Acclaimed as “a new sleuth for the 21st century,” Sherlock, a new three-part television series, debuts this Sunday on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!
As promised, the latest interpretation of Sherlock Holmes isn’t your college lit course’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, or those dusty Basil Rathbone films (nonetheless preferable to last year’s lame brawn-over-brains cartoon with Robert Downey Jr.). Co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (writers on the new sci-fi Doctor Who) have produced a witty Sherlock that is faithful to Doyle’s classic characters while updating their adventures in a delightful way.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch perfectly inhabits the skin of the contemporary Sherlock Holmes. Throughout the series, he texts, Googles, and blogs his way across modern day London. Messages appear as floating text on the screen and during a chase, a satnav device charts his inductive-deductive reasoning. Holmes is less successful at kicking his pipe and tobacco habit. “Nicotine patch. Helps me think. Impossible to sustain a smoking habit in London these days.” In persona and couture, the fastidious Holmes comes across as a metrosexual; gone is the deerstalker cap and the Inverness cape for a black designer’s trench coat straight out of The Matrix.
In the first episode (“A Study in Pink”), Holmes faces a string of suicides that New Scotland Yard feels are not the work of a serial killer but coincidence. Holmes, the only consulting detective, thinks otherwise. “Four serial suicides and now a note. It’s Christmas!” he declares.
In this set-up episode, Holmes also tries to overcome his anti-social behavior by soliciting for a flat mate to share his Baker Street residence. Enter Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), a military medic fresh from honorable service in Afghanistan. It is doubtful whether the 30-year-old veteran will be compatible with the 20-something Holmes.
However, Holmes is able to read Watson like a book: his past life, his service record, his current status, etc. With a wink and a nod, the oddball couple become roomies. The duo’s simpatico nature makes for some very snappy, very punny dialogue: “Meretricious,” says Watson. “And a happy New Year,” Holmes replies without missing a beat.
This budding bromance isn’t lost on Holmes’ brother, Mycroft: “And since yesterday, you’ve moved in with him, and now you’re solving crimes with him. Might we expect a happy announcement by the end of the week?”
As Watson and Holmes traipse through London, hot on the trail of a new clue, the city itself takes on the role of a secondary character. Each scene is populated by the Old World melting pot’s flavors, sounds, black cabs and eccentric locals.
Don’t let a lackluster second episode (“The Blind Banker”) dissuade you. The third episode (‘The Great Game”) introduces Holmes’ arch nemesis Moriarty: the consulting detective versus the consulting criminal. The cliffhanger ending will leave you gasping and greedy for more.
Exquisitely written and fraught with subterfuge and adventure, Sherlock is can’t-miss television. Here’s hoping the BBC renews this fast-paced, startlingly intelligent production. •