Monday, March 19, 2012

Sherlock, Season One

Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

I've been a Sherlock Holmes nerd since I was a kid. Someone, probably my dad, gave me a copy of "Hound of the Baskervilles" and that was the beginning of the end. Since then I've read every Holmes story, many of them multiple times over the years, and have even choked down some cross overs and non-Conan Doyle attempts at the character. As a result, I was nervous about yet another film/TV adaptation of the Great Detective's antics. I'm a huge fan of the long running Jeremy Brett series (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and there is no way anyone can reasonably compare.

To my surprise and delight, the BBC's Sherlock went in a completely different direction. The stories are updated to the present day and include new twists on old favorites, while retaining many of the original, beloved plot details and characters. The fairest thing I can say about this show is that it's a mash up of Conan Doyle and Doctor Who, which makes sense considering creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss also write and produce the current incarnation of Doctor Who. And I absolutely adore anything they create, particularly Mark Gatiss, who co-stars in a few episodes as Mycroft. This is also an excellent example of how to use modern-day technology within suspense fiction.

Season one is made up of three 90 minute episodes, which premiered in 2010. The first episode, "A Study in Pink," is based on Conan Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet. There are a string of serial suicides all around the city and Holmes is convinced one man is responsible. He meets Dr. John Watson, recently returned from the war in Afghanistan with an injured leg and the need to rent a cheap flat. Holmes and Watson slowly become friends and Holmes takes Watson on the case. There are a lot of great tie-ins to A Study in Scarlet, namely clues found at the scene of the crime.

The second episode is "The Blind Banker," which starts off with a break in at a local bank, where one of Holmes's acquaintances hires him to get to the bottom of things. He discovers a strange, spray-painted code and things quickly escalate to murder, leading Holmes and Watson on the trial of Chinese smugglers. They run into book codes, the Chinese circus, ancient valuables, kidnapping, and more murder. Though still well written, well acted and enjoyable, this is probably the least of the three episodes.

"The Great Game" is the final episode and drags Holmes inexorably towards his arch-nemesis, Moriarty. Holmes is hired by his brother Mycroft to investigate the suspicious death of a government employee, but is distracted by a mysterious assassin playing deadly mind games. He rigs a series of victims with explosives and will only set them free if Holmes can solve a variety of cold cases in time. Holmes and Moriarty have an eventual stand-off, leading to a cliff hanger that may cost Watson his life.

If you are a Holmes fan or like quirky crime drama, the series comes highly recommended. There are a lot of great things about it, particularly the casting. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Holmes. He plays up the unlikable angle, even suggesting that the character suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. Eventually we learn through Watson that he is a decent, caring person and has welcome moments of humor. The series also gives Holmes a dark side, presenting him as a barely contained sociopath who fits into society only because he has complicated problems and puzzles to solve. Martin Freeman is a welcome inclusion as Watson, giving the character a warm, Everyman sort of appeal and making him seem like less of a dunce than other adaptations have. Watson is still a doctor returning from the traumas of a war in the Middle East, which has a freshly topical appeal given the current, ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And though there are only light touches of it, he remains to be a charming womanizer.

There are also regular appearances from Lestrade, played by Rupert Graves, who gives the character a serious angle and removes the bumbling humor of past adaptations. Una Stubbs's Mrs. Hudson is also very likable. Her close relationship with Holmes provides the character with a much needed human element, though he is also a source of comical irritation for her. Mark Gatiss is an excellent Mycroft: arrogant, brilliant and frequently charming, but is entirely too physically active. During Mycroft's first appearance there are some in jokes about how he is on a diet. At first I was uncertain about Mycroft's character, but Gatiss has completely won me over, particularly after re-watching the season and finishing season two. The somewhat secret linchpin to the whole series, for me, is Moriarty. At first I disliked Andrew Scott's Moriarty, but he has completely won me over. Like Sherlock, he is brilliant and calculating, but here, unlike other adaptations, he is a complete psychopath. He has an irritating high-pitched voice and some bizarrely feminine habits, but overall he is an adequately terrifying villain.

Sherlock comes highly recommended, not only by me. The show received great critical reception and won a BAFTA award for Best Drama series in 2011. Season one is available on DVD, Season two is finished and a third is slated for sometime in early 2013. Also look out for Freeman and Cumberbatch in Peter Jackson's long-awaited fantasy epic, The Hobbit.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to meet a Sherlockian :)

    Have you read the book "Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies. This book is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.