It’s hard to imagine a world without Sherlock Holmes. Aside from overused (and misquoted) witticisms, and the iconic deer hunter hat and Calabash pipe combo, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is responsible for every procedural TV show you’ve ever seen, every crime novel you’ve ever read and every murder mystery party you’ve ever been to. Though nowadays we might see Holmes as a stodgy Brit of a time gone past, stroking his chin while he intellectualizes in a wing-backed armchair, Sherlock was basically the Iron Man of the 1890s — brilliant, troubled, innovative, arrogant and loveably rude.
In a world full of Sherlock adaptations, BBC’s “Sherlock” is perhaps the most refreshing. Forget about foggy London Town’s cobbled streets of yore, and ignore steampunk Robert Downey Jr.’s take — Sherlock has landed in the 21st century with his feet firmly planted.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as our detective hero and Martin Freeman as John Watson, the Beeb’s adaptation takes place in modern London with all the conveniences of technology close at hand. Skeptical purists, rest easy — though Sherlock uses his iPhone to troll journalists at press conferences and pester his comrades, he still relies on astute observation, his seemingly endless mental store of information and unconventional uses of the resources at hand.
Each series (or, in American: seasons) is a miniseries of three 90-minute episodes, with each segment exploring a case straight from the Sherlock canon. The first series explored the meeting and development of the Holmes-Watson partnership and the seedy background involvement of the mysterious Moriarty.
For their second series, creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have adapted some of the most well-known Sherlock cases: “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Hounds of Baskerville” and “The Final Problem.” Rather than seeing the tenuous baby steps of Holmes and Watson’s new partnership, audiences are treated to the very real, very difficult realities of Sherlock’s social ineptitude and Watson’s tireless dedication to being a friendless man’s friend. With the increased involvement of Moriarty (played frighteningly well by Andrew Scott), the stakes are higher than ever. Each episode deals with questions of national security, shady underground operations and widespread conspiracies leading up to a cliffhanger even worse than the last one.
The acting across the board is phenomenal. Cumberbatch commits to the extremes of Holmes’ character — on one hand, his inability to connect and his harsh disregard for others casts a harsh critical light upon him. On the other, his ingenuity and drive to solve every case makes him admirable. Freeman’s Watson, however, is the heart and soul of “Sherlock.” He begins the show with post-traumatic stress from his time in Afghanistan and a palpable loneliness, but he is fiercely and loyally bonded to his detective flatmate by the end of series two; even if Sherlock doesn’t know how to handle a real friend, Watson sure knows how to handle Sherlock.
The supporting cast is full of gems too. Mark Gatiss’ sassy, all-powerful Mycroft (Sherlock’s brother), Rupert Graves’ Detective Investigator Lestrade and Una Stubbs’ Mrs. Hudson all lend incredible depth to the show and create a fascinating playground of people for Holmes to bounce off of, revealing different sides of his own identity.
Stylistically, “Sherlock” is as beautifully shot and rendered as a big-budget film. Whether superimposing text messages and phone menus over the scene or using still photographs and clever editing to show Sherlock’s thought process, “Sherlock” uses the resources available to it to effectively tell complicated stories.
This show is a loving homage that both honors and rejuvenates the canon. Longtime fans will be sated with the abundant small references and cheeky nods to Doyle’s work and newbies will be brought into the fold without missing a beat. Though the third installment of the second series has already aired in the U.S., it will be available on DVD and streaming on Netflix soon enough. Go watch “Sherlock.” I command it.
Rating: 5 out of 5