Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I’ve never cared much for Sherlock Holmes, nor crime fiction in general for that matter, but the Beeb’s new three-part series, “Sherlock,” has planted in me a newborn interest that’s set me to madly googling Arthur Conan Doyle’s master of deduction as a bit of catch-up. Co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss seem to have a summer hit in their hands with their fresh and inspired take on the Sherlock Holmes story. And by the looks of the Moff-penned first episode, there’s much to justify the ratings: The show is funny, smart, and absolutely entertaining.
It’s modern-day London, and “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and former army doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) become unlikely flatmates. Together they solve a string of suicide-like murders perpetrated by the most unlikely of murderers, a cabbie. Along the way, they get nonchalantly mistaken for lovers, do a bit of very exciting but dead-end-leading chasing, and clear up confusions about arch-nemeses. (We find out in a funny twist at the end that a sinister-looking fella who claims to be Sherlock’s arch-enemy is in fact his government muckety-muck brother, Mycroft). There’s so much more I can’t even begin to detail here with justice, which is a testament to just how rich Moffat’s script is. (In other words: Just go watch the damn thing!).
Cumberbatch fits snugly into the role of the nicotine-patched, possibly gay, high-functioning sociopath detective with a penchant for texting. His deep-voiced Sherlock is distant yet somewhat adorable. There’s a darkness about Sherlock (he gets a kick out of complex crimes, and he exhibits a bit of inhumane cruelty when he tortures the dying cabbie into spilling the beans), the tone of which Cumberbatch gets just right. But there isn’t so much of that darkness so as to put the audience off. As Moffat describes it, Cumberbatch exudes an “imperious” and “Byronic” quality. Freeman’s Watson is just the perfect straight man (pun intended) to Cumberbatch’s likeable sociopath. Being a war veteran, this Watson shares Sherlock’s attraction to trouble and danger, which is the most intriguing aspect of their bromantic relationship. They are so well-matched (even Freeman’s height in comparison to Cumberbatch’s feels just right). In the lead-up to the broadcast premiere, there was some uproar over the gaying up of Sherlock and Watson, which I found baffling (the uproar, that is). Sherlock’s and Watson’s is a quirky and entertaining dynamic to watch. Just as with his omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness in “Doctor Who,” Moffat defies expectations by amping up the camp here, cheekily relishing in Sherlock’s sexual ambiguity. (I bloody love the Moff).
Comparisons to “Doctor Who” are inevitable, given that Moffat is that show’s executive producer and head writer, and Gatiss has been involved in “Who” in both a writing and acting capacity since its rebirth in 2006. With that said, I won’t be the exception in making my own comparisons. (Here I go). Just like the Doctor, Sherlock is almost impossibly astute. They’re both prone to talking fast, even shushing distracting people to allow him to think properly. In a way this is great preparation for Cumberbatch for the role of the Doctor, which according to recent barmy rumors will be left up for grabs by a departing Matt Smith (yet another load of rubbish from that ever so respectable publication, “The Sun”). But unlike the Doctor, Sherlock is very much human, very much fallible: In one of the episode’s funniest scenes, Sherlock thinks he’s got the deal with Watson’s sibling Harry figured out, except he fails to realize that Harry–short for “Harriet”–is actually female. Just one tiny, oh so important detail. (A nice twist involving siblings, just like with the Mycroft revelation). The thought of Cumberbatch becoming a future regenerated version of the Doctor sets my heart a-flutter, but thinking realistically, I can see why Moffat paired which actor with which show. Cumberbatch doesn’t strike me as looking quite as kid-friendly as Smith, who comes across as an instantly likeable and very cool adult with the charm of a child about him. Apparently, Smith had auditioned for the role of Watson, which thankfully he did not receive, as seeing two tall lads, Cumberbatch and Smith, together just wouldn’t feel right.
I’ve already watched “A Study in Pink” twice; the second time with subtitles (Sherlock talks so bloody fast, I can’t make heads or tails of what he’s machinegunning!). Can’t wait for the upcoming two episodes, though I do worry that there will be a diminishment in quality, given that Moffat did not pen those scripts. Still, Moffat has set up in this introductory episode something just so engrossing that I find myself unable to not watch what’s to follow. Fantastic job, Moff.