Last fall, I was bored and on the internet (a combination that’s almost never good, yet seems to always be the case) when my friend Catherine tweeted that she was watching something about Sherlock Holmes, and it was great.
Up to this point in time, my feelings about the great detective could be summed up in one word: “Meh.” Actually, that’s not even a word. It’s more like a grunt. Anyway, you get my point. I had read A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I had watched the amusing Disney film The Great Mouse Detective, and I had read the odd short story, but really, other than respecting the fact that he was a great literary icon and being grateful to him for giving us the amazing House, I really didn’t care all that much about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.
To top it all off, Guy Ritchie decided to make a movie with Robert Downey, Jr. (who, for some reason, I absolutely and irrationally detest). I saw the trailer, and I remember thinking, “Well, I don’t like Downey, but that looks interesting enough to suffer through a couple hours or so.”
Maybe you liked Sherlock Holmes, but I was bored. Bored, bored, bored. The only part remotely interesting was any scene with Irene Adler, which shocked me because it was Rachel McAddams, and other than Mean Girls, I had never really cared for her either.
(Okay, fine: Jude Law wasn’t so bad either.)
Needless to say, the world’s only consulting detective did not have much going for him if he wanted to win me over.
Thus, when Catherine enthusiastically responded to my inquiry as to what she was watching, I briefly browsed the internet, found what I was looking for (some BBC television show called Sherlock. Real original, I know), downloaded it, and then sat down at my computer and clicked “Play.”
Two seconds later, I hit “Pause” and started pounding out searches on Google to try and figure out what on earth I was watching. After a few minutes, I realized two things: 1) I had not downloaded the wrong TV series, and 2) this was going to be an amazing show.
Cue the review.
Title: BBC’s Sherlock
Country: Great Britain
Aired on PBS in the USA as a part of Masterpiece Theatre
Series 1, 2010
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson’s adventures in 21st Century London. A thrilling, funny, fast-paced contemporary remake of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic.
-Taken from the BBC’s official website.
(You can’t make it more simple than that.)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson
Rupert Graves as Detective Inspector Lestrade
Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson
Loo Brealey (Louise Brealey) as Molly Hooper
Zoe Telford as Sarah Sawyer
Vinette Robinson as Sgt. Sally Donovan
Jonathan Aris as Anderson
Featuring Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes
Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring.
Episode 1: A Study In Pink
Written by Steven Moffat
We begin with Afghanistan.
John Watson is having nightmares about his tour in Afghanistan. His life is, to put it plainly, boring. Even his apartment and clothes are boring. He’s got a limp and a cane to go with it, he has a shrink that he obviously doesn’t like to visit, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that he’s very depressed.
Cut to a series of very short segments in which we watch several rather content if not happy people suddenly commit suicided by ingesting pills. We see shots of a press conference where Detective Inspector Lestrade is trying his best to answer questions without having to say that he has absolutely no clue as to what is going on. A few helpful text messages to every mobile in the room (including Lestrade) destroy the fragile facade of Scotland Yard. A final text taunts Lestrade and is simply signed, “SH.”
John Watson is limping through London when he meets his old friend and fellow doctor, Mike Stamford. Despite Mike’s attempts to be friendly and conversational, John’s bitterness at life seeps in. When it becomes evident that John could use a flatmate, Mike gets a very great idea.
And finally, the man of the hour. Our first introduction to Sherlock Holmes has him peering curiously at a dead body before taking out a whip – an actual riding crop – and beating the corpse mercilessly while Dr. Molly Hooper looks on like a deranged fangirl who can’t decide if she’s in love with the very disturbing Holmes or terrified by him.
Mike arrives with John in tow, and before Mike can even bring it up, Sherlock deduces that not only does Mike think John and Sherlock should get a flatshare together, but also that John is an army doctor, his limp is all in his mind, and he doesn’t want help from his divorced, alcoholic brother.
Needless to say, John is floored by all of this and somehow finds himself at 221B Baker Street the next day. What starts out as a very awkward tour of the flat turns into a murder mystery when Lestrade shows up and begs for Sherlock’s help. Sherlock invites John to join him, and soon the two are racing around London trying to find a serial killer.
And then of course there’s another mystery: who is Moriarty?
We’ve got a serial killer! Love those – there’s always something to look forward to.
Episode 2: The Blind Banker
Written by Stephen Thompson
Sherlock Holmes lives in an exciting world where people attack him with swords. Dr. John Watson lives in a world where he needs a job and his flatmate is crazy.
An old friend from university – not that Sherlock Holmes really has any friends, but you have to call Sebastian Wilkes something, I suppose – has asked Sherlock for help solving a mystery. Someone has broken into the financial office that Sebastian works in, but nothing has been stolen, and no one knows how the person got in. All they know is that within the space of 1 minute someone graffitied two symbols on a portrait and wall.
Sherlock takes the case, and within a few hours of investigating, it gets really interesting: one of Sebastian’s employees is found dead in his flat with the doors locked from inside.
Not long after that, a second body turns up in a similar situation: a reporter is dead inside his home and no clues as to how the murderer got in.
Sherlock discovers that both men had recently been to China. Then it gets crazy.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to find normalcy, John Watson gets both a real job and a girlfriend, two things Sherlock believes to be ridiculous and tries often to sabotage. John’s love interest is one Sarah Sawyer, and she is brilliant. Honestly, I hope she sticks around for many more seasons to come because she’s so cool for such a normal character in such a crazy show. Plus, she’s not intimidated by Sherlock, or if she is, she doesn’t allow him to bully her. (If you can’t tell, I really like Sarah.)
The world’s run on codes and ciphers, John. From the million pound security system at the bank to the PIN machine you took exception to. Cryptography inhabits our every waking moment.
Episode 3: The Great Game
Written by Mark Gatiss
Sherlock Holmes is bored. Run for your lives!
Sherlock and John have a fight because Sherlock is offended at the way John has described him in his blog –
SH: “Sherlock sees through everyone and everything in seconds. What’s incredible though is how spectacularly ignorant he is about some things.”
JW: Now hang on minute, I didn’t mean that in a—
SH: Oh! You meant “spectacularly ignorant” in a nice way.
– so John leaves for Sarah’s flat, and Sherlock laments to Mrs. Hudson that he really wants an interesting case to solve.
And then the windows of the flat shatter in an explosion.
The building across the street has exploded – the police are saying it’s a gas leak – and Sherlock appears unconcerned until Lestrade asks him to come down to Scotland Yard. They’ve found a envelope addressed to him. Inside is a phone similar to the one from “A Study In Pink” with a message.
Someone is kidnapping random citizens of London, strapping bombs to them, and then giving Sherlock timed puzzles. If he solves the puzzle, the hostage goes free. If he doesn’t, boom.
Meanwhile, Mycroft Holmes is pestering his brother to take a case for the British government. Like Sherlock would ever help his big brother. Please. He might end up with a knighthood, God forbid.
And if you don’t end this episode screaming and throwing your popcorn at the screen like I did, I don’t understand you.
Ms. Wenceslas: Who are you?
Sherlock: Sherlock Holmes.
Ms. Wenceslas: Am I supposed to be impressed?
Sherolock: You should be.
I love this show. I love the mysteries, I love the adventure, I love the snark, I love everything about this show.
Let’s start with characters, shall we?
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock
Holmes, and he’s marvelous at it. Sherlock is an utter genius and an utter jerk. Donovan calls him a freak, and he is a bit, but you get the impression that his callousness might be a defense. Maybe. Possibly. Probably. We can only hope. He knows how to use people to his advantage – Lestrade, Molly, Mrs. Hudson – but he does seem to care a little for a few – John, Mrs. Hudson (she’s the only person for whom he ever shows affection), Molly (in “The Great Game” he seems a bit distressed when he realizes he’s offended her, but it’s true that could be because he’s worried she won’t let him play with her cadavers, and no, that is not a euphemism). He’s an antihero and “a high-functioning sociopath,” but we don’t know the why yet, and perhaps that’s the biggest mystery of Sherlock.
Martin Freeman is an amazing John
Watson. Okay, hands up if you always thought of Watson as being a fat buffoon? Yeah, me too. (Thank you, Nigel Bruce.) I think in this series John is my absolute favorite character because even though he doesn’t get the snappy, snarky lines like his partner, he’s fantastic. He blew my mind because he’s like nothing I expected. He’s fascinated with Sherlock, but he’s not blind to his friend’s faults, and he’s not afraid to call him out on them either. He’s funny, he’s adorable, and he can probably kill a man with his thumb. I’m just saying, don’t underestimate Doctor Watson.
And can I just say, I know that if you read anything about Sherlock, a lot of it has to do with how awesome Benedict Cumberbatch is (and rightly so), but honestly, I can’t imagine anyone else playing Watson. Martin Freeman is renowned for playing put-upon, average joe characters who are a bit cranky (The Office, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Love Actually, Nativity! The freaking Hobbit), and you can see that John Watson could be just like that, but he isn’t. He’s quite friendly and warm, but there’s something dark within him, too. With Sherlock, you expect there to be a lot simmering just beneath the surface because his brain never stops, but Freeman’s version of John is like watching a volcano that could blow any second.
As they say in Russian, и другие (that joke is probably not that funny to anyone who’s never lived in a Russian-speaking nation, so apologies):
Lestrade (Rupert Graves) acts in some
ways like a father or elder brother to Sherlock, more so than his real brother. Despite all of his contempt for Lestrade, Sherlock has some sort of respect for the man, or he wouldn’t waste his time with him. Lestrade might seem annoyed 24/7 with Sherlock, but he’s also quite amused by him and clearly finds him fascinating just as Watson does.
Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is adorable and is definitely Sherlock and John’s sweet, albeit batty, “mum.” She reminds me a bit of my grandmother. (Love you, Mamaw!)
Sarah Sawyer (Zoe Telford) – I’ve already said what I think of her, so I won’t bore you again by gushing about how cool she is. Just know that I’m right, and that you’re going to love her.
Molly Hooper (Loo Brealey) provides all of the cringe-worthy moments of embarrassment. She’s madly in love with Sherlock, and he totally knows it, and you just feel so bad for her. I just want to give her a hug and tell her that clearly Jane Austen and Twilight have ruined her.
Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss) is perfection. I get excited when he shows up.
And now the episodes:
This is Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ baby, and you can tell how much they care about it because it’s so well done. Moffat penned the first episode, and if you’ve ever seen his Doctor Who episodes, you’ll know he’s good at his job. ASIP is a great kickstart and does well by not only introducing us to the players but also giving us the arc of the show – Who is Moriarty and what does he want?
The episode is filled with great bits of dialogues and snappy retorts from Sherlock. It’s intent is to throw John and the viewer headfirst into Sherlock’s world and hope you can’t find your way out.
I would say there are two things I didn’t like about the episode. The first was the scene at the Italian restaurant. Yes, I get that in our society today the idea of two grown men living together does evoke conclusions about their sexuality, and the comments made by Mrs. Hudson and Angelo are funny, but I feel the conversation John and Sherlock have about Sherlock’s orientation was meant not to answer questions but to create more and to taunt the viewers. And the problem I have with this is I don’t understand why two single men can’t be the best of friends? (Granted, I also wish to know why a male and a female can’t be friends without making it about sexual attraction as well, but this is another matter for another time.) Why do we have to make it a question about sex? The whole scene felt forced and contrived.
In fact, it cheapened the relationship, for me at least, which makes me sad because it’s a great one. I’d kill to have a friend like Watson.
Two, the confrontation with the serial killer at the end was a bit anticlimatic. Here we are, terrified about what’s going to happen next, and then they just talk? For hours on end? (Okay, not really. I’m exaggerating.) It was “Ooh, I got you!”, and “Oh, bet you weren’t expecting this!”, and then, “Okay, but…” and “Aha! However…” until I was annoyed.
TBB was not my favorite when I first watched it, but now that I’ve taken a step back, I really think it’s good. It’s no longer concerned with shocking us or seducing us with the utter cool that is Sherlock Holmes; rather, it’s more comfortable and relaxed, like we’ve lapsed into a longer series like Castle and we’re watching another crime-of-the-week show. If this were a season of 22 episodes, that might get old, but it’s only 3 eps, and TBB manages to develop Sherlock and John’s relationship from flatmates to friends. It’s about Watson fitting in and finding a balance between the hectic world of a crime fighter and the mundane reality of life. Holmes could do with picking up a few pointers from his friend, or he’ll start doing something crazy like, I don’t know, shooting smiley faces into the wall – oh, wait.
Cons: the episode blatantly broke the 5th commandment of detective fiction.
It also dragged in some areas.
Mark Gatiss’ TGG is edge-of-your-seats, topsy-turvy, what-the-heck-is-going-on fun. Sherlock solves 5 cases in 90 minutes, and then there’s the “Evil criminal mastermind say what?” moment at the end. Brilliant. Well played, Gatiss, well played.
Cons: I had too many “Wha?” moments, and the cases – while interesting – were so quick that sometimes I had a hard time understanding how Sherlock arrived at the correct conclusion. It made me feel dumb and annoyed.
Both ASIP and TGG are directed by Paul McGuigan, and he’s amazing. Nothing against the actors and the writers, they did a good job, but McGuigan makes them look superb.
5 out of 5 stars. I mean, really, after that review, what else would I give it?
1 star – Avoid
2 stars – Weak
3 stars – Amusing but don’t bother with a repeat
4 stars – Very Entertaining
5 stars – Buy the DVD and watch it over and over again.
It’s somewhere between PG and PG-13. No sex, nudity, or language. A few drug references – it’s Sherlock Holmes, it’s expected. Some themes and violence.