As previously discussed, I do have a curious love/hate relationship with TV. I cannot just sit down and watch TV. I have to have a reason, an impetus. About a week ago, I was writing in a library. Not having much luck, I stumbled across the DVD shelf. I needed something to keep me from taking myself too seriously. I browsed the titles, and ran across the BBC Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberland and Martin Freeman.
I had read a few Sherlock Holmes stories, and found them interesting, but slightly heady. This promised to modernize the stories, and set them in 21st century England. I was doubtful of the claim, as typical attempts to “modernize” classic literature usually fall flat. But desperate for entertainment, I checked it out. (I’m sure Cumberland in his trademark jacket had something to do with it. *Ahem*).
I got it home, and found that I had stumbled across TV gold. There are only three episodes per season, and three seasons to date. So, every night, for less than a week, I watched the entire series.
Cumberland is flawless as the eccentric Holmes, although he is much younger than the typical Sherlock. He starts the series in his mid-twenties. Freeman is about ten years older, but the age difference between them not only plays well, but actually adds a subtle touch. Freeman does a well-nuanced Dr. Watson, and I quickly remembered from him the British version of The Office. (He played the character that became Jon Krasinki’s Jim).
The Sherlock series centers more around the relationship between the two men, rather than the actual mysteries they solve. Which, I think it is a smart move. Crime drama is a dime a dozen. But, crime drama that takes the time to flesh out timeless, intricate characters is much more compelling.
The attempt to modernize them did not disappoint. As a true millennial, Holmes copiously texts, and in the last season he has an iPhone and a MacBook. Watson blogs their adventures, using the original Doyle story titles. The blog goes viral, creating Sherlock’s fame. One time, while leaving a courthouse, Holmes and Watson are surrounded by the British press. Holmes is unappreciative of the attention and quickly grabs a hat off a random coatrack to hide his face. “How can I be a private detective, if I’m famous?” He growls. He leaves the courthouse, hiding under his stolen newsboy cap.
The resulting pictures in the British press are the iconic image of Sherlock, in profile, wearing the hat, and shrinking into the collar of his tunic overcoat. Sherlock is also a sometime-reformed smoker. He relapses frequently, much to the chagrin of Dr. Watson and others. This is of course, a nod to the pipe wielding detective of lore, but laced with our modern television standards of frowning upon tobacco use.
There are also frequent references to YouTube, and a disgruntled ex-lover of Sherlock’s dishes on him to the tabloids and then tells him, “I have to dash. I’m appearing on the One show, and I haven’t made it up yet.”
The cases are essentially Doyle stories. However, they may tackle ten or fifteen stories with each episode. Each episode is driven by a larger case, but the duo may take on smaller cases in between. Sometimes the Doyle titles are just vaguely mentioned as Watson blogs them and Holmes shoulder reads them with derision.
The cases do sometimes feel a bit archaic. In a generation used to NCIS and Law and Order, stories like The Hounds of Baskerville, which centers around a big-foot-esque creature who haunts the mountains, feel a bit obsolete.
They get around this by tying the stories to government conspiracies, or psychopathic terrorists… which at times feel slightly cartoonish. National security, the CIA, and British intelligence make appearances, but Sherlock, as an independent, only lives on the outskirts of these communities. Once they are called in, he is ousted and is not at all disappointed.
Holmes, while adept at forensic science, must rely on the sweet affections of Molly Hooper, the lovelorn assistant at the morgue, who lets him use the morgue’s equipment as his own lab, in hopes for his returned affections.
But, Sherlock’s larger than life genius, and his trademark British wit in comedic timing are what makes the show. I anxiously await Season 4.