TV Review: Masterpiece Mystery, “Sherlock”

SherlockThe Sunday night tv scheduled just got a little more complicated than it already is, at least for the next three weeks. In addition to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Bored To Death, and Eastbound and Down, and Showtime’s Dexter, PBS has entered the fray with the new Masterpiece Mystery series Sherlock. Thank goodness for DVRs and On-Demand viewing, because Sherlock is a series that you do not want to miss.

Beginning this Sunday night, and continuing for the next three weeks, PBS will present a Sherlock that is radically re-imagined while somehow still remaining true to the source material. I suppose the biggest change is that the series is set in 2010 London. I can see you rolling your eyes, but I can assure you that this is a Sherlock that even the most die-hard Baker Street Irregular can love. Many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters are on hand including Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), who is, as always, a retired army doctor, only this Watson was wounded in Afghanistan, and when we first meet him he is walking with a cane, and possibly suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. One more thing; Watson is a blogger, and that’s how this particular set of Holmes stories come to be told.

Also on hand from the original stories are the landlady Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) from Scotland Yard, Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), and of course the arch villain Moriarity (Andrew Scott). The performances are uniformly excellent, but I’ve saved the best for last, Sherlock Holmes himself. The famous detective is brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who you may remember from the film Atonement. His performance immediately takes its place with the great Sherlocks of film and tv. He’s right up there with Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, my two favorites. This is Sherlock as the ultimate sociopath, brilliant at what he does, but clueless in other matters. He has his own website (“The Science of Deduction”), and is using nicotine patches to cure his smoking addiction. The pipe, and for that matter the deerstalker’s cap are nowhere in sight. The point of all this is that despite the advances in forensics, the websites and blogs, and the use of cell phones and text messages, in the end Holmes solves these mysteries with his brain, just as he always did.

The series was created for BBC Wales by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who brought us Dr. Who. The cleverly crafted stories are new, but the writers Moffat, Gatiss, and Steve Thompson, do not hesitate to draw on the original material to inform their stories. For example, in episode one, A Study In Pink, the clue “Rache’ comes into play. That same clue was pivotal in Doyle’s 1887 story A Study In Scarlet. Paul McGuigan’s deft direction of that first episode is particularly spectacular. There is a great deal of potential for the intrusion of the modern world on a traditional character to be jarring. McGuigan insures that it never happens.

Never mind what the major networks may tell you. This new Sherlock is truly must see tv. I was hooked from the start, and you will be too. My only complaint is that I couldn’t stop watching. I digested the first three episodes quickly, and now I’m hungry for more. Benedict Cumberbatch is a Holmes for the ages.

Ken Shane
Ken Shane lives in Wakefield, RI. He is the New Music Editor for Popdose, and a freelance writer. Ken is far and away the oldest Popdose writer, in fact, he may be the oldest writer period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it.