Beyond a Television Review: Sherlock (BBC 2010)

I heard about Sherlock BBC television series when I was studying abroad in the fall.  I kept trying to plan time to watch it with one of my American friends, but it never seemed to work out.  When I got back to the United States, classwork and other current television shows took over and I forgot about it for a while.  But when the semester ended at the beginning of May, I decided to find the first episode on Netflix and settle in to watch it as a treat for finishing my last paper.  It was an even better treat that I could have predicted.

First of all, I am picky about Sherlock Holmes adaptations.  I know I shouldn’t be; I’ve studied film adaptations and I know that many times a film can be enlightening and follow the spirit of a book without following it to the letter.  But when I saw the current Blockbuster version with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, I couldn’t seem to shake my view of Sherlock from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series.  Sherlock Holmes is a badass (in this case I believe that is actually one of the best ways to describe him), but he doesn’t spend all his time saving people from booby trapped factories and punching out giants.  He uses his powers of deduction to solve crimes that appear entirely shrouded in mystery to everyone else.  When he feels he’s really in danger, he tells Watson (the trained soldier) to bring his pistol along on their next case or night raid.  That Hollywood action mockery of Sherlock ruined my taste for Holmes adaptations and even though I have heard the older films are fantastic, I have never brought myself to watch them yet.

I thought I would have similar problems with this series because the BBC have taken Sherlock Holmes out of his time period and brought him into present day London.  If anything, that seemed like a huge change from the original series.  But after watching the first episode I didn’t have any more doubts: Benedict Cumerbatch’s Sherlock and Martin Freeman’s Watson are pitch perfect.

It’s difficult to pick out exactly why they are so fitted to these roles.  Cumerbatch presents a Holmes who is a know-it-all and can’t stand the police, and yet the audience can tell at the same time that he doesn’t enjoy this constant banter and arguing.  He simply wants to solve case after case after case because it exercises his brain and fulfills him.  He wants to catch the criminals and solve the mysteries because that is what he does best.  I love how they have kept all his original habits from the books, too: the violin playing, the odd body parts and chemistry experiments in the kitchen, the nicotine (although back in the books it was heroin) addiction.  I thought that the pop-up’s about Holmes’ thoughts would bother me, but they don’t.  They actually make a nice addition and take advantage of the visual media to reveal more about his inner character.

Freeman’s version of Watson really completes the relationship though and makes it line up so well with my original picture of the pair.  He isn’t constantly jealous of Holmes.  He tries to have a life apart from him, but it just doesn’t work.  Watson is too in awe of Holmes and Holmes needs him to help clear away obstacles and  test his hypotheses.  Yes, they have played up the “shipping/slashing” possibility between Holmes and Watson in this BBC series, but in this case I actually find it a nice addition.  In the book series, funny things do happen so that Watson  always ends up living with Holmes again.  He gets married and starts his own medical practice, but no time is ever spent describing his cases or his wedding. And then suddenly she died just so Watson could come back to Holmes once again.  There is something odd about their relationship and I’m glad that it is being tastefully explored.

There is so much more that is endearing about this show.  I haven’t even touched upon Irene Adler, Hounds of Baskerville, or the all important: Moriarty and Reichenbach Falls.  But what makes the show a true success to me is that it respects the fans of the Conan Doyle series, the true Sherlock fans, and leaves little jokes from the books in the show.  The set-up of 221b is exactly the same (see my tumblr for a comparison).  The titles of many of the episodes are the same as novel and story titles.  My favorite were “The Five Pips” thrown in as a reference in the last episode of season one.  No one but the readers of the stories would know that just the five beeps on a phone represent an entirely different case about the Ku Klux Klan.

I didn’t mean for this review to drag on for so long.  Thanks for reading to the end.  Suffice it to say, after watching one episode I was “Sher-LOCKed” back into the Holmes universe.  I finished the entire series in under a few weeks and I long to go back to Baker Street and England once again.  I suggest this series to everyone as it is great writing and acting, but most importantly, guides us back to the even greater writing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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