Friday Reviews, Part 2: ‘Sherlock’

Posted: August 6, 2010 in Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

And now, another review:


I don’t know if/when this comes to BBC America, but I’m hoping it’s soon, because I’d like people to watch it without using illegal means. Because…well. It’s pretty great. Great, with some reservations (that might not even be reservations, really – just observations).

This is the modern-day Sherlock Holmes series, starring Martin Freeman (Tim from the BBC “The Office” and Arthur from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” movie) as Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch (a name I can’t stop laughing at, sorry) as Holmes.

The first thing it does well is show that a Sherlock Holmes series can be modernized with very little tinkering. As long as you have an eccentric, arrogant genius who can’t deal with people, and his more level-headed, but mildly-eccentric-himself sidekick, solving the crimes the police can’t quite crack…well.

We’ve all watched “House” and wondered, “Wouldn’t it be great if House and Wilson just flat-out solved actual mysteries, instead of wasting their time with all this medical nonsense?”

Yes, yes it would. This show gets that.

And by adding Steven Moffatt to the mix, you’re basically getting the most insufferably anti-social Doctor and companion BBC’s ever seen – and all they do is solve London-based mysteries. I have no problem with this.

The issue folks might have is the self-conscious efforts to actually, physically modernize the whole thing with standard tech.

Holmes here uses text-messaging to an alarming extent, first to publicly mock the police, and then to stay in contact with pretty much everyone, while using their phones to glean information about them. (Oh also he has a website to advertise – which does actually become important to the plot.)

It’s annoying, yes, to see Holmes constantly asking to borrow someone’s cell phone to send chiding messages, but on the other hand…I’m a fairly anti-social guy. And text-messaging has been GREAT for me. Ohhh, to not have to actually return a phone call, when I can just send an abrupt question. I like it. And I’m actually a fairly nice guy. I just like saving time.

Imagine what text-messaging must be for someone like Holmes, for whom every exchange with an actual human being is like nails on a chalkboard.

(Direct quote: “Don’t you see?! Look at you lot, you all look so vacant. Is it nice, not being me? It must be so relaxing.”)

So yes. I can get behind this application of modernity, if it clarifies the Modern-Holmes Template. Ideally it won’t be pushed so hard in post-pilot episodes.

But what I like best is that the series uses the two leads properly. There is no need to make Holmes likable. That’s what Watson is THERE for. So Cumberbatch (HA!)’s Holmes is just a goddamned asshole. He likes Watson for no other reason than Watson seems indifferent to his assholery.

Because Watson is himself a bit fucked in the head. (How horrible a world it is, that the original Watson was a damaged Afghan War vet, and this one, a hundred years later, didn’t need any updating at all.) His view: “Sure, this guy’s an asshole…but at least he’s getting me out of the house.”

So the series seems to be nothing greater than “Two social maladroits solve crimes.”

Again: I am okay with this.

That’s pretty much all I want from a detective show, and if it wants to use the “Sherlock Holmes” name to do so, it at least treats the brand name very well.

  1. Dmart says:

    Having not seen it myself: could the overuse of the internet/text messaging/whatever be a hamfisted replacement for the London street urchin gang Original Holmes used as an implausibly effective intelligence network? Holmes is basically omniscient, sure, but those kids served a rather important role in several of the original stories as extra eyes and ears, and it seems like a knowledgeable forum might be an approximate modern-day replacement.

  2. Dave says:

    @ Dmart – interestingly, there’s a bit of a more literal update to that idea in the second episode. Unfortunately, there is also a slightly off-putting “devious oriental types” storyline.

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