I grew up on Sherlock Holmes, both the Arthur Conan Doyle stories and the BBC show in the 80s. Therefore, I was most intrigued by the premise of the new BBC series Sherlock, which takes the classic characters (and some of the plot elements), and sets them in present day London. Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective” who solves cases for the police using his intellect and his smart phone. John Watson, his friend and sidekick, is an ex-army doctor returned from Afghanistan with PTSD. Despite the updates, the characters and the clever solutions to intriguing mysteries remain the core appeal of the series.
Sherlock is brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch as a witty, arrogant, and hyper-observant genius and self-described “high-functioning sociopath”. The little nuances in his performance add a lot to the believability of the character, so that we feel his boredom when he has no cases, and experience the high with him as he finally solves the mystery. Martin Freeman’s Watson is the everyman, the sidekick to Sherlock that brings us along for the ride in the unusual world that Sherlock inhabits. The two are played off each other to great effect, bringing a humour and charm to the series that could otherwise be lacking. And the great writing and acting does not end with the heroes: many of the villains in the series are done to perfection, with top honours going to Sherlock’s nemesis, Jim Moriarty (actor’s name withheld to avoid possible spoilers).
Updating Aurthur Conan Doyle’s classic to the present day allows for the show to be more approachable, as well as giving it room to grow beyond the confines of the original stories. Current technology is used without apology, with texts, internet searches, etc. showing up on screen as graphics and text floating in mid-air. They also use this effect to show us Holmes’ thought process at times, and it’s fun to be able to see where he is headed and try to solve the puzzle before he does (I’ve never been able to, yet).
The seasons are very short, especially by American standards, consisting of three episodes each. But this is also a major strength of the show, as there are no filler episodes, and the quality of each episode is top-notch. The mystery of each case is intriguing, and the solution never feels cheap, with clues being available to you around the same time they are to Sherlock. Each episode is a self-contained story, but teases you with hints to the overall arc of the season, which culminates in the season finale, but that only opens up a new mystery to be solved at the beginning of the next season. The hardest part about watching this show is the nearly year long wait between each season, but it’s worth the while.