Television Review: Sherlock (2010)

August 10th, 2010 | Tags: , ,

Sherlock (BBC, 2010)

Sherlock Holmes: Benedict Cumberbatch
John Watson: Martin Freeman
Year: 2010
Note: a modern re-imagining of Canon
Rating:

A note on rating: No, that is not a typo. I have finally broken my rule and awarded a series six out of five pipes. To give this production a mere five points would have been an injustice. Sherlock is the freshest, wittiest, most engaging take on Sherlock Holmes I have ever seen. It delights.

Adaptation

BBC’s Sherlock (which at present consists of a three-episode mini-series) is quite possibly the best Sherlock Holmes adaptation I have had the pleasure of viewing. The re-imaging of Canon in a modern setting, with updated characters and a present-day slant to Holmes’ best cases, is utterly ingenious. There is nothing about this series that disappoints, and I am not merely saying that as a Steven Moffat fangirl (though I do wholly believe that everything that man touches is gold). I am utterly enthralled by this take on Holmes and Watson, and am eagerly awaiting the announcement of further production. Holmes and Watson could not have been given into better hands, and while I am sure the odd purist will bristle at the transporting of Holmes into modern times, I suspect those critics will be few and far between. Far too much care has been taken with the characters for this to be anything but a faithful, adoring adaptation. It is exceedingly clear that the series’ creators both know and love Sherlock Holmes.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

I tremble with barely suppressed glee as I write this, but I suspect I have found the Holmes for my generation. I cannot claim Brett as my own, or Rathbone as my own, or even Livanov as my own, for as brilliant as they were, they existed before my time, and I came to them after-the-fact, viewing their genius in hindsight. But Cumberbatch (and what a fantastic name) is unknown to me, his take on the Great Detective fresh, and what an utterly brilliant take it is.

Where to begin?

Our introduction to Holmes (and I cannot bring myself to call him Sherlock, though I so badly want to) thrilled me in a way I have not been thrilled since my first reading of Canon. My introduction to Sherlock Holmes was in A Study in Scarlet, so it was delightful to witness first hand Holmes beating a corpse with a riding crop, and bent over a laboratory experiment. It was delightful to witness first hand Holmes deducing Watson’s stay in Afghanistan.

From the moment he opens his mouth, Cumberbatch personifies Holmes. His hyperactivity, his manic insanity, his sociopath-like disconnect from his fellow man, his genius, his charisma, his abruptness, his struggle against the ennui of every day living; so completely captures this early version of Holmes, before Watson came along to make him more human. I have no doubt this is the Holmes Watson first met, there in the laboratory at Barts. I have no doubt this is the Holmes Watson agreed to share lodgings with. And I have no doubt this is the Holmes who first peaked Watson’s curiosity. This is Holmes, not yet coloured or calmed by age, still revelling in his youth and energy. This is the Holmes no adaptation has dared to depict. This is Holmes untamed, and he is delightful.

He has, of course, been modernized, something which I wholly applaud. I suspect this Holmes may appeal to a much broader audience than his Victorian cousin, and while part of my love for Sherlock Holmes stems from the nostalgia of 1895, I freely confess I am thrilled to see Holmes interacting with the world in which I live. Of course he would prefer texting to speaking on the phone. Of course he would have a website. Of course he would use upwards of three nicotine patches in a sitting (quite the three patch problem indeed!). And of course he would plant listening devices inside Scotland Yard’s press room so that he might counter Lestrade’s comments to the press. Regardless of era, Holmes has ever been a cheeky bastard.

I love, too, that they did not neglect any of Holmes’ less savoury traits. Holmes as an immaculate yet untidy junkie is the Holmes of Canon, and yet, in true modernizing spirit, we see a man struggling against those demons, trying to remain clean, even as he searches for a way to alleviate his boredom. And again, like the Holmes of Canon, we meet a man whose social skills are seriously lacking, a man who is incapable of communicating with the people around him; a man who requires an intermediary (aka Watson) to act as a buffer between him and the outside world.

Cumberbatch takes all of these elements and plays them with such subtlety that what emerges is the character. For the first time in years I have watched a Sherlock Holmes adaptation and seen the man before the actor. My head is still spinning with delight. Bravo. Bravo, indeed. I truly believe this role was perfectly cast. Cumberbatch has risen to stand among the many greats who came before him. He is Sherlock Holmes, and I suspect he will supplant those who came before him to stand in years to come as the definitive Sherlock Holmes.

Martin Freeman as John Watson

Martin Freeman’s Watson is such a perfect counterpoint to Cumberbatch’s Holmes. Steady, brave, stalwart, and loyal, with the subtlest underpinnings of vulnerability, Freeman’s Watson is plucked straight from the pages of Canon.

It is so refreshing a trend in these later years to see Watson come alive as his own character, rather than merely serving as a foil for Sherlock Holmes. In years past, too few adaptations have given Watson the credit he deserves. It delightful to find that Freeman’s Watson more closely resembles the Watson of Canon than many of his contemporaries. Yes, he delights in Sherlock’s insight. Yes, he craves the excitement of adventure. Yes, he struggles to keep up with Holmes’ quick-fire wit. But he is so much more than that, and it is very easy to see this with Freeman’s Watson.

I suspect a lot of Watson’s depth can be attributed to the re-imagining of the character. Victorian military men were painted as stoic, brave and regimented, lacking in the vulnerability we now know all humans possess. Certainly Victorian military men did not suffer from PTSD (or if they did, they were called cowards), nor did they have trouble reintegrating into civilian life once their service had ended. This is, of course, far from the truth of reality, but the fiction of the time would have us believe this is so, and so Watson’s military service in Canon is a source of bravado, rather than trauma. It is delightful (and if I’ve used this word too often, it is only because it so perfectly encompasses the feeling engendered by this series) to see Watson struggling to adapt to civilian life. It is delightful to see a Watson who is not ideal; who has his own demons (because how could the only friend to Sherlock Holmes not have demons?). We’ve been given a very interesting look at the inner psyche of Watson, and I for one find it both believable and entrancing.

I do, however, miss the moustache. But, one cannot ask for everything.

Rupert Graves as Inspector Lestrade

I must first confess myself a Rupert Graves fan. He is a fantastic actor, who I have always found particularly entertaining. So, it is with this bias that I have fallen in love with his Inspector Lestrade. Graves’ Lestrade is a little out of his depth, completely dependent on Holmes, irritated by his need for Holmes, and yet as swept away by the sheer brilliance of Holmes as every other person caught in Holmes’ web. In short, he is the Lestrade of Canon, perhaps without the sallow, rat-faced bull-doggedness. Graves’ Lestrade is fantastic, and if I could purchase a miniature version of him, I would carry him around in my pocket and be gleeful. And that came out far more stalkerish than I intended, so I will cease discussing him now, save to mention that any episode which does not include Lestrade is a travesty, Canon be damned.

Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson

I always love an enjoyable Mrs. Hudson, and Stubbs is an enjoyable Mrs. Hudson. She is not my favourite Mrs. Hudson, but as an updated version of our favourite landlady, she comes close to perfection. It is nice, too, to see an amicable relationship between Holmes and Mrs. Hudson. Holmes of Canon had quite the soft-spot for his landlady, and she for him, something recent adaptations seem to have forgotten.

Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes

I am not quite sure what I think of this casting. I suppose, in my mind, Mycroft is meant to be less polished and more austere. Gatiss’ Mycroft is quite the dandy, and I’m not sure that really fits the character. Still, I enjoyed the fresh take on the character (was amused beyond measure in fact) and in the role of this new Mycroft, I found Gatiss’ portrayal quite enjoyable. They have taken our quiet, unenergetic, and profoundly anti-social Mycroft, and turned him into a pretentious queen, and it is perfectly suited to this new, modern adaptation. My head is still reeling from our introduction to Mycroft. Well played, indeed.

Andrew Scott as James “Jim” Moriarty

I am still not entirely convinced “Jim” is not a blind. I half expect to discover that he is yet another puppet of the great Moriarty, and that we will discover his appearance in The Great Game was meant only to throw Sherlock Holmes off the true Moriarty’s tracks. It is not that I disliked his performance (though it was at times over the top), but rather that his Moriarty is so far removed from the Moriarty of Canon that I am having a hard time reconciling the characters.

That is not to say that the potential for this Moriarty to be an equally great nemesis doesn’t exist: it does. Simply to say that this Moriarty is not a criminal mastermind bent on his own selfish interests. This Moriarty is an escaped mental patient who is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. Certainly he is clever, but he is nothing like the man Sherlockians know and love/hate. I’m going to reserve judgement until the BBC decides to write, film, produce and air further episodes, but I will say that as a newly invented character, Scott does a fantastic job of convincing me he is utterly nutters.

Delightful Elements

Where does one begin? I suspect I could write an entire novel on the delightfulness of this series, and even then I would be incapable of expressing half of what makes this series so wonderful.

The faithfulness to Canon is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this series. It is exceedingly clear that the series’ creators both know and love Sherlock Holmes. The twisting of Canon into a modern setting is so seamless, so utterly flawless, that if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear Sherlock Holmes had always existed inside of the twenty-first century. And yet –yet– I recognize these characters for who they are and where they came from. The blend between eras is so exact it escapes notice. This is genius writing, it really is. The love and passion the writers/creators have for Holmes and Watson is abundantly clear in every scene, every piece of dialogue, and every wayward glance. So much attention to detail has gone into bringing these characters to life. Even transported into the modern world, they retain everything which first made them great. It is an absolute pleasure to sit through this series.

This is particularly noticeable when it comes to technology. Naturally, Holmes would be a computer expert. Naturally, he would choose to text whenever possible (think of all the telegrams he sent, even after the advent of the telephone). Naturally, Watson, to appease his curiosity, would google Holmes. Naturally, in lieu of sending his stories to the Strand, he would keep a blog. It’s so perfectly in character it astounds me that someone didn’t consider the concept earlier.

The series is also quite stunning from a visual standpoint. I adore the sets (dark and gritty with the sporadic flare of colour) and the cinematography, with wide-angled camera shots. I adore the rendering of clues into text in order to give the audience insight into the working of Holmes’ mind. Visually, this series swept me off my feet. At the risk of sounding puerile: it’s just so pretty.

And Baker Street! How utterly fabulous is Baker Street? I don’t think I have ever seen a better set. I could blink and be transported back to 1888, and then blink again and find myself in 2010. The blending of Victorian decor with the implements of modern life came across perfectly. I love that Holmes’ chemistry bench was the kitchen table. I love that he kept human eyes in the microwave. I love that Watson retained his room upstairs (even though I doubt they will need the second bedroom for long). I love that Holmes keeps his correspondence affixed to the mantel with a jackknife. And I love the two armchairs gathered around the working fireplace. It’s perfect. Utterly perfect.

So, too, is the inclusion of Canon references. I adore fan service, I really do, and even more so when it is so appropriately placed that those unfamiliar with Canon do not notice its existence. Much to my husband’s annoyance, I spent our second viewing of each episode pointing out the direct Canon references (I had wanted to on our first viewing, but was told in no uncertain terms to keep quiet). It amazed him to discover how relevant and well-suited the source material is to today’s world.

I suppose that now brings us to the Hoyay. I hate to use that word, but for a show like this it really is appropriate. From the very first episode it was blindingly apparent that this series intended to be a gay-friendly series. British television is so far ahead of North American television in that respect, and we really must applaud them for it. Kudos to understanding that love is love, regardless of the genders involved. Kudos to normalizing gay and lesbian relationships so that they are a part of the background, and do not serve as ridiculous plot devices.

Not that there is much hope for seeing Holmes and Watson involved with one another, but it is delightful (there’s that word again) to note that they did acknowledge the potential for slash (though I am quite thrilled to have a series depicting Holmes as the asexual he appeared in Canon, for however much he may come to love and adore Watson, it is clear that prior to their meeting Holmes’ interests in such things were practically non existent). And there are a thousand and one scenes which will undoubtedly delight my fellow students of subtext. In fact, those scenes are far too numerous to list here, though I will undoubtedly touch on some below, as I examine each of the episodes in turn.

Quibbles

I suppose no review would be complete without the occasional quibble. My biggest complaint –and it is slight– is that, in borrowing heavily from Canon, the mystery, for those of us familiar with the stories, has been removed. An excellent example is in A Study in Pink. Having read STUD, I knew well ahead of time that the cabby was responsible for the murders, and so it seemed to take Holmes a particularly long time to come to that deduction. I am fairly certain at no point in a Sherlock Holmes adaptation should the audience feel smarter than Sherlock Holmes, even if I was technically cheating. To be fair, my husband, who has not read STUD, only connected the cab driver to the murders when Holmes did, so it is possible my intimate knowledge of Canon is to blame for this minor distraction from my enjoyment.

I suspect there will also be those (and this may become more of a problem as time goes on –we shall see what happens if this does become a regular series) who will quickly become irritated by the ineptitude of Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard of the Victorian world requiring the aid of Sherlock Holmes is believable, but I very much doubt the Scotland Yard of our time would ever condescend to seeking the aid of an amateur, however brilliant he may be. Again, I suppose only time will tell.

Finally, and as with any multi-episode series, episode quality varies considerably with the episode’s scriptwriter. Here we have been given three episodes, with three separate writers, and in addition to lacking complete continuity between the episodes, it is quite obvious that not all the writers are on par with one another. I speak of course of The Blind Baker, which, while not a terrible episode (it was interesting in its own right, and I will dissect it further below) it was certainly not up to the standards set by A Study in Pink, and later The Great Game. If this does go on to become a regular series, I suspect fans will have to contend with the occasional weak episode, depending on whose name is attached to the writing credits.

Episodes

A Study in Pink

A refreshing, and dare I say it, improvement on the original case in A Study in Scarlet, A Study in Pink pits Holmes against a serial killer whose victims take their own lives. With Moffat at the writing helm on this one, I’m not even sure I need to elaborate on its fantastic-ness.

Not that something like that has ever stopped me, however.

It is amazing how much of STUD they managed to convert into a modern setting. From Watson’s return from Afghanistan to his meeting with Stamford to his introduction to Holmes: I have longed to see a fresh adaptation of their first meeting, and it did not disappoint. This episode borrows so heavily from even the dialogue of Canon that anyone familiar with the Sacred Writings will find themselves swooning with delight. I could spend an eternity pointing out lifted Canon material. From Holmes’ “the game is (on)” to his texting Watson with “come at once if convenient”, to Holmes dragging Watson out on their first case, to the empty house in Brixton Road, to the drunk man’s watch deduction (upgraded to a cell phone), to Watson flattering Holmes with praise, to the wedding ring, to the cabby, to the two pill choice murders, to the Rachel vs Rache, to Holmes knowing London intimately, to Watson’s wandering wound….

See, I told you I could go on and on. In fact, for those who are interested, it might make for a fantastic drinking game.

I mentioned above that A Study in Pink improves upon STUD, and I think making the cab driver a run of the mill serial killer rather than a wronged man bent on revenge makes for better television. The problem with STUD (and the reason it is not often adapted) is that the telling of it requires the back story included in The Country of the Saints, and for most Holmes fans, the story is too dull to sit through. That they have managed to tie this into Moriarty (although it does require some suspension of disbelief) is genius. I love that Moriarty is portrayed as a crazy nut job fan who is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, rather than the evil genius criminal mastermind of Canon. It adds a distinct element of realism.

This episode is also quite delightful in that, rather than being exceedingly plot-heavy (something one doesn’t need when borrowing from Canon) it expands a lot of energy introducing our characters. We learn a lot about Holmes and Watson, and while they are quite familiar to the Holmes and Watson of Canon, it is clear that they are influenced by their modern day existence. Naturally, those traits attributed to Holmes and Watson which stem from the Victorian era have been omitted, to be replaced traits fitted to the modern world. I’ve mentioned this above, but will say it again, the re-imagining of these characters is brilliant.

As is the acknowledgement of Canon’s subtext. I adore that everyone they meet automatically assumes they are gay. I adore that we are left wondering at Holmes’ sexuality (because it is ambivalent in the original source material, and can be interpreted in a number of ways). Mostly, I adore that this series recognizes the distinct (and rapidly growing) subset of Sherlock Holmes fandom in which Holmes and Watson are seen as gay. It may not appeal to mainstream Sherlockians (or even the vast majority of this series’ new fans) but slash is no longer the obscured, underground fetish it once was, and it’s nice to get some recognition, even if we can never expect actualization.

The Blind Baker

The most startlingly problem with this episode is that its writer is obviously unfamiliar with Canon. I make that deduction, of course, based on his interpretation of Holmes and Watson, as well as the (extremely loose) Canon references, but if I’m wrong, then he ought simply to be fired).

This is an original case, with some aspects borrowed from Canon. The problem, of course, is that the elements borrowed from Canon are plot devices, which, when meshed together result in garbaly-goop. What should be taken from Canon in these types of episodes are character traits. This, sadly, was not done.

Sure, we learned that Holmes went to Uni (though not that he left after 2 years), that he had few friends (but what about Trevor?) and that he doesn’t eat when working. We were also introduced to Sebastian, who I believe was meant to represent Reginald (but why introduce Reginald without the wonderfulness of The Musgrave Ritual?). We learned that Watson is broke (though not that the reason for his being broke is his tendency to spend his war-wound pension at the track –which would have made for some interesting character insight). We learn nothing else useful about the boys, instead sitting 90 minutes through a convoluted plot that didn’t flow any better the second time I watched the episode (and this is the only episode I will leave at two viewings).

There were problems with characterization, and continuity of characterization. I realize we were meant to see Holmes and Watson struggling to find their footing in a new relationship (both in terms of being friends, flatmates and colleagues) but considering how the last episode ended, I had a very hard time understanding where a lot of the hostility was coming from. It didn’t make any sense. Also, you cannot have Holmes being clueless about a girl’s crush, and then have him use the girl’s crush in order to manipulate her over the span of 2 back to back episodes. It just doesn’t work. Either he knows she likes him or he doesn’t. It cannot be both.

While on the subject of quibbles, I’m still not entirely certain how Watson got a date instead of having his ass handed to him after falling asleep on the job, on his first day of the job. Not that the date wasn’t cute (especially Holmes honing in, acting territorial and jealous, and in general getting into a snit because Watson is his, damn it). I’m also not certain when Watson traded his stoic bravery for quivering, ineffective cowardice. The characterization in this episode was completely off (from both Canon and the standard set in the previous episode). Again, I reiterate: the episode’s writer is obviously unfamiliar with Canon. I am deeply offended that he thinks Moriarty would use capslocks. I suspect Moriarty is equally appalled by the notion.

Reading the above, you might assume this episode is terrible. It’s not. It’s mediocre considering its companion episodes, but still better than most things you’ll find airing on your television set. It simply neglects to treat the characters (who are the point of this series) with the respect they deserve. When making a Holmes and Watson adaptation (even when it has been re-imagined), it is important to remember that Holmes and Watson are more important than plot, and that any plot you conceive as particularly clever will be made better by staying true to the original source material.

Also, I feel it essential to point out that the book/symbols cipher is not taken, as so many seem to think, from The Dancing Men, but rather, from The Valley of Fear. Does no one recall Porlock? Re-read the story, please.

The Great Game

In contrast to The Blind Baker, The Great Game is a fantastic episode, which flows seamlessly from A Study in Pink. It makes one wonder why the middle episode was needed, as the short series would have been made infinitely better by its exclusion. Gatiss, like Moffat, is an exceptionally talented writer, capable of weaving together a flawless story. Nowhere is that better highlighted than in this episode.

Part of what makes Gatiss’ episode so enjoyable is his obvious love for Canon. Clearly a fan, Gatiss does both Holmes and Watson an incredible amount of justice. Part of my dislike of The Blind Baker stemmed from the treatment of the characters (specifically, the unexplained hostility between Holmes and Watson). The Great Game succeeds where The Blind Baker failed. It shows the trials and tribulations of Holmes and Watson’s relationship, allowing the characters to express irritation and annoyance, while still maintaining the affection and love that was the cornerstone of their relationship.

Their relationship was beautifully portrayed in this episode. It is still early days, and they are still getting to know one another, and finding flaw and annoyance in one another’s action. But already it is clear how much they care. That is obvious right from the start, with Watson storming out while Holmes watches forlornly from the window, Mrs. Hudson commenting on their “domestic”. Even angry, Watson, having spent the night on Sarah’s couch (and they are clearly not sleeping together), he rushes back to Baker Street the second he thinks Holmes might be in danger.

I love that everyone still thinks they’re gay, and that Watson tries so hard to protest the fact, but that he acknowledges understanding why people might think that. I love that Holmes lets Watson solve the West case. It is so clear that Holmes adores having Watson as a part of his life, and so he goes out of his way to include Watson in everything, something he wouldn’t do for anyone else. It is clear that Holmes cares (considerably) for Watson’s opinion. His hurt expression when Watson admits to being disappointed is as touching as it is distressing. Later, he deliberately waits for Watson to leave before contacting Moriarty regarding the Bruce Partington Plans, and we sense that he is afraid of disappointing Watson a second time. He is enjoying this game with Moriarty, but he knows Watson will think less of him if he confesses it.

All of this cumulates into one of the most touching finales I have ever seen. The way that Holmes’ face falls when he thinks that Watson might be Moriarty is heart wrenching. The shift to horror when he realizes that Watson has been chosen as Moriarty’s next voice, that he is wearing a bomb, took my breath away. In that instant, it is abundantly clear how much Watson has come to mean to Holmes. Throughout their confrontation with Moriarty Holmes darts Watson continual glances, clearly terrified for the well-being of his friend. Even Moriarty knows that Watson has become Holmes’ weakness –that however heartless he might have been, John Watson has ignited a spark. Just as Moriarty knows how attached Watson has become, Watson’s ploy to allow Holmes to escape ending with a single threat to Holmes’ life.

All of this cumulates as Moriarty leaves, Holmes instantly rushing to Watson’s side, stripping him of the bomb. He shouts, “are you alright”, twice over, clearly terrified and on the verge of breaking down. Watson staggers, but is clearly touched by Holmes’ concern. As Holmes thanks Watson for risking his life, Watson can only smile and point out that Holmes has just stripped him of his clothing in a darkened swimming pool. The homoeroticism knows no bounds.

Because of Gatiss’ advanced knowledge of Canon, he was also able to use Canon references effectively (another problem I had with The Blind Baker). There are dozens of Canon references in this story, and although they are taken from dozens of stories, they are perfectly interwoven and modernized, making for a compelling and fascinating episode which is both borrowed and original. The trick (and Gatiss clearly gets it) is that the elements taken from Canon were either character traits or direct elements from cases, which, when littered throughout the script, do little to distract from the overall plot. I was particularly delighted by:

Holmes shooting holes in the wall, Holmes not knowing the earth travelled around the sun, and then referring to his brain as a hard drive, his playing the violin, his telling Watson that he is ‘lost without my blogger’, his indignation over Watson’s writing, his chemistry background, his need for data, data, his ability to rock a disguise, his acknowledgement that he is lacking a heart, his actions then disproving his words when it comes to Watson, Watson’s loyalty, his frustration, his desire to flatter Holmes, his amazement and hero-worship of Holmes, Mycroft out-deducing Holmes, the Bohemian stationary, the appearance of the Baker Street Irregulars, the “already crossed your mind” exchange between Holmes and Moriarty, and, of course, the tie in with The Bruce Partington Plans. In fact, the only element which I thought was perhaps too forced was the Orange Pips reference. I can’t say hearing 5 pips would have naturally led to such a deduction. Even for Holmes. It was a stretch.

The original elements of the script are fantastic, too. I adore the idea of Moriarty as a not quite stable consulting criminal, who reveals part of his hand to Holmes because he wants someone to play with. He is very unbalanced (and very different from the Moriarty of Canon), and it works exceptionally well in this modern-day retelling.

The cliff-hanger ending was perfect, too, leaving it open for expansion should they decide to make further episodes. Fingers and toes crossed that they do.

And as an aside: Holmes yelling at the television set was priceless.

No episode is without its quibbles, and while they are few and far between, they do deserve mentioning. I am still not quite sure what to make of the fight scene between Holmes/Watson and the Golem. It was quite ill placed, and very distracting from the story. It was also left unresolved, so it seemed to me as though it was more than a little gratuitous. I’m also not quite sure what to think of Holmes, the grammar Nazi. Oh, sure, it was amusing, because I have a tendency to be a little strict myself, but I do not recall him ever correcting someone’s grammar in Canon. Possibly my memory has failed me, but it seemed an unnecessary add-in.

But overall this episode is fantastic. It is worth watching again and again and again and again. It is a delight to have this series end as strongly as it began; setting the stage for what I hope is to become a very, very long-running series.

Conclusion

From concept to creation, this series is nothing short of brilliant. I highly, highly recommend watching it, and hope (most feverishly) that we will see this turn into a regular series. Already, with only three episodes to its credit, it has risen to take its place as a classic. I am utterly certain Sherlock Holmes fans will treasure Sherlock for years to come.

  1. Kat
    August 25th, 2010 at 06:48
    Quote | #1

    I wanted to leave a really detailed in depth response. But, truly, I cannot. All I have to say is “THIS!” in a really loud and fan-girlishly piercing voice. I cannot even tell you how many times I gasped, bounced, squealed, and general made an idiot of myself while watching this series.

    It was so much more than I expected from a MODERNIZED adaptation. I was certain that such a silly messing about with time and setting would bring about ruination and despair. Perhaps in the 1990s or 1980s the modern setting would have ruined it, indeed. But in our uber technological and uber socially open age, it was perfection. From text messages to nicotine patches to sly slashy remarks, the entire journey was a fantastic and exciting one. I plan to watch these again quite soon, and I make it a rule never to take upon second viewings when I can still remember the dialog and plots.

    Thank you ever so much for reviewing. I’d been skeptical and rather disdainful of the idea until that point. Reading your opinion gave me the courage to look into it. After all, you are my guide and source to all things Holmesian and tasty!

    <3

  2. admin
    August 25th, 2010 at 10:16
    Quote | #2

    I am so thrilled you were able to experience the sheer delight that is this series because of my review. I urge everyone I meet to watch the series, whether they are familiar with Sherlock Holmes or not. I’m not usually one for second/third viewings either, but I have watched the series at least a dozen times now, and every time it still fills me with glee.

    I think you are quite right in suggesting that this would not have worked had they don’t it in the 80s or 90s. It had to be today. Because our modern world is perfectly suited to Sherlock Holmes. You can so easily imagine transporting him here and giving him an iphone and watching his delight. I am so excited by the prospect of this becoming a regular series. To watch this version of Holmes on my screen weekly would be the closest thing I can imagine to heaven on earth.

  3. JL82
    September 4th, 2010 at 09:35
    Quote | #3

    I don’t know if you noticed this, but you actually focused less here on slash than you usually do…(surprising considering how much you love it) and somehow I got the impression that this series is less slashy than many of the traditional Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes adaptations you’ve reviewed. And that surprises me too. Because I guess I always thought that while Holmes and Watson’s relationship might have been a “male bonding” that was acceptable in Victorian times, if brought into today’s world, it would “translate” better into a gay relationship than a male friendship of today.

    Perhaps it is just that the relationship hasn’t developed yet? Or maybe, in a gay-friendly environment, there’s no need for SUB-text?

    Something else that hit me as I reading this: Watson had been in the military in Afghanistan. We have a military offensive in Afghanistan today. From the producers’ point of view – how perfect. Although perhaps, it’s only an American offensive today.

  4. September 4th, 2010 at 09:47
    Quote | #4

    Word. There is much to like about this series so far, and if they keep on in the direction they are going Cumberbatch will take his place alongside of Rathbone and Brett as one of the great Sherlock Holmes interpreters. The slashy subtext is great, too. I am looking forward to the Region 1 DVD release because I understand the commentary is well worth the price.

  5. admin
    September 4th, 2010 at 10:59
    Quote | #5

    @JL82
    I mention above that the first 3 eps clearly show the early days of their relationship, where they are just getting to know one another, and haven’t crossed over into anything other than a tentative friendship. This is true of the Canon, too, if one reads the stories in chronological order, so it’s quite accurate that the slashy subtext would be toned down. That is not to say that the series isn’t slashy (it is, exceedingly so), but it is also evident that the nature of their relationship hasn’t yet crossed that line. The attraction and UST is there, obviously, but at this point the show is showing pre-slash, not slash.

    And, no, the Brits are over in Afghanistan, as are a number of countries (including Canada, my country). It’s an international offensive. I think it probably speaks more to world politics that the Brits are still in Afghanistan. This isn’t their first war in that country. It’s not even their second.

  6. admin
    September 4th, 2010 at 11:07
    Quote | #6

    @Love Bug
    I confess; I am utterly in love with this series. It is everything I wanted the Guy Richie film to be (which I still enjoyed) but didn’t get. Cumberbatch is brilliant as Holmes, and I think he will easily surpass Rathbone and Brett. For a lot of people (especially newer fans who are only now being introduced to the Canon) he is such a refreshing update that I suspect his performance will transcend eras.

    I’ve read transcripts of the commentaries, and they are lovely. It’s really evident that Cumberbatch and Freeman genuinely like one another and enjoy working together. The chemistry between them is not acting. The best thing about the DVD is the inclusion of the unaired pilot. As a writer, I found it particularly interesting to see the evolution of a first draft script into the final product. It was also interesting to see the changes in the actors, as their parts become more comfortable and their interactions more natural. Releasing the original, as unpolished as it was, was an incredibly brave thing to do.

  7. JL82
    September 4th, 2010 at 11:50
    Quote | #7

    In addition to being gay, I also see a modern Sherlock Holmes having Asperger’s Syndrome. Google this if you are not familiar with it – it is a close cousin to autism – people with this diagnosis can be brilliant in one or two academic or technical areas but don’t read social cues or automatically pick up expected social behavior. And they are obsessive on one or two topics. Actually, Watson’s obsession with Holmes in Canon reminds me of that part of it.

  8. JL82
    September 4th, 2010 at 16:28
    Quote | #8

    I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the word “hoyay.”

    It bothers me the way many adaptations make Moriarty a recurring villain or archenemy of Holmes, because it takes Moriarty’s role way beyond what it was in canon. Just as Sherlockians, and adaptations, have a tendency to build up Irene Adler as “the heroine,” I think Moriarty gets exaggerated as “THE villain.” Even assuming Holmes didn’t make him up, he’s really not in canon that much.

  9. Cress
    September 4th, 2010 at 16:34
    Quote | #9

    Great, detailed review. I’d recommend it to everyone, if it were not spoilery. I’ll probably recommend it everywhere once the episodes air in America. About episode 2, though, I actually found John’s irritation with Sherlock completely understandable and in character. Sherlock was in fact being an unhelpful, irritating roommate and was not sharing the case properly, making John wonder why he was putting up with it. I found the personal elements of the episode perfect, except with regards to Sarah being way too tolerant of John. She should have fired his ass. I do think the mystery plot was rubbish too, because they tried to stuff too much together–DANC, VALL, and SIGN.

    You say, “Also, I feel it essential to point out that the book/symbols cipher is not taken, as so many seem to think, from The Dancing Men, but rather, from The Valley of Fear. Does no one recall Porlock? Re-read the story, please.”

    No, DANC was involved in the plot. The cipher in VALL was a telegram sent by Porlock and then translated at leisure from a book. There was no such Porlock in the Blind Banker, though there was a book which was the key to the code. In the episode, the ciphers were spray-painted on walls to look like vandalism, which is more like how the codes were featured in DANC. Also, they translated Elsie Cubitt’s history in Chicago to Soo Lin’s backstory with the criminal gang in China. So DANC was indeed a large portion of the plot, even if it was solved by VALL’s solution. What a rubbish plot, though. If only it had been a bank robbery or something. They don’t need serial killers or criminal gangs in every dang episode.

  10. Cress
    September 4th, 2010 at 16:37

    @JL82

    “Hoyay” is short for “Homoeroticism, yay!” It is basically equivalent to “slash.” I definitely agree with you about the overuse of Moriarty and Irene Adler.

  11. admin
    September 4th, 2010 at 17:40

    @Cress
    I might have agreed with you (re the John/Sherlock relationship in ep 2) were it not for the way episode 1 ended and episode 3 evolved. It didn’t fit within the confines of the other 2 established episodes, and it didn’t fit at all with Canon. I’ve since learned that episodes 1 and 3 were written in tandem, with collaboration (of a kind) whereas episode 2 was a one-off, so that may have a lot to do with it. It felt misplaced.

    As for my note (re VALL) that was directed more at the media than at you (or anyone else reading this blog). I’ve read several articles which credit DANC but not VALL, and to be honest, there really is very little resemblance to DANC (aside from the symbols, but even that is where the similarities end — I for one felt the Elsie Cubitt/Soo Lin connection was exceedingly weak, and am almost convinced it was unintended. I can understand why you (and others) might want to credit DANC, but I didn’t (and still don’t) make the connection (and I intentionally re-read DANC after the episode aired to check). The VALL cipher/book connection was blindingly obvious (as have all other Canon-based elements) even without the addition of Porlock, so either the episode’s writer was trying for subtle and hitting obscure, or you (and others) are reaching.

    But, to each their own. Do you know if there commentary for episode 2? I suspect that may clear up some confusion.

  12. admin
    September 4th, 2010 at 17:46

    @JL82
    There have actually been several articles commenting on Cumberbatch’s Asperger-ish take on Holmes. I can see how they might see it, but I think it’s more likely that Holmes is unique, hard to classify, doesn’t fit within social norms, and people don’t like that — they need to label things. Holmes is Holmes, and he doesn’t need to have Asperger or Antisocial Personality Disorder to define him.

    As for Moriarty – of course he’s over-used, but at the same time, he is Holmes’ only Canon-based nemesis. Kind of makes him important, even if he doesn’t show up often. The Adler heroine thing baffles me, because there’s no justification for it in Canon.

  13. Cress
    September 6th, 2010 at 02:19

    Moffat specifically said that Episode 2 had “elements of DANC”, so it was indeed intentional. Sure, the plot was buried and turned into rubbish with the other stuff they shoved in with Sarah and the smuggling ring, but it was most certainly there on purpose.

    See this post: http://community.livejournal.com/sherlockbbc/20492.html

    I don’t know if there’s any DVD commentary for the Blind Banker, and don’t have any DVDs yet anyway.

    You said, “were it not for the way episode 1 ended and episode 3 evolved. It didn’t fit within the confines of the other 2 established episodes, and it didn’t fit at all with Canon.”

    In episode 1, John had not even officially moved into the flat yet, so he had not experienced how horrible a roommate Sherlock was yet. That’s why he didn’t argue as much, although he did get irritated at being called to the flat just so Sherlock could use his phone. I’m sure he would get more angry and annoyed if Sherlock continued this behavior on other cases, after they had become partners. Episode 2 takes place after they’ve been together a few months, so that’s where the new tension is coming from (along with Sherlock’s actual poor behavior in the episode). Episode 3 started with them fighting to the point that John decided to spend the night at Sarah’s, so that seems a perfect continuation of episode 2’s relationship. Sherlock and John becoming friends and partners does not mean that they’re never going to be fighting with each other. I’d prefer they fight rather than John just passively putting up with everything. He is amazingly tolerant about many things, but there comes a point where a human being can’t take anymore.

    In the canon, Watson writes of their arguments about cocaine, the deductions about Watson’s brother, and Holmes’s scathing opinions about Watson’s stories. They do indeed fight, and I prefer them that way. I actually find certain passages in the canon, such as in EMPT, when Watson doesn’t say a damn thing to interrupt Holmes’s insensitivity and arrogance, to feel quite unreal and false. No human being could possibly be that selfless and patient and forgiving, in my opinion. I want Watson to fight back, or at least vent to his therapist. He can’t just keep it all in.

  14. Cress
    September 6th, 2010 at 02:32

    @admin
    I agree that Holmes is hard to classify and doesn’t really need it. I don’t like how in the episodes he calls himself a “high-functioning sociopath” because I don’t think it really fits at all, because a sociopath or a psychopath (and both terms are imprecise and disputed) is someone who lacks empathy and uses people (or kills them) because they have no ethics or any concern for the consequences of their bad behavior. Sherlock may not care about interacting with most people, but he does have a sense of right and wrong. He’s not completely lacking in conscience like Moriarty.

    Moriarty should not be so overused, when instead we could have villains like Moran, John Clay (REDH), Dr. Roylott (SPEC), Milverton, Stapleton (HOUN), Hugo Oberstein (SECO) etc. The canon is full of really neat villains that just need some adapting to the modern day. Moriarty does not need to be injected into every case, nor does every case need to be a murder. Why can’t we get any theft or blackmail cases? Or even the wonderful treasure hunt of MUSG?

  15. admin
    September 6th, 2010 at 07:33

    @Cress
    Well, if Moffat said Episode 2 had elements of DANC, then it did, but aside from the symbols left as warnings, I don’t see it –unless he was only talking about the symbols. I still think there are more similarities with VALL.

    As for the Holmes/Watson relationship, I do understand your point, but at the same time, I think it went too far. Canon!Watson shows signs of irritation at living with Holmes constantly, but there is always an undercurrent of warmth and affection. Even early on, he clearly adores Holmes. Episode 2!Watson showed none of that warmth and affection. Had I not known Canon, I would have assumed he hated Sherlock and was actively looking for a new place to live. That’s what I meant when I said I felt it was out of character.

    I do agree that John would be annoyed with Sherlock, and that they would fight, but I still don’t think the animosity from John was warranted. Having John follow Sherlock along on his cases without an underlying friendship rather makes John the asshole (using Sherlock to alleviate boredom). And John makes a careful point to deny any friendship with Sherlock (twice). I don’t see it.

    I, too, prefer it when they fight, but not to the point of hating one another –and I was very convinced in episode 2 that John hated Sherlock. That is where my complaint stems from, and I’m sticking to it. But then again, I adore the Watson of Canon, so I prefer my Watson to remain as true to Doyle’s character as possible.

  16. admin
    September 6th, 2010 at 07:41

    Cress :

    @admin
    I don’t like how in the episodes he calls himself a “high-functioning sociopath” because I don’t think it really fits at all…

    I completely agree, with everything you’ve said on the subject. There is such a need today to classify, classify, classify (probably the reason such vast numbers of children today have been diagnoses with ADHD and the like). The world isn’t black and white, and just because someone doesn’t fit into the mould doesn’t mean they deserve the stigma of being labelled a sociopath.

    Although, in this instance, I also think Sherlock has self-diagnosed. Or else was diagnoses as a teenager, and let’s face it, all teenagers are sociopaths.

    Also, I’m sure as they make more episodes, we’ll see non-murder cases and a greater collection of villains. The first arch, it was sort of mandatory that they use Moriarty. Most Sherlockians expect it.

  17. September 6th, 2010 at 22:27

    I was ridiculously overjoyed to see you’ve written up a review on this blindingly brilliant series! Of course, I’d like to go in depth about how I thoroughly agree with you, but something about this show melts the coherency center of my brain, and all that seems to come out is unintelligible fan girlish squeeing 🙂

    Although, if I miss an opportunity to shout how fantastic, how perfectly cast Benedict Cumberbatch is, my brain may implode. So I will say it. That man has me in utter awe of his portrayal. When I first read canon, with the sole exception of HOUN (which I read first), I basically went through the stories in near chronological order. Or, more accurately, pretty much the order they were written, so that my first impression of Holmes was a young-ish man from the earlier time-line stories I’d started out with. I have a very, very clear mental image of him, so quite literally the first few minutes of ‘A Study In Pink’ had blown my mind just with Cumberbatch’s “look”. Shallow, perhaps, but I am a Canon purist and madly in love with those stories, so it becomes difficult for me to equate an actor as the character if they do not somewhat resemble Watson’s descriptions of him.

    Then, Cumberbatch went and beat the devil out of that corpse with all the enthusiasm of Sherlock Holmes. He had me from that point on, and within maybe 20 min of that episode, I was comparing him to Jeremy Brett, who was, up until then, the only one I felt who ever gave SH proper depth. Brett took a bit of getting used to, as I’d seen the later episodes first, and was not impressed. It was probably part way through the Adventure series that I became enamored of him, only to have his performance grow on me each time I watched. But Cumberbatch was an instant favorite, he clicked with me so completely.

    Freeman was not at all what I had in mind for Watson, mostly due to his appearance, but this man is literally Dr. John H. Watson plucked straight from the pages. He gives the character such depth, makes him so well rounded and not simply that guy who follows Sherlock Holmes around. He is given as much air time as Holmes, he is shown as a competent doctor, an average, kind hearted man to balance out Holmes’ arrogance, his mercurial temperament. What Freeman’s Watson *isn’t* also speaks volumes about the talent of the writers, their love/understanding of Canon. I will probably be tarred and feathered for saying so, but I HATED Jude Law’s hostile Watson 🙁 I was surprised how much I liked RDJ’s portrayal (sans scruffy appearance) but Law ruined the movie for me. Moffat & Gatiss proved without a doubt that Watson can be fleshed out, have a background story, be an intelligent, useful friend to Holmes, a man to be relied upon no matter what — without making him hostile or resentful. This is a Watson who loves his Holmes. He gets annoyed with the arrogance (as Watson of Canon occasionally did), they have their disagreements, but the friendship shines through beautifully.

    Time will tell, but so far IMHO, this is one of the best, if not the single best adaptation in existence. Updating it to the modern era has made it as fresh & compelling to us as it must have been to the Victorians reading SCAN in The Strand for the first time. The only disappointment is having to wait until this time next year for more episodes *cries*

  18. Cress
    September 9th, 2010 at 01:35

    Hope I did the quotes right in here.

    admin :Well, if Moffat said Episode 2 had elements of DANC, then it did, but aside from the symbols left as warnings, I don’t see it –unless he was only talking about the symbols. I still think there are more similarities with VALL.

    Why does it have to be an either/or question? Both stories are in the episode. It’s just like how in The Great Game, we start off with BRUC, but change the plot so that the theft happens in a pub while drunk (rather than at the Admiralty), and we wind up with NAVA’s solution, that the culprit is the brother-in-law Joe Harrison, rather than BRUC’s solution that had Colonel Valentine Walter and some an international spy as the guilty parties. Two stories with slightly similar plots are blended together into one. It’s not an accident; it’s deliberate.

    Having John follow Sherlock along on his cases without an underlying friendship rather makes John the asshole (using Sherlock to alleviate boredom). And John makes a careful point to deny any friendship with Sherlock (twice). I don’t see it.

    I personally did not see John hating Sherlock or wanting to move out in Episode 2. Just him rolling his eyes and sighing in a long-suffering way. I think he was feeling irritable from lack of sleep, and he wanted some simple courtesy from Sherlock. I think he denied the friendship because he wasn’t certain of what exactly Sherlock was trying to imply to Sebastian. And he’d be more willing to call Sherlock his friend if Sherlock treated him like a friend and equal.

    I find it odd that you would see John as an asshole for responding to Sherlock being an asshole to him. To me, John was NOT using Sherlock for excitement in that episode. He didn’t even know they were going to a case when Sherlock said they were going to a bank. John probably felt unprepared and somewhat intimidated by the very posh bank; he also didn’t like Sherlock casually rejecting offers of money, if he was going to investigate the case anyway. John went along to the crime scenes with Sherlock, only to get locked out TWICE. If Sherlock is going to invite him places, then let him do something helpful and protect Sherlock from assassins. Otherwise, don’t invite him, and let him go do his own job, so he can earn his own damn money.

    Sherlock also lets John get arrested for vandalism, instead of warning him to escape from the police, and Sherlock tells John to stop whining when he complains of it later. That’s not the behavior of a friend. John notably stays up all night helping Sherlock with the books when Sherlock could have asked the Inspector to help instead. John also tried to have a normal date with Sarah, but Sherlock was the one who turned it into part of the case without him knowing it, and even still John comes to his rescue without a second thought. John wasn’t trying to use Sherlock for anything. Sherlock was using him constantly.

    I know I haven’t changed your mind about that episode, and that’s fine with me. I just didn’t see it the same. It’s odd that you thought John was unnecessarily hostile, and yet AutumnAtMidnite says that John was not “hostile or resentful”, in contrast to Jude Law, who apparently ruined the movie. (And no, you’re not alone in that opinion, AutumAtMidnite, so don’t be embarrassed.)

    As for me, I loved Jude Law’s Watson, and saw his arguments with Holmes as deliciously fulfilling all the tension from the canon. I was pleased to see this same behavior in Freeman’s John; to me, both Watsons were just venting about their realistic frustrations, but underneath they always clearly loved their Holmeses. It just goes to show that everybody’s opinion of the same scenes can be wildly different. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

  19. admin
    September 9th, 2010 at 05:47

    @AutumnAtMidnite
    It’s funny you mention this series melting the coherency centre of your brain, because I swear, I cannot think straight when Cumberbatch’s cheekbones show up. I’m not usually prone to letting my inner critic get overrun by my inner fangirl, but I’m fairly certain my inner fangirl had my inner critic tied up in the closet by the time the opening credits rolled.

    Because, yes. Cumberbatch is perhaps the most perfect casting of all times. If any man was ever born to play Sherlock Holmes it was him. He is exactly the Holmes of early Canon. I, too, am a purist, but this adaptation has won my heart and spun itself into an entirely new obsession.

    I adore Brett, I do, but he was always a little too manic and theatrical for my tastes. Not so much that it detracted from his performance, but enough that he was never my favourite Holmes. Close, for certain, but I never once pictured him while (re)reading the stories. I can see I may have a problem with my next reading of Canon. I suspect whenever Holmes speaks I will hear Cumberbatch’s trembling baritone. I may be in a lot of trouble if I start picturing those cheekbones.

    I think perhaps the problem with Watson is that we’ve had so many of him (fat Watsons, skinny Watsons, handsome Watsons, ugly Watsons, tall Watsons, short Watsons, etc), and that he really doesn’t spend a lot of time describing himself, so we only get the essence of the character’s character, rather than a blueprint of what he’s meant to look like. The first time I saw a picture of Freeman I was disappointed. As soon as I saw him on screen I was beyond impressed. It was delightful having my perception changed so instantly, and really made me realize how much of Watson is in what he does and says and not what he looks like.

    It’s funny, because I liked Law’s Watson quite a bit (but it’s later in the partnership when Watson is vexed enough to want to leave Holmes for a wife, so I bought the hostility). I didn’t like RDJ as Holmes, though he was brilliant as the scruffy, drunken and combative misc. detective. Still, as fun as the film version was, it won’t transcend the way I suspect this series will. Law and RDJ are not the Holmes and Watson of a new generation, but I suspect Cumberbatch and Freeman will be.

    I, too, am waiting with tense anticipation for more episodes to be made. I’m nervous, because there’s so much they could do to destroy what they’ve set in place, but there is also so much they can do that will heighten the brilliance that is this series.

  20. admin
    September 9th, 2010 at 06:07

    @Cress
    Out of curiosity, are you Steve Thompson? I apologize, but you seem so defensive of this episode, almost as though you are personally offended by my opinion. I do apologize if I have offended you, it was not my intention, though as you say, it is not an either/or question. It’s a matter of opinion. I didn’t see it, and whether it was an accident or a deliberate act is of no matter. I’m not going to re-watch the episode and have a sudden epiphany simply because you tell me it’s there. (and please read that with the cheek that was intended, as it may come across as insulting otherwise)

    It’s obvious that we’ve come at this episode from different perspectives, and have taken away different things, and that’s maybe a testament to better writing than I’ve credited. Interpretation is subjective, so it makes sense we would see the episode, its subplots, and the motivation behind the characters in such different lights. It’s fascinating, really.

    Although, I do agree that Holmes was an unbearable prick in the episode, and I would have struck him, but I’m not John. I also agree that John’s frustration and annoyance were warranted. I’m simply saying I felt the hostile tone of the episode was a little over the top. I didn’t see John annoyed with Holmes for being Holmes. I saw John deciding he hated his roommate and wanting out. But, again, perspective, and like you say, I know I won’t convince you either, and that’s fine.

    I will point to my response to AutumnAtMidnight, because I mention there that my appreciation of Law’s hostility existed only because the film depicted their relationship at a much later point. I can see John, seven years into their partnership, wanting to throttle Holmes, but I cannot see John, a month into their partnership, wanting to do the same. The Watson of early Canon was enamoured for years before he came to see himself as long-suffering.

    Then again, it is entirely possible that I am simply not a fan of conflict and tend to avoid it whenever possible. That sounds hypocritical given that we’re debating so vigorously, but there is a decided difference between some fun fanish debate and tension in a relationship. Too much stress in the latter.

    I do want to thank you, though, for the lively debate. Although we don’t agree, I’ve found your posts insightful, well thought out, and intelligently written. Do you keep your own blog? If not, I’d consider doing so. I suspect it would make for interesting reading, and the world does need more blogs about Sherlock Holmes.

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