Sherlock: Series 1: a review

I am a latecomer to the game afoot that’s Sherlock, the BBC television show starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

I’m not sure why. I consider myself a Sherlockian (or Holmesian, whichever you prefer). Fans of the consulting detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle represent the oldest fandom in all of nerd-dom. You just can’t be a self-respecting popular culture geek unless you’re into Sherlock Holmes. I own, and have read, all of the novels and story collections. I’ve seen most of the movies at one time or another, including the Robert Downey Jr. ones. I even liked it when Star Trek: the Next Generation dressed up Data with a deerstalker hat and meerschaum pipe.

Yet, somehow I’ve avoided watching the BBC show (or its American cousin Elementary).

I’ve seen both Cumberbatch and Freeman in other things, and I’ve enjoyed their work. I consider myself an Anglophile, to a degree. My own ancestors came from that area of the world. Most of them, at any rate, according to 23andMe. I am a fan of the music from both British Invasions, the one with the Beatles and the Stones, and the later one with Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead. Monty Python’s Flying Circus forever skewed my sense of humor. I also loved The Young Ones, Coupling, and, God help me, Benny Hill. Oh, and The IT Crowd and Black Books. I don’t consider myself a true Whovian yet, but I’m getting into Doctor Who. I’m two series into the new ones so far. I even watched, and loved, The Crown on Netflix earlier this year.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I really have no excuse. I’ve even had friends and acquaintances recommend Sherlock to me. It is something they knew I would like. And they were correct. I did like this first series.

It was only three episodes long, each a 90-minute movie. “A Study in Pink” is loosely based on “A Study in Scarlet.” “The Blind Banker” involves a Chinese cipher. And, “The Great Game” finally introduces Moriarty, whose name has been around since “Pink.” This first series—what we Yanks call a season—came out in 2010. Series 2 and 3 also consisted of three episodes apiece, and were released in 2012 and 2014. Series 4 wasn’t released until this year, 2017. Of course, both Freeman and Cumberbatch are in even greater demand as actors these days. I’ve read that Cumberbatch has signed on for a fifth series; I’m not sure about Freeman.

Each series of a BBC show tends to be shorter than we are accustomed to here in the USA. In many ways, that’s a plus. Shorter seasons are beginning to catch on here as well, and I think that results in better writing and clearer story arcs. That said, I wouldn’t want to have to wait around for two years for the next season of a show I liked. I’ll climb down from my soapbox now.

The premise of Sherlock is a simple one that requires little elaboration. It’s Sherlock Holmes set in modern times (well, as modern as 2010, at this point). Cumberbatch, as Sherlock, is both extremely interesting and extremely unlikeable. In other words, perfect. Freeman, as Dr. Watson, army surgeon, veteran, is the heart of the show. He’s compassionate, loyal and scrappy. Modern touches include current forensic techniques, computers, smart phones, and Watson chronicles Holmes’ exploits via a blog. Also, there are automobiles instead of horse-drawn carriages, and rather than smoking a pipe, our Sherlock uses nicotine patches. Several of them.

The carryovers from the stories are deftly handled. Mrs. Watson is the landlady at 221B Baker Street, but this thoroughly modern Mrs. Watson insists she’s not the cook and housekeeper. Detective Inspector Lestrade is Sherlock’s main contact on the police force. He’s absent in “The Blind Banker,” and is missed, but he returns for “The Great Game.” Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother, is played by show co-creator Mark Gatiss. And, of course, Moriarty, who is revealed as Jim Moriarty in “The Great Game,” which ends on a cliffhanger. I can’t imagine having to wait two years to see how this comes out. Another interesting touch I noticed was Sherlock using London’s homeless population as an information network, the same way he used street urchins in the stories, his Baker Street Irregulars.

While I may consider myself a Sherlockian, I am not a purist. I liked the modern twist on these characters and situations. I even like the way that many of the characters assume that Holmes and Watson are romantically linked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

This was great fun, and I’m looking forward to watching Series 2.

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