For those who’ve yet to experience the excellence that is the BBC's modern re-imagining of Holmes, you’re in luck, because we’re re-broadcasting all three episodes from the brilliant first series of Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock on WETA over the next three weeks. The first installment, “A Study in Pink,” airs tonight at 9pm, and its two subsequent episodes will air on April 19 and 26, respectively.
If you haven’t seen this show yet, click through and get ready – I’m about to do my best to convince you to give it a go. Honestly, it’s one of the best things on television right now – maybe one of the best things ever –and, I promise, it is of an ultimate benefit to your life to park yourself in front of the television tonight.
Fair warning, it’s really probably more like six-point-five reasons. I tried.
I really did.
Other than Downton Abbey, Sherlock’s probably the best thing I saw on television in the entirety of last year. I am what one might call mildly obsessed with it, and I consider it fairly tragic that there are only three episodes in this first series.
I would gladly trade many of the other mediocre shows I watch regularly if I could get some more. It’s so well put together that I’m not even ashamed at how geeky embarrassing excited I get when talking about it ( and ask me sometime how many Sherlock-themed t-shirts I own…).
Sherlock Series 2 premieres in the US on May 6th, and it, much like this first series, is stunningly great television. Everyone should watch it – but it’ll make more sense if you’ve seen the first three episodes, which luckily, you get the chance to do starting this week!
But, why should you give yet another Holmes adaptation a shot? Let us count the reasons:
Modern elements that refresh an old story. Re-doing Holmes seems to be a bit of a thing in recent years, with this version as well as Guy Ritchie’s popular Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law. (And now there’s that Elementary mess coming to CBS that we should probably just not talk about.) The thing that’s lovely about this BBC adaptation though – is that this is a Sherlock you could actually see happening, because it’s set in a world we recognize. To be fair, the steampunk-ish Ritchie film is also highly enjoyable, but it’s an offbeat fantasy Victorian hybrid thing that’s in most ways as fanciful as its trappings. This Holmes and Watson text relentlessly, use GPS and Google to solve cases, and maintain personal blogs and forums dedicated to their work (Yes, those links are legitimate sites actually run by the BBC and are well worth checking out. They're very fun.) This Sherlock occasionally even (gasp!) gets things wrong. And these changes make the entire premise feel fresh and exciting, even when you know the general particulars of how the mystery’s destined to play out.
A seriously talented cast. Star Benedict Cumberbatch has basically become a household name in the UK for his portrayal of Sherlock, and it’s well deserved. His Holmes is antisocial, arrogant, cerebral, dark, charismatic, and vaguely alien all at the same time. And yet, he is sort of exactly what you’d imagine Sherlock Holmes would be, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were writing in the 21st century. Martin Freeman – probably best known to Americans as Tim from the UK version of The Office, and soon to be known to everyone as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackon’s The Hobbit – is an excellent John Watson, who feels like an equal to Sherlock instead of just a sidekick. His John is intelligent, brave, and damaged enough to be interesting in his own right. The supporting cast is equally well put together, from Rupert Graves’ put-upon Inspector Lestrade to the lovely Una Stubs as Mrs. “Not Your Landlady, Dear” Hudson. Even Whitechapel’s Phil Davis, dropping in for a guest spot, is great (and really creepy actually).
Brilliant writing. Producers Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame) and Mark Gatiss (also of Who fame, among many other worthy credits) have done a remarkable job crafting a story full of fun twists and brilliant dialogue. It's clear from Sherlock's first appearance onscreen that this adaptation was put together by people who have real affection for these characters and a firm commitment to "modernizing" their story without disrespecting the source material. The dialogue is quick and clever, the story moves at a rapid, exciting pace, and the show just expects its viewers can keep up. (Much like Doctor Who, there's an awful lot of running.) Sherlock’s deductions are re-imagined as detailed intuitions that make logical sense (complete with on-screen word clouds that lead us through his thought process), even if we can’t imagine we ever would have thought of them ourselves. And bonus: it’s funny. From Sherlock’s insults, to John’s dry commentary, to the subtle references to things like Mrs. Hudson’s herbal soothers of possibly questionable legality, there are layers upon layers of smart humor.
Sherlock and John are the best friends. As with any Holmes adaptation, this story lives and dies by two things – whether Sherlock is believable as the cleverest man in the room, and the Holmes-Watson relationship. This time round, they’re just Sherlock and John instead of Holmes and Watson, and since the two meet in “A Study in Pink” (based on the first Conan Doyle story A Study in Scarlet) we get to start at the beginning of things with them, rather than just being dropped into the middle of their lives before we really know who they are. John’s PTSD and adrenaline junkie tendencies mesh perfectly with Sherlock’s “I’m a high-functioning sociopath” detachment, but it’s his down-to-earth humanity that makes this Holmes more than a larger-than-life caricature and closer to an actual person. It’s clear, for once, why these two keep each other around, and how their partnership benefits the both of them.
Enough nods to classic Holmes to make longtime Conan Doyle fans happy, but easily accessible for newcomers. You don’t need to have read A Study in Scarlet to enjoy “A Study in Pink,” but it’s fun if you have. Sherlock’s initial impressive deduction of John’s history via his cell phone, John’s combination shoulder wound and psychosomatic limp, and the word “Rache” carved into the floor by a victim’s body, are all little micro-love letters to the dedicated Holmesians in the crowd, among other things that I’m sure even I’m not remotely astute enough to have caught. (Feel free to enlighten me!) But, even if you’ve never read a word of Conan Doyle in your life, you won’t care.
A love letter to London. Full disclosure: London is my favorite city in the world. It might be yours too, after you watch this. The city looks beautiful, every shot is fantastically done, and every scene has a very distinct sense of place. London is a living, breathing part of the story, almost a character in and of itself. This Sherlock knows London inside and out, from random alleyways, to typical cab routes, to the habits of its police force, to the homeless that live in its streets. It's a world that is realized down to the ground, and it's gorgeous.
And of course, this list would be incomplete without an extra special bonus mention in praise of Sherlock’s fabulous coat. (It’s a Belstaff and apparently the show made it so popular in the UK that it’s been sold out for over a year, if I recall correctly. Not that I looked for it online or anything.) I suppose every hero needs something that billows around in the breeze dramatically.
So, there's the Sherlock sales pitch - did it work? :) If you try out the re-broadcast tonight, do leave us a comment. Would LOVE to know what any newcomers might think! And bring on Series 2!