For the last week or so Steph and I have been watching the Stephen Moffat / Marc Gatiss / Sue Vertue miniseries Sherlock, and this is what I was talking about months ago when I said that most people forget how weird Sherlock Holmes actually is when they read the stories. Sherlock here is a manic scarecrow, absolutely confident and yet slightly uncertain in his own abilities, an ex-druggie and current Nicotine patch abuser, given to firing bullets into his own wall from boredom. Unlike the (still fun) Robert Downey Jr version, though, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock comes off as a very strange man who is an inseparable part of our world, rather than the inhabitant of a Victorian adventure-drama pastiche (not that there’s anything wrong with such pastiche – there’s just a limit to what you can do there).
In three 90-minute episodes, this series does the practically impossible of nailing the Sherlock Holmes feel in a thoroughly modern setting. The actors (Martin Freeman of Life on Mars as John Watson and the brilliantly-named Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes) are inspired, Cumberbatch as a Holmes always one step away from committing some heinous crime just to keep himself from boredom, and Freeman as a Watson drawn to Holmes’ adventuring lifestyle. The cinematography is brilliant without going out of its way to seem so, the music serves as an excellent accent, and of course there’s the script. Between them, Moffat and Gatiss craft stories that are hilarious at one step, and deadly serious (even terrifying) the next, much as Holmes stories always were. The villains are truly chilling creations, and Sherlock in his way is their mirror, even as he struggles to deal with the most elementary of human interactions.
The show isn’t entirely even – the second episode veers a little close to Yellow Peril/inscrutable Oriental territory for my comfort, and also in that episode Holmes verges on being an incarnation of the Doctor – but it’s always fun, witty, and mysterious. There’s so much to praise here, from the plots that spin off old-school Holmes adventures to the amazing chemistry between the two leads to the cinematography, but this should be enough to convince you that you need to watch:
The series starts when Doctor John Watson, recently invalided home from the war in Afghanistan with shrapnel in his leg, meets an old school friend of his who tries to convince him to share a flat with the eccentric consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.
The same opening works as well for Gatiss, Moffat, and Vertue today as it did for Doyle more than a century ago. Kind of sad, now that I think about it, but at least they make the most of it.
Edit: Mistakenly listed the name of the actor playing Sherlock Holmes as “Bernard Cumberbatch.” In fact, his real name is Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, which is even better.