn for more. The episodes have distinctly dark and brutal settings but are also filled with moments of wry humor that make the experience completely satisfying. The concept of using images and visual pointers in the scenes were Holmes makes his superb deductions is excellent and helps the viewer see and think with the ace detective.
As for the cast, Benedict Cumberbatch is not the kind of guy who would strike you as Sherlock Holmes when you meet him in a street, but man, does he own the show! Oozing charisma, Cumberbatch plays the Holmes character to a tee-arrogant, self centered, brilliant genius. There is an air of superiority about Holmes that makes him pity the vacant minds that don't see and understand the things which seem so obvious to him and Cumberbatch brings that out beautifully. Martin Freeman as John Watson on the other hand plays a perfect foil to Cumberbatch's eccentric genius-the everyday man. Looking for meaning and purpose after returning from the War in Iraq, Watson gets swept into Holmes' mad cap world of brilliance and chaos. Freeman's earnest and subtle performance complements Cumberbatch's Holmes beautifully.
Sherlock though, is not about acting performances. It's about bringing the experience of the world of Sherlock Holmes to the world we live in. Moffat and Gattis recreate the world of the Victorian detective in a completely new setting and do it superbly. Nothing about it is elementary-it is pure genius!
The story is rarely adapted for two reasons.
The first is that the murders don't make sense without the dull, rambling back story which no one wants to dramatise. The Valley of Fear has hardly ever been dramatised for the same reason.
The second is that this is Conan Doyle's first attempt and he introduced significant character changes to both Holmes and Watson in the short stories. Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet, is rather more deranged, more like Cumberbatch's Holmes than Brett's, much more an aggressive, painful thorn in the side of the police rather than the unseen assistant of later stories.
So people who haven't read the book or have only seen Holmes on screen need to give this a bit of time. 21C technology aside, it's actually quite a faithful adaptation, even though they ditched the back story and gave the murderer another, more credible motive.
Knowledge of the original isn't at all necessary, but it does change the viewpoint. While some were congratulating themselves on beating Holmes to the punch in spotting the profession of the murderer, readers of the original were being conned into believing that his next victim was going to be the American he was driving (the victims in the original are all American). In the original, the word 'Rache' appears at the crime scene, also in an empty house in Lauriston Gardens, written in blood. The police jump to the conclusion that the victim was trying to write the word 'Rachel'. Holmes knows that 'Rache' is German for revenge. Moffat turns it neatly and humorously around. In the original it's a red herring, in the new version, it's a vital clue. These riffs on the original abound and are almost always imaginative and amusing and often more than that. Mycroft as Sherlock's Big Brother, for example.
Moffat and Gatiss treat the characters with all the loving respect that an author could wish for and serve up an adaptation which re-imagines everything that Conan Doyle put into his plots and yet delivers something very close to to their original purpose and effect. Holmes and Watson are products of their time, as they should be, but they are recognisably the descendants and inheritors of the originals. The baby is still gurgling happily in the bathwater.
There's a lot more here than initially meets the eye and I have a sneaky feeling it'll get better.
If it does, it's going to be very, very good indeed.
I needn't have worried. It was a terrific, fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat adventure. Benedict Cumberbatch (what a name!) brings a dark edginess to Holmes that gives the whole piece a delightful 'gothic' feel, while Martin Freeman - if the first episode is anything to go by - will make a perfect foil as Watson. Casting is so important and this combination feels just right.
I'll always have a soft spot for Basil Rathbone's Holmes, and, on the small screen at least, I can't see anyone displacing Jeremy Brett as the definitive 'Victorian' sleuth. But maybe, just maybe, the writers have created a Sherlock for the modern age who will stand the test of time and join a handful of other portrayals in the Pantheon of the greats.
Moffat's pedigree as a comedy writer has added a new layer to the Holmes' scenario, and though there were several in-jokes in the first episode that only Holmes' aficionados would appreciate, there was enough general humour to lighten what might otherwise have been a dark canvas.
Of course, I shouldn't have had any doubts. Steven Moffat is, after all, the man who rescued Dr Who from the self-indulgent, soap-opera obsessed, poorly scripted, moribund years of Russell T Davies and turned it back into a fun-packed joy to watch. He's done the same with 'Sherlock'.
The man is a genius. I can't wait for the next instalment.
Hope this show will continue for many full seasons.
To my surprise, and delight, this show just so happens to be the bomb-diggity. Let me explain.
Ever notice how lots of Agatha Christie fans complain when screenwriters change Poirot and Marple stories? I'm not one of them. I like new and different interpretations of those stories because otherwise, in the case of literary characters brought on screen, what's the point? What's the point if we film and re-film the same story, the same story which we've already read once, twice, maybe three times? Especially in many cases, what's the point when it's been done so perfectly before? In the case of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles has been filmed at least 24 times according to Wikipedia. So another iteration won't thrill me. However, one that takes liberties with the source material, i.e. bringing the characters into the 21st century, I'm all for it. Surprise me. That's what I say.
And there are two things I really love about this series. 1) For longtime fans there are many, many "Easter eggs" to discover in each episode. And, best of all, 2) My boyfriend loves this series. And I can't pay him to watch a Jeremy Brett episode. He did enjoy the Downey Jr. movie (as did I, I just prefer a less swashbuckling Holmes - one reason among many that I didn't love the film), but he's never excited to watch Sherlock anything. This series is different. He loves it. For any Sherlock fan that would like to get their significant others on the band wagon, this is a great gateway. (And my boyfriend's actually a very good barometer for high-quality mainstream television shows. Usually, if something's firing on all cylinders, he knows it. More risky fare - he's off-put.)
And, you may rightly ask, why should I give a crap what my boyfriend likes? Good question. I happen to be of the mind that TV and film can accomplish what my favorite art form - literature - cannot. The TV and film experience can be enjoyed by a group. Sure, book clubs discuss books, but with TV and film you and whomever you want to hang out with, experience story at the exact same time, in real time, and you can easily observe each other's initial, unguarded reactions. Plain and simple, it's fun to enjoy the mediums with others - to laugh together, to be scared, sad, thrilled, etc. It enhances the experience. I think literature's strength is the opposite. For me, the best thing about settling into a good book is that I'm alone. Just me and the test, together making up a story.
Well, if anybody has read this far, I apologize for the rant. But if you're on the fence about buying the DVD or renting it or whatever, take a chance. Take a tip from me. You'll be pleasantly surprised. The more things change, the more they stay the same.