If the commercialism, crudity and the generally botched up characters in Hollywood's latest Sherlock Holmes movies is putting you off, look no further than 2010's 3-episode BBC series, aptly titled Sherlock. In an astute mix of the original stories and new writing, the series takes liberties but adheres to the main characters' details making them easily identifiable and even respectable. Made with the elegance required of its lead character, the series exudes the crew’s love for the character, and the actors’ understanding of theirs. With Season 2 ready for broadcast on 1st Jan 2012 (only 3 episodes again), this is as good a time as any to indulge in this well-made series if you have not watched it already.
Sherlock is set in present day London. Dr John Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, a self-styled Consulting Detective who an officer turns to when he is stuck on a case. Since both were looking for room-mates, Holmes and Watson move into 221N Baker Street together. Dr Watson’s qualification and past experience as an Army Doctor come handy for Sherlock Holmes, who uses heightened observation and deduction skills to identify clues and solve crimes. Together, the duo works to solve cases, establish a reputation with the British police and develop a bond of friendship. But Holmes’ isn’t aware that, matching his skill and fascination with mysteries, he’ll eventually have to face-off with a person who will become his arch-enemy – Moriarty.
The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson. In casting these two actors, the production succeeds in realizing most of what it achieves. Cumberbatch plays the detective as a young and arrogant genius – his youth easily accentuating his arrogance. His lean figure, height and deep voice lend to the personality splendidly, making him an attractive figure, yet one easy for other characters to dislike for his ability to overshadow them. Dr Watson, though mildly annoyed by this at times, admires this about Holmes. As the soft-spoken, passive character playing second fiddle to the lead, Freeman plays the everyman – a character that the audience will identify with. Though his character is not as charismatic as the detective’s, Freeman’s performance is at par to that of Cumberbatch, perfectly balancing the multiple requirements of bringing normalcy and humor to the narrative.
By having the series set in the present day, the production gives the characters and stories the fresh feel that was much needed. It also gives the writers a shot at being creative, something they take full advantage of. The episodes are, therefore, as loyal to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories as they are defiant. Stories are adapted from the classics, so “A Study In Scarlett” becomes “A Study in Pink”, while the other two episodes are a combination of a few of the original stories. Tailored for the present day with vigor, the episodes are full of energy and efficiency, matching Sherlock Holmes’ mind-process. Holmes uses text messages and the internet while Dr Watson is a blogger! Even the magnifying glass used by Sherlock Holmes is a modern contraption, while what he does for the traditional pipe-smoking is to be seen. Going by modern day behavior, the characters even address each other by their first names: John instead of Dr Watson; and Sherlock instead of Holmes (hence the title of the Series).
The biggest advantage to the series, making it one of the most accessible good TV series is its limited 3-episode season, each episode running for 90 minutes. This gives the episodes enough time to invest in the mystery, focus on Holmes’ detective work as well as character development. The stories are neither half-baked, nor do they span multiple episodes with cliff-hangers making the series’ format simply perfect. For those not native to the English language and/or English accent, I highly recommend watching the episodes with subtitles – the pace of Sherlock Holmes’ thought process reflects in his lines, and you may not want to miss the details.
My Rating --> 4.5 of 5