As is apparent from perusing Big Hollywood for any given amount of time that the current crop of Prime Time Television shows leave quite a bit to be desired. There is also nothing new under the sun, plots are rehashed, and even series’ are being recycled. Occasionally, though, an old dog can be taught new tricks. So it is with the BBC’s Sherlock.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation has been a regular in all known forms of media. From the Strand magazine where Holmes got his start, through radio and television and on to the big screen, the great detective has spanned the generations. He is considered the most played character in all of media, with at least 75 different actors taking on the role.
While American audiences have most recently been treated to Robert Downey Jr.’s performance on the big screen, the real gem of modern mystery is the BBC’s mini-series Sherlock. Now entering its second season, it is a luscious masterpiece.
The most fantastic part of the series is that it isn’t new. Each episode works with an existing Holmes story but takes it to another level. Each episode is more of a movie, running for ninety minutes, allowing the plot to build and the characters to gain more depth.
The first season had episodes based loosely on “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Five Dancing Men.” The sophomore outing begins with “A Scandal in Belgravia,”obviously a new take on “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
The brilliance of the series is on full display once more as it delves into the relationship between Watson and Holmes, Holmes and Irene Adler, Holmes and his brother Mycroft, as well as Watson’s own failed romantic interests. The intrigue and tension is palpable throughout, while managing to break it with surprisingly humorous interludes along the way. Even the cutesy little special effects used to show Holmes’s thought process add a layer to the proceedings, where similar tricks in other shows tend to come across as heavy-handed and rather stupid.
The plot, like the original story, is based around a royal personage who has been compromised by a romantic liaison with the inimitable Miss Adler. While the story diverges wildly from there, hardcore fans of Holmes will catch a myriad of small details that harken back to the original. As a quick example, when trying to get in to visit Adler, Holmes disguises himself as an injured priest. This is not unlike the scene from the book where he, also dressed as a clergyman, inserts himself into a staged altercation and is struck, prompting Miss Adler to invite him into her house.
One of the most fascinating bits of this reboot is how it has been adapted for the 21st century. Watson, instead of writing up the escapades for publication, keeps a blog of his friend’s adventures. The photograph from “The Scandal” has become a smart phone filled with digital pictures and other incriminating information.
The whole episode is perfectly paced, each scene building to a spectacular crescendo. One is left feeling that it cannot improve on the previous 20 minutes and left reeling as it goes and does so, from start to finish. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Holmes to a tee–brilliant, acerbic and dealing with Asperger’s, while Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson, veteran of Afghanistan, is the perfect foil–earnest, slightly nebbish, and loyal to a fault. Lara Pulver (Claudine Crane from “True Blood”) does a wonderful job as Irene Adler, at once unflappable and calculating while exuding a calm sensuality, hitting the right notes of unstoppable confidence and shocked fear with the slightest change of facial expression.
This might be the best bit of television I’ve seen in a decade. I eagerly await the next two installments of the year. The show airs on BBC1 in the UK and appears on PBS in the US about three months later. The first season is available on Blu-ray as well as Netflix streaming. Highly recommended.