Surfing the channels: Sherlock season 1

You know, when I started watching Downton Abbey, I thought it must be the greatest thing on British TV right now.  And when I saw the Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr, I thought it was pretty damn good, and RDJ was a good Sherlock.  I was incredibly wrong on both counts.

The fact is, the BBC series Sherlock is my favorite thing that has been on TV for years.  I adore it so much that I’m going to devote two posts to it, so that I can concentrate on each season in turn.

For those who haven’t seen it, it is a modern retelling of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle tales.  Martin Freeman (whom I have loved since The British Office, adored since Love Actually, and would watch anything if he were in it) plays Dr. Watson. Of course he is about to be a lot more famous around the world, since he is starring in the Hobbit later this year. Before seeing him in this, I would have found it difficult to imagine him as a soldier, and as a serious man.  But he is flawlessly good at portraying everything about Dr. Watson, without being derivative. And Holmes?  Well.  His name is Benedict Cumberbatch–yes, that is his actual name. And, while some say he looks like that sloth from Ice Age, after a few episodes of Sherlock, I found myself putting him on my relationship-exception list. He isn’t very well known yet, outside of England at least, but he will be soon.  He was in War Horse this past year, and coming up he’s got the Star Trek sequel and some voice work in the Hobbit with Martin.

So why do I love it so much?  Part of it is the format.  Even a one hour show would be difficult to work with in terms of the depth of the mysteries and the adventures involved in solving them each week. Instead, the BBC, quite smartly, ordered 3 90-minute episodes per season.  Ok, 3 episodes is a torture, to be honest. I just start to get really obsessed and it’s over. But each one is like a little movie, so it gives you a lot of time to get invested in what’s happening. There is time to set up the mystery, time for lots of banter between Holmes and Watson, time for adventure and danger, and of course time to wrap up the mystery. By the time you watch all 3 episodes, you feel like a season’s worth of pathos and drama have gone by.

The first season had “A Study in Pink”, “The Blind Banker”, and “The Great Game”.  All the episodes are based on the classic stories, but updated and varied in some ways you expect and some you don’t.

Another reason to love it is the actors and the dialogue.  Perhaps that’s two reasons, but the point is how they work together. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is a “high-functioning sociopath” with little social skills, a sadistic enjoyment in humiliating others, and, as is eventually revealed, a soft spot for a select few people in his life. He is brilliant, he is cruel, and he is absolutely impossible to look away from. Watson is, as in the books, more of a human being, with more recognizable feelings and moods. He is the everyman witness to the brilliance of Holmes, but he is essential to the whole thing. He is also quite funny, and very moving when the situation calls for it.

There is even the all important Moriarty. He is not what you would expect, which makes him all the more brilliant.  I won’t give anything away, but he is scary and funny and witty and memorable, all at the same time.

It’s the mark of a truly remarkable show when a complete novice like me recognizes the brilliance of the direction and the set design.  How can everything about this show be completely modern, and at the same time, reflect so well the Victorian era of its source material? Through incredibly good work on the part of everyone involved.  I can’t praise it highly enough, it is perfect. It is smart. It is a ton of fun. GO see it immediately. It’s on Netflix Instant and it’s been on PBS Masterpiece theater lately. Go, now, GO!

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