TV: Sherlock (BBC)

Yes, yes, I’m behind the times. I found out about this show ages ago, before I actually thought seriously about starting a blog, and so I forgot about it temporarily until I accidentally ended up telling the story of Conan Doyle’s original “The Adventure of the Final Problem” to one of my floormates. And then I remembered this show.

When my mother first told me that there was a new BBC show being made of Sherlock Holmes stories, my first thought was, “Why?” After all, the older version with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke is, in many ways, the culmination of most of the  stereotypes of Sherlock Holmes that have accumulated over the years: Holmes as an erudite yet energetic, eccentric but still somehow almost normal Victorian gentleman, full of witticisms and culture, and Watson as his loyal, bumbling, stupid, common-man sidekick. This is a little ironic when you consider that Holmes is a college chemistry dropout and Watson is a highly-trained doctor. Regardless, the Brett-Hardwicke combo is highly entertaining and I recommend their version if you’re looking for a classic Holmes fix.

The next thing I heard about the new series was that it would be set in modern times. “Damn it,” I thought, “they try this gimmick with everything written before the 1960s. Shakespeare in modern times, Grimm’s Fairy Tales in modern times, and now this. I’ll bet they ruin it.”

Having seen the series, I have some statements to make:

  • When I thought that setting things in modern times was just them trying to be edgy, I was mostly wrong, and being an old fogey (I’m 18, but you get the gist). And I apologize.
  • Sherlock changes the normal portrayal of the Holmes-Watson relationship into something that makes complete sense given the modern setting, but somehow also makes a lot of sense given the original material.
  • This show is fucking awesome.

Everything that bothered me about other adaptations of Holmes stories, Sherlock has fixed. Watson is generally thought of as the character the audience can relate to (as opposed to the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes), but portrayals insult the viewers by making him, well, sort of an idiot. And usually quite portly, despite just having come home from a war at the beginning of the narrative. Martin Freeman’s John Watson is intelligent, action-oriented, and every bit as fleshed-out a character as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock (who uses his first name in this  incarnation). He is still the audience’s link to the story, but he’s the sort of person you might actually want to hang out with.

Sherlock, on the other hand, is…well, he’s way more sociopathic and less emotionally restrained in many ways than previous incarnations, gleeful at the prospect of a new case, even when he’s dancing around because someone new got murdered. In the past, Holmes was a snarker, to be sure, but his Victorian sensibilities prevented any serious rudeness. In the modern world, all politeness bets are off.

In short, Sherlock takes the characters and stories of the original stories and develops them in a way that makes complete sense in the modern world. Where other adaptations might have asked, “How would classic Holmes solve mysteries in today’s environment?”, this series explores the question of how a brilliant young mind growing up in our present  developed into the world’s greatest detective, and how unfettered genius fits in to the society of the 2010s.

Bottom line: Awesome. Go see it now, preferably after reading the original stories.

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