Late to the Party: Sherlock

Lord knows I love British television, but apparently the BBC felt the need to endear itself to me even more. Sherlock aired in the summer of 2010 as a very brief television series about — who else? — Sherlock Holmes and his colleague Dr. Watson. This show is … oh goodness, I don’t even know. Can a show be called ‘perfect’ without the commenter sounding pretentious?

I won’t even try to disguise the fact that I’m sadly ignorant of Holmesian canon, but I know enough to draw comparisons to the original Holmes and this new imagining of him, and I can’t wait for the second season. (Who on earth thought it would be okay to leave a year-long gap between the first and second season?!)

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Right off the bat, we first meet the character of Dr. John Watson, just as we always do in Sherlock Holmes tales. Played by Martin Freeman in this new version, Watson is an Afghanistan veteran, discharged after being shot, and is struggling to cope with his return to a normal life in London — both the financial aspect (London is a very expensive city in which to live) and with the difference between civilian life and the war zone. A friend runs into him on the street and, after catching up and talking about old times, takes him to meet one Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who just happens to be looking for a new flatmate.

These two have an awful lot of running to do.

Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a brilliant Holmes. His perfect delivery of smooth, sardonic matter-of-factness mixed with the occasional bout of complete cluelessness in regards to social interaction makes his character as baffling and offensive as it makes him entertaining and inspiring. His manner of speaking and addressing people reminds me faintly of Jim Parsons’ character Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. (I know some of you aren’t fans of TBBT, but you have to admit that there are similarities. Come on, now.)

The first time this likeness became apparent was when a member of the forensics team calls Holmes a psychopath. Sherlock, with a lightning-fast response time, replies angrily, “I’m not a psychopath, Anderson. I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.” Oh, how similar that is to Sheldon’s proclamation early in the second season of TBBT: “I’m a rogue Night Elf, don’t you people read character descriptions?!”  Following a similar exchange, other parallels can be drawn in terms of their social alienation:

Watson: “I met a friend of yours.”
Holmes: [confused] “A friend?!”
Watson: “An enemy.”
Sherlock: [relaxes] “Oh. Which one?”

Need another?  “Look at you lot, you’re all so vacant. Is it nice not being me? It must be so relaxing.” Tell me that that doesn’t sound at least a little bit like Sheldon if you take out the British use of ‘lot’.  Of course, Holmes has a sense of (sometimes unintentional) humour with its very own flavour:

Watson: [reading from police credentials] “’Detective Inspector Lestrade’?”
Holmes: “Yeah, I pickpocket him when he’s annoying. Keep that one, I’ve got plenty at the flat.”

I love several things about this show — cinematography, locations, dialogue, attention to detail — but there are three things that set this apart for me. First, it makes me giddy to see that Sherlock’s apartment is (or at least was) a complete disaster area. Geniuses are rarely neat-freaks, in my estimation, unless you count Sheldon Cooper. Second, Holmes and Watson aren’t portrayed as two people who solve crimes by sitting around and just thinking about things. They actively find the answers by chasing down (literally, in a lot of cases) suspects and people of interest and by actively inspecting the crime scenes. The newer Sherlock Holmes films show this side of Holmes and Watson as well, which is a splendid development. Third, it’s fantastic that both Sherlock and Watson are caught up on the latest technologies, including the internet, GPS and other resources to help with their cases. They’re not so above-and-beyond with it that people would sit there shaking their heads while they watch, going, “How on earth would they know how to do that?” It’s average, in a way, and that’s what makes it excellent.

I could make a dirty joke, but that'd be too easy.

Speaking of technology, an interesting effect in the show is created by not showing the screens of phones or computers, but rather by having floating text that tells the viewers what the screen currently reads. This text also appears as Holmes surveys a scene, playing show-and-tell so that it is perfectly clear how he manages to make amazing and yet simple deductions in such a short amount of time. Of course, in many instances this text is left out to add to the entertainment factor as he rattles off unexpected conclusions.

Something that I’m certain would have never come up in any other era of Holmes-and-Watson fun is the issue of the pair’s sexuality. Many people make the assumption in this show that Holmes and Watson are involved. Sherlock even mistakes Watson’s curiosity in Sherlock’s personal life as a means of learning if he would be a suitable candidate for a romantic relationship.

When it comes to bringing the character back to his roots, the creators and writers do a fantastic job. They don’t stop with his rapid-fire rattling-off of his conclusions and suspicions, but Holmes still has his beloved violin, the iconic address of 221b Baker Street, and his lovely landlady Mrs. Hudson. The writers even managed to bring in his character’s smoking and drug history. Holmes, having originally ‘lived’ in the late 1800s and early 1900s when several drugs were legal, often partook in tobacco, cocaine, morphine and other opiates, claiming that they helped him to think. The BBC has made these habits more PC; instead of smoking a pipe or doing drugs (at least in the first season), he uses patches to get nicotine into his system without being conspicuous. I was also pleased to see that we meet Moriarty, however briefly; to go a season without meeting Holmes’ true archenemy would be absolutely cruel.

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to — wait. Damn, wrong show."

Steven Moffat is one of the two creators (and I’m assuming writers) of the show (the other being Mark Gatiss), and this will be oh, so obvious to anyone who is a fan of his work on Doctor Who. Sherlock is, in many ways, a more somber version of Matt Smith’s Doctor; he’s curt and doesn’t mince words, but when he gets excited, he has a childish delight that shines through with absolute brilliance. In the first quarter of the first episode, Sherlock is asked for assistance on a police case. Whilst spinning about and grinning like seven-year-old, he says, “Four serial suicides and now a note! This is Christmas!” The ‘this is Christmas’ line has been used at least once in Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, and it made me chuckle as soon as I heard it. (I was also unable to stop myself from saying, “Oh, Moffat …”.)

Each of the three episodes is approximately 90 minutes long, putting each out there as what could be a feature film, both in terms of length and quality. I can only imagine how many episodes Moffat and Gatiss have planned out, but I look forward to watching more ‘movies’ next year.

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If you are in any way, shape or form interested in the character of Sherlock Holmes, you must, must, must watch this show. Find it somewhere. It’s on Netflix Canada, and so I assume it would be available in the States and possibly on BBC’s website. Set an evening aside and burn through these episodes. You won’t regret it.

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  1. Kevin
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I liked your deconstruction of Sherlock. Baffling and offensive, lol. I could easily see this review leading to someone checking out the show, so I’d say this was a success!

    • Toria
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      Woohoo! 😀

  2. Tove
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    I completely agree! This series made me love Holmes so much that I’ve now read most of the books and created a Sherlock dollhouse =P

    • Toria
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

      A Sherlock dollhouse would be pretty friggin’ cool! I’ve yet to read most of the stories. My knowledge of Holmes is essentially based on the radio programs from the ’40s and ’50s.

  3. Ben
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    You really have a gift for writing good articles, my friend. Speaking as a diehard Sherlock Holmes fan, someone who has read most of the books and seen most of the movies, this new incarnation really intrigues me. I have seen attempts to bring classic literature into a modern setting and the results have been mixed, but given that this is a BBC series and it has the kind of dry wit in the writing that I love, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll love this. Good thing too, since this show would have totally escaped my notice if it wasn’t for you and Kevin discussing it over Twitter. I might even go out and pick up the DVD set if it’s at a good price – I typically like re-watching these kinds of shows 🙂

    • Toria
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Aw, thank you, that means a lot! You should definitely watch them if you can find them somewhere. You will adore it!

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