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Sherlock by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss (based on the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Review by Drew Bittner
BBC Warner  
Date: 01 November 2010 / Show Official Info /

What if Sherlock Holmes were created here and now? If he were a 21st century detective, instead of a Victorian hero of gas lamps and hansom cabs?

Then he would be Sherlock, the hero of the new BBC series by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

Dr. John Watson (Love Actually's Martin Freeman) was a combat doctor in Afghanistan. He is now returned to London, where he is struggling with post-traumatic stress, nightmares, and a limp that may be psychosomatic. He's trying to blog but has nothing to say, and his therapist says he has "trust issues".

One day, he chances to meet a friend and notes that he's looking for somewhere permanent to stay--he can't remain in government care any longer. So this friend introduces him to a young and very peculiar man named Sherlock Holmes (Atonement's Benedict Cumberbatch), who is also seeking a roommate. And history is made.

In "A Study in Pink," the pilot episode of the series, this introduction occurs during a most strange series of suicides. All four died by poison--but the police (especially Inspector Lestrade [Rupert Graves]) insist this was coincidence. During a press conference to that effect, every single reporter's cell phone goes off with a text message, which says (simply): WRONG. And Lestrade gets one from "SH" saying that he knows where to find him.

Indeed, this is not suicide but murder, as the fourth victim shows. A businesswoman dressed in pink, found in an empty building, gives Sherlock enough clues (framed ingeniously as text snippets for the viewer) to figure out where she came from and what her home life was like. His inspection then turns up one very important clue. Sherlock is delighted; the killer has slipped up at last.

Meanwhile, Watson has an unusual encounter with a gentleman (Gatiss) who describes himself as the closest thing Holmes has to a friend--to wit, someone Sherlock would call his archenemy.

On the hunt for the killer, Holmes and Watson have a riotously funny bit of small talk, then go on a chase through London when it seems their quarry may be in sight. But this is only a prelude to Holmes facing the killer one on one...

As an old Sherlock fan myself, I was skeptical of this recreation of the character. Having seen the pilot twice now, I was stirred to order the DVD and am settling in to enjoy this series immensely.

Cumberbatch makes for an astounding Holmes, offering a take that portrays Holmes as a "high functioning sociopath" (in his own words), brilliant but unable to grasp even the basics of social interaction. His obliviousness early on, in talking with a morgue attendant, is perhaps the funniest bit in this darkly humorous show. His Sherlock is a man of genius AND action together, his insight making him barely tolerable even to those who know him best. As Lestrade notes, he is a great man...and may even, one day, become a good one. As played by Cumberbatch, that is an apt characterization.

Freeman gives us a Watson who (much like Jude Law in last year's Sherlock Holmes) is a man of action with nerves of steel. His personal character arc even in the pilot is remarkable, making him a fit companion for Holmes; he is about as far removed from Nigel Bruce's sheepdog like Watson (to Basil Rathbone's Holmes) as it is possible to be. He is believable as a veteran with more psychological scars than physical ones, yet he rises to the challenge of this new life with amazing gusto. Freeman, who will be playing Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit (now in production) is a stellar choice as Watson, seeming to be an everyman when he is anything but.

The series will be produced in short mini-seasons, as Moffat and Gatiss balance this show with their work on Dr. Who, but Holmes fans have much to anticipate. Jeremy Brett and Robert Downey Jr. now have a new rival, giving their interpretation of the great detective a serious run for their money.

Highly recommended.

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