Sherlock Holmes is the most iconic fictional character in Western culture, having been featured in hundreds of movies and TV adaptations over the years. While certain Holmes-inspired characters, like Dr. House, have been used in the modern world, the world’s most famous “consulting detective” has always been seen in his original Victorian setting, for better or for worse. However, 2010 saw the first present-day version of Holmes with BBC’s Sherlock, and while some may worry on how well Sherlock Holmes could be shown outside of his home in the19th century, it does not disappoint.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, the series begins with a novel adaptation of the first Holme’s story where Holmes and Watson first meet, A Study in Scarlet, here renamed A Study in Pink. In the stylized series opener, the London Police are left baffled by a series of seemingly unrelated “serial suicides,” in which the victims all died in exactly the same manner. At the same time, we’re introduced to John Watson while he speaks to his therapist about his overbearing sense of apathy and listlessness after having returned home from service as an army doctor in Afghanistan. While searching for a new roommate, he’s introduced to Sherlock, who upon meeting John is instantly able to discern his entire history, including family troubles and psychological problems. The stunned Watson is then pulled into Sherlock’s current manic adventure to discover the truth behind the serial suicides. Why? Because Sherlock’s landlady took away the skull he talks to about his cases.
“So, I’m just a replacement for your skull?” a bemused Watson asks.
“Don’t worry, you’re doing fine,” Sherlock replies.
The series is amazingly well written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the latter being the current showrunner for Doctor Who, with all the dry wit you come to expect from a Sherlock Holmes feature. Instead of seeming overwrought with modernity, the series feels to true to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original canon of short stories and novels with Moffat and Gatiss expertly seeding each episode with clever references to the books. While the series moves at breakneck pace, it also never feels ridiculous in its need to do so, like the Sherlock Holmes movies of recent years with Robert Downey Jr. playing the eponymous lead. Instead, the stylistic cinematography does something that few Holmes adaptations have ever been able to do successfully before: give you a glimpse inside the detective’s head and discover how he’s able to make such remarkable deductions based on the evidence that everyone else just manages to overlook. In a world of TV crime shows like CSI, which are beset by unrealistic technology as a means to move the plot along and even more unbelievable dialogue, Sherlock successfully returns the genres to its roots with characters who are just as intriguing as the mystery they’re solving. As a voracious fan of the books, I can say that this series is one of the best and definitely the most imaginative retellings of Sherlock Holmes ever made.
Both seasons of Sherlock that have been released so far are now available on Netflix as of this week.