More than a decade and a half after the much-revered Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt (or Dr. Who fame) developed a new version of the great detective, this time existing in the modern world of cellphones, blogging and instant messaging. A tricky re-imagining that could have been awful if not done properly, but the stylish and snappy execution of the series surprised many fans by being respectful of the canon while at the same time treating it with playful irreverence. Such things as Holmes wearing three nicotine patches ("This is a three-patch problem") instead of filling 221B Baker Street with pipe smoke is typical of the how's humorous but semi-believable updates. Using bits and pieces of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and stories as episode starting points, and then following them to alternate conclusions, Sherlock has already taken its place amongst the best interpretations of Doyle's characters and stories. The term "instant classic" may be overused, but in this case, I believe it is justified.
Benedict Cumberbatch - a name that could have come straight out of a Doyle story - puts his own personal stamp on the part with complete ease. His Holmes is more like Brett's than Rathbone's; he is nearly completely lacking social graces, is apt to say anything that is on his mind and can be at times quite annoying - "an irritating dick" as Watson puts it in one episode. As Dr. John Watson, Martin Freeman is the other piece of the puzzle, and captures what the poorer Holmes adaptations miss - he is the person who is standing in for us, the people of average brains, and we see the stories through his eyes. Over the course of Series 1 and 2 - six episodes total - the actors develop a chemistry that rivals that of the best Holmes/Watson teams of the past.
Of the six episodes shown so far in the United States, only episode two of the first series, "The Blind Banker", has been a misfire. Otherwise, each of the remaining five episodes have been vastly clever and entertaining, with my particular favorites being "The Great Game", reminiscent of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE in its depiction of our heroes having to solve a series of puzzles in a limited amount of time in order to save the lives of various citizens, and "The Hounds of Baskerville", a loopy update of the most famous Holmes novel that still captures most of the spirit of the original story. While it is always rewarding to see a Holmes story faithfully put to film, such as the 1939 THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES or the entire Jeremy Brett series, SHERLOCK proves it can be equally rewarding to see Holmes stories blown apart and skillfully pieced back together.
The one main criticism I have of the series so far is that they have pushed the "Moriarty Button" too soon. I'm not yet sold on Andrew Scott's interpretation of Jimbo... mer... James Moriarty, who features strongly in the final episode of Series 2, "The Reichenbach Fall", which retells the classic story of "The Final Problem" in which Holmes battles the wicked Professor Moriarty. As in the original story, both men apparently die. This would be fine with me had it been the twelfth episode, or the twentieth, but to send Holmes to his apparent doom only six episodes in does not give adequate time to build up the friendship of Holmes and Watson for it to have the proper impact, nor does it allow the writers to fully establish Moriarty as the "super villain" they wish him to be. Additionally, the use of a cliff-hanger ending when the next episode is 12 to 18 months away is extremely frustrating.
Still, 12 or 18 months from now, God willing, I will be there to see how they bring Holmes back, and to see Watson's reaction. I expect his "irritating dick" remark may be reprised! - JB