I’ve written about the need for modern-day fiction to really appreciate how digital technology and multiculturalism has affected our day-to-day lives. William Gibson gets it right in his Bigend Books trilogy and the same can also be said for the BBC series known as Sherlock.
Set in modern London, in a world where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories don’t exist, John Watson encounters a new friend and a world of mystery and terrifying adventures. Sherlock Holmes is an amateur detective, a brilliant mind brought in by Scotland Yard to crack the toughest cases using his deductive abilities and utter ruthlessness. But for all his gift at solving crimes and unraveling conspiracies, the greatest mystery is Sherlock’s relationship to others: his sole friend John, his estranged brother Mycroft, and his deadly rival Jim Moriarty. A lot of tension comes from Sherlock himself, his genius often crippled by what might be either “high-functioning sociopathy” or (more likely) Asperger syndrome.
As I said before, one of the things I love most about this show is how it updates the whole Sherlock Holmes saga to the twenty-first century (and it’s sadly funny that we live in an era where Watson once again gets to be a British war veteran from Afghanistan). The show’s producers know how to use smartphones, blogs, GPS tracking, globalization, and mass media. Weaving in text and graphics from a computer monitor or a phone screen into the air near a character’s point of view reminds me of a similar approach taken to demonstrate Will Ferrell’s calculations in Stranger Than Fiction. This lets the audience see things without the need for close-up shots on smartphones and computers, giving us the characters’ reaction to new information and text messages in real-time. It also lets us see how Sherlock’s famous deductions label everything for his benefit and ours.
The cast is a wonderful collection of seasoned actors. Benedict Cumberbatch usually holds the spotlight as Sherlock (energetic and awkward in all the right ways), though Martin Freeman manages to hold his own as John Watson (with a performance that reminds me a lot of Jude Law’s portrayal from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films). Rupert Graves provides us with an Inspector Lestrade who’s a little more competent than his previous incarnations. Andrew Scott’s interpretation of Moriarty is a bit more funny and energetic than I expected, but serves as a brilliant contrast to Benedict Cumberbatch’s more serious delivery, especially when he suddenly switches from funny to terrifying in a heartbeat.
Out of all the current episodes, “A Scandal in Belgravia” has to be my favorite. Irene Adler (played by Lara Pulver) is reimagined as a sharp-witted dominatrix and a good match for Holmes; I found her chemistry with Sherlock in this series a lot more engaging than the relationship between Holmes and Adler in the Guy Ritchie films. Then there’s easily the most hilarious scene of the series: Buckingham Palace, John and Sherlock giggling like schoolkids, and a bed sheet for modesty’s sake (trust me, it’s a lot better in context). And the climax (no pun intended) of the game of wits between Irene, Sherlock, and Mycroft is wonderfully executed–a moment of triumph and romance pulled out from the depths of despair and intrigue.
Although I was intimidated at first by each episode being ninety minutes long, I overcame it because this Steven Moffat production–like the current run of Doctor Who–is just that good. It’s intelligent in all the ways that a good mystery–let alone a good Sherlock Holmes story–ought to be, and there’s plenty of character growth and plot twists for dedicated viewers. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes or someone in the mood for a good crime drama, you shouldn’t miss this engaging series.
Sherlock is available for viewing on BBC One.
Bonus Material: For those of you who’ve watched the episode “The Reichenbach Fall,” you’ve probably seen the dozens of fan theories about the significance of the ending. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen it, here’s my own theory in a few simple clues:
- Molly Hooper (“You look sad. When you think he can’t see you.”)
- The scene with the dummy is foreshadowing (“Henry Fishguard never committed suicide.”)
- The “homeless network” (“Much more relaxed about taking bribes.”)
I know it’s been debated to death (again, no pun intended), and we won’t know anything more until the next series begins, but this is a solution that I prefer until I see further evidence.
Bibliography: Sherlock (TV series). Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Written by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, and Steve Thompson. Directed by Toby Haynes, Euros Lyn, and Paul McGuigan. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, Rupert Graves, Andrew Scott, Una Stubbs, Vinette Robinson, and Louise Brealey. Produced by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Sur Vertue, and Beryl Vertue. Hartswood Films, BBC Wales, WGBH, BBC One. July 25, 2010 – present.