Sherlock: An Instant Classic

holmes and watsonPerhaps you’ve heard that Sherlock Holmes has been in a new incarnation on PBS for the last three weeks. 

Or perhaps not.  After all, PBS doesn’t really spend the big bucks for advertising.  Even if you had heard about it, you might have gotten as far as “Masterpiece Mystery!” and either fallen asleep or started thinking about Cookie Monster and his Monsterpiece Theater.  Or perhaps you’ve decided that Holmes has already had a recent reboot and any more would be overkill.

However, if you do fall into one of those categories, you’re seriously missing out.  Sherlock, brought to us jointly by BBC Wales and WGBH Boston, manages to walk the fine between modern and classic, slick and cozy.  With only three episodes at an hour and a half each, it packs an extraordinary amount of quality into the time allotted.

Now, I’ll not lie; I’ve been looking forward to Sherlock for months, literally since it was announced.  As it was co-created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both writers for Doctor Who, and I am a bit of a Moffat fangirl… well, let’s just say I would have been willing to give it a fair chance and then some.  But I didn’t have to!  Sherlock had me captivated within the first five minutes.

Sherlock has a modern-day setting, but it’s amazing how little of the original work was altered to set up the series.  For example, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) has just returned from Afghanistan with a mysterious and slightly confusing war injury – just like the Dr. Watson in the original work.  Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch, best name ever) now calls himself a high-functioning sociopath, but he’s still the same old surly, arrogant, and unbearably clever Sherlock we’ve loved for decades.

The two leads turn in superb performances, and I cannot say this enough.  Cumberbatch as Holmes is just slightly irritating when we first meet him, like the beginnings of a rash, but, as Watson does, you can’t help but watch in admiration.  Freeman as Watson is the heart of the series, understated, compassionate, and utterly believable.  Martin Freeman has been in movies here and there (many first saw him in the BBC version of The Office), but I hope his new role as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit really brings him the international attention he deserves.

The plots are crafted carefully from bits and pieces of existing Holmes stories, sometimes patchworking elements from several stories into one plot to keep it fresh and familiar at the same time.  You don’t have to be a Holmes fan to enjoy these episodes; indeed, you don’t have to have read a single story, but those who are fans will get more than enough inside references to make them smile.

Now, that’s not to say that I think this show is perfect in every way; I have issues with specific elements of the series, but alas, that discussion will have to take place at a different time, because a) it would be entirely riddled with spoilers and b) I’m waiting to see how the second series resolves certain things.  Because, indeed, Sherlock has been renewed for a second season!  Reports so far are saying that another series of three 90-minute episodes will air next autumn (filming will likely be crammed in after completing work for the next season of Doctor Who, but before Martin Freeman has to strap on the hairy feet).

Have I mentioned how much I love the format of three 90-minute episodes?  Yes, it’s overall shorter than I’d like, but it’s literally like watching a movie every week!  Some of the other procedural hour-long dramas on TV have become a bit formulaic: have a murder, have a red herring, throw in some character development and solve the murder; the criminal is typically the only actor you recognize from previous work.  Sherlock avoids all of these traps, and has more time to actually develop a mystery.  And each episode is a self-contained, new adventure.

Well, J, you might be saying, that’s all well and good that you’ve told me about this must-see TV after it’s aired.  What do I do now?

Do not despair!  Now you get to watch Sherlock without even having to wait a week between episodes.  I imagine PBS will be re-airing the three episodes at some point, but even if they don’t, they’re available right now on PBS’ website.  They’re also available for purchase on iTunes – and if I’m not mistaken, they’re unedited (small edits had to be made for time for PBS’ broadcast).

So if you’re even just a little intrigued, get over to PBS and check out Sherlock!  Then come back here and give me your thoughts.

The game is afoot!

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