Sherlock Holmes is one of the most over exposed characters in all of fiction. He has been invented, killed, revived, reinvented, mocked and copied in magazines, books, theater, radio, movies and tv. So how on earth do you do anything new with him?
Well one option is to twist his character to fit more of an action hero role. The result was an entertaining but shallow movie. Or you could take Sherlock Holmes and his supporting cast and move him to the present day. And that is what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss chose to do.
Despite the move to modern times, this is a very faithful adaptation of the novels. Benedict Cumberbatch’s masterful portrayal of Holmes captured many of his nuances and the modern setting allowed Moffat to present Holmes as more than an exceptionally astute individual, but to narrow in on his “high level sociopath” tendencies. This is a remarkably good fit for the character of Holmes and an interesting angle that I hope they pursue.
But while Cumberbatch really grabs your attention while he’s on screen, it’s Martin Freeman’s subdued performance as Doctor Watson that really makes the show work. Doctor Watson is a character which has been much maligned in adaptations. The worst offender’s probably being the Basil Rathbone movies. Freeman gives us a Watson who is both competent and brave and Moffat wisely uses him as the primary viewpoint character for the show.
And that’s important, because as fun as Holmes is, he’s not a character most of us could empathize with. Watson is though. He’s an ex-soldier. He has normal problems and as played by Freeman he is likable even when he is being aloof. Plus his calm mannerisms make Cumberbatch’s frenetic Holmes even more magnetic.
I should mention the distinctive direction of Paul McGuigan who gives us a fast paced episode with some very unusual visual ticks. The idea of having people’s texting appear on screen was clever, but occasionally distracting. I will be curious to see how Euros Lynn handles the second episode and if he follows the same style.
So far I haven’t really said anything about the plot and that’s because it’s really the weakest thing in the whole episode. It’s not bad, but the mystery really isn’t that complex and it really only seems to exist to introduce the characters and set up the relationship between Holmes and Watson. As such it serves its purpose effectively, but it doesn’t stand up so well as a plot in its own right.
But that’s a quibble. Sherlock is an outright success and I’m left wondering if Steven Moffat is even capable of writing something bad. Now the question is if Stephen Thomson and Mark Gatiss will be able to live up to the opening episode with their contributions.
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