Earlier this year the BBC aired an excellent 3-episode adaptation of Sherlock Holmes called simply “Sherlock”. It would be easy to say something formulaic like, “This isn’t your grandparents’ Sherlock Holmes!” but, well, it kind of is. And that’s the beauty of it. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss took everything that makes Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes and just updated the setting. In fact, despite the presence of blogs, cell phones, the war in Afghanistan, etc, this feels almost more like Sherlock Holmes than any adaptation I’ve seen.
A big part of that is the awesome work of Benedict Cumberbatch (holy shit, what a name, could he sound more British?) as the titular (the 6th grader in me loves that word) detective and Martin Freeman as his faithful sidekick Watson. It would be really easy to try and “hip” these characters up but by keeping it faithful they’ve kept the changes to a minimum, mostly the aforementioned updates in tech and world politics. Watson is now a former war doctor home from the war in Afghanistan, unemployed and listless. Sherlock is pretty much identical, except for covered in Nicotine patches instead of doing cocaine or morphine. He’s every bit as prickly, arrogant, and annoyingly brilliant as ever. In fact, the recent Guy Ritchie Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes flick (which I re-watched last weekend and found lacking) strays much farther from the mythos than this updated version.
What else is good? It looks great–if you’re new to BBC shows and only remember how weird they looked when you were little and they showed Ab Fab or Mr. Bean on Comedy Central or something, you don’t need to worry, modern British shows look every bit as slick and pretty as the current batch of high def US shows. Graphical gimmicks are used sparingly and well (when Holmes sends or receives a text message it shows up on-screen like a Tony Scott subtitle). The dialogue is sharp. The pace is quick as each episode moves briskly through its 90 minutes. Yep, 90 minutes, making each episode basically a mini-movie. In fact, it’s probably easier to think of this as a short movie trilogy than a TV show. And lastly, as I said before, the acting is spot on.
What’s not so good? Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but when Moriarty finally shows up we get our first true derivation from the mythos. I won’t say why, and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I need to see where it goes and how it plays out. That’s kind of it. The only other bummer is that after three episodes you’ll want more, and the second series won’t air until Fall 2011 in the UK.
The BBC’s Sherlock is out now on DVD ($23) and Blu-ray ($28). A pretty fair price for 3 mini-movies. Definitely check it out. Highly recommended.