Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PBS's "Sherlock" - A Review

Earlier this year, when my friends in the UK started writing about this new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, I'll admit I was jealous. The gist of what I read--the new creators plucked Holmes and Watson out of 1887 and plopped them into 2010--had me curious and excited if not a little worried. It's not a given that PBS brings every single BBC mystery program over here to the States. I did a weird thing: I stopped reading about the new show, partly because I didn't want to be disappointed if Masterpiece Mystery chose not to broadcast "Sherlock" and, partially, I wanted to keep from reading too many spoilers if we Yanks saw the show.

On Sunday, our patience was rewarded. "A Study in Pink", the first of three episodes in the "Sherlock" series, debuted. And I couldn't be more thrilled at the outcome. As one who has read and knows the original source material--Holmes first adventure, "A Study in Scarlet"--I enjoyed many of the in jokes and winks to knowledgeable Sherlockians. But my wife, who is only a casual Holmes fan, liked the program as well. In an interesting bit of history repeating itself, the new Watson was, like his original counterpart, a veteran of fighting in Afghanistan. How...timely. Of course, for us Americans seeing the show for the first time, we had to contend with the recent news that the actor who plays Watson, Martin Freeman, is also the new Bilbo Baggins. He, like Jude Law in last year's feature film, play Watson not only as a competent doctor but also a man of action. He's not a bumbling idiot, Watson. He's an able ally for Holmes. Freeman did a great job of keeping the good doctor's desires for action and frustration at his injury just below the surface.

Benedict Cumberbatch wears the skin of Holmes well. His frantic delivery of his lines, especially when trying to explain how he arrived at his deductions, played well as an example of our oversaturated modern life. And, pointedly, I appreciated that creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat didn't have the new Holmes use cocaine, instead getting his fix via nicotine patches.

Lastly is Lestrade. Most long-time readers and watchers of the Holmes canon knows that Inspector Lestrade is considered by Holmes not to be very bright, but he's the best Scotland Yard has to offer. Not so this Lestrade. Rupert Graves gives strength to his Lestrade, interlacing cool one-ups-manship (as when he uses his police powers to raid 221B Baker Street looking for drugs, letting Holmes know that only one man wears the badge) with clear admiration for the mind of the consulting detective.

The story is good for an introduction to the new Holmes: a series of deaths that, on the surface, appear as suicides, but is actually the work of a serial killer. Of all the neat things the producers did with this new Holmes, the one aspect they can never do is get inside Holmes' brain. In "Sherlock," they depict Holmes' mental miracles in two ways. One, a typical slo-mo replay, very similar to the Downey film. The second way, however, was brilliant: actually show text on the screen, fading in and out, keeping a list of things Holmes notices. It also worked well when he and Watson texted each other

I'm not one of those people who thinks every favorite thing is sacrosanct. What makes Holmes and Watson so timeless is that they can be reinterpreted time and again and the basic foundation of their characters and relationship remain constant. I am looking forward to future episodes and series of "Sherlock" and highly recommend the series.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I absolutely adored this series. It was the best thing on Masterpiece Mystery in years IMHO. Fresh, fast, and not stuffy.

Scott Parker said...

I agree with you on all points save one: I really enjoyed Foyle's War (natch) and Wallander, both series. Did you like Wallander?

George said...

For some reason, our local PBS station hasn't shown this yet. But I'll be watching when it does.