"I'm not a psychopath, Anderson, I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research." ~ Sherlock
Sherlock, how can I even begin to sing your praises? There’s something you need to know about me, in case you’re a new reader to the blog – I’m a little obsessed with all things Sherlock Holmes. Okay, make that more than a little. I cut my BBC-drama loving teeth on Granada Television Sherlock Holmes series, starring the inimitable Jeremy Brett. For me, Brett is Holmes, and no one before or since his interpretation has come close. Now, I found a lot to enjoy about the Robert Downey Jr.-led Sherlock Holmes picture last Christmas (click here to read my review). But having seen the first episode of Sherlock, created by Steven Moffat (the Doctor Who showrunner!) and Mark Gatiss, the big-budget movie pales in comparison. I have finally found an heir worthy to stand in the shadow of Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch, you are a freaking genius.
In some respect I feel completely inadequate to review the first episode of this series, because it was so, so brilliant and I loved it so much. People, this show is so genius it brought tears of joy to my eyes on more than one occasion, I kid you not. It’s going to take many, many viewings of this episode for me to even begin to come close to fully grasping and appreciating the way in which the showrunners and actors brought these iconic, beloved characters into the 21st century. There are so many brilliant little nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characterizations, so many wonderful humorous touches, and absolutely inspired dialogue that each subsequent viewing of this episode will be a miniature journey of discovery, I’m sure.
A Study in Pink was inspired by an original Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet (one of only four novel-length Holmes adventures penned by Doyle). Here’s the story summary from the PBS website:
Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman, The Office UK) is back in modern-day London after serving in the war in Afghanistan. His therapist, convinced that Watson is plagued by violent memories, urges him to express himself in a blog. But nothing much ever happens to Watson, and it's not that he's haunted by the war — he longs for it. Enter an eccentric roommate — one Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Last Enemy). He plays the violin when he's thinking, sometimes doesn't talk for days, and has a dubious career as a self-described consulting detective. When what appear to be serial suicide cases surface in London, a desperate Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves, The Forsyte Saga) reluctantly consults the freakish Sherlock. To Sherlock, a crime spree is like Christmas — only made better by the possibility that these crimes may be the work of a devious serial killer. The game is on, and before it is over, Sherlock will put his life on the line — all to keep from being bored to death. Sherlock is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and is co-created by Doctor Who producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. (One episode; 90 minutes, TV-PG)Possible spoilers from this point on...
First of all, there’s an eerie sense of symmetry to the introduction of Dr. John Watson. When Doyle first penned the character, it was entirely plausible to have a former army doctor be a veteran of the Afghan wars – and once again we’re at a point in history when that is true. Now, if you’ve been living under a rock or you willfully ignored all news related to the casting of the upcoming Hobbit films, you may not know that Martin Freeman, playing Watson, is going to be Bilbo Baggins. There’s a moment at the very beginning of the episode, where Watson is sitting silently on the side of his bed after some particularly horrific post-traumatic stress induced dreams, where he looks very hobbit-like. Maybe I was just projecting…? *g* Either way, the more I see of Freeman, the more I think he’s a brilliant choice to play Bilbo.
And he’s obviously not just a brilliant choice to inhabit Middle Earth – he’s a fantastic Watson. Throughout the history of Holmes appearing on-screen, Watson has too often been doomed to appear increasingly buffoonish, the comic sidekick if you will. Freeman’s incarnation of Watson is a dream come true. He really comes across like a former soldier. He’s sharp, astute, and disciplined, and there’s a part of him that he struggles with just a bit that loves risks, the adrenaline rush that comes from finding oneself in a life-or-death situation. AND he’s a blogger, and I know it pretty much goes without saying how much I loved that. Watson’s struggles with his memories of his wartime experiences are extremely well portrayed in my opinion, quite realistic. I thought it was fascinating that he starts out the show with a limp and a hand tremor, issues that Sherlock pegs as psychosomatic. I really enjoyed the process the show takes Watson through, as he works through those issues and through his new friendship and partnership with Sherlock he finds he’s learning to function in the “real” world again.
Benedict Cumberbatch, I hardly knew ye. I’ve always liked Cumberbatch (for one thing, his name is fantastic!), but until last night I never classified him in the brilliant actor, or even favorite actors, category. I cannot stress this enough. Like Brett, Cumberbatch was born to play this incarnation of Holmes. He owns every scene he appears in, takes clear delight in the character and the dialogue, and is utterly and completely engrossing and unforgettable. He has the manic swings that really defines Holmes in my mind (thank you for that expectation, Jeremy Brett!). His energy and the almost child-like delight he takes in a challenge (“Serial killer! It’s like Christmas!”) is at once completely absorbing and laugh-out-loud hilarious. The show does a great job of incorporating modern technology into Holmes’s repertoire of investigative tricks – I really love the fact that he’s addicted to texting, and the use of pop-up “text bubbles” throughout the show was such a funny touch.
As Sherlock, Cumberbatch is by turns selfish then kind, manically energetic then lethargic, and always, always supremely intelligent, constantly spouting a steady stream of incisive, witty one-liners. Sherlock is constantly after his next “fix” – nothing is more dangerous for him than boredom and lethargy. He craves a challenge – and we’re given the best hint of what’s to come at the conclusion of this episode (nice nod to Moriarty, people!). He has a perfect foil in his brother, Mycroft, who still works for the British government, only for a change he isn’t simply an older, more set in his ways version of Sherlock. Played by show co-creator Mark Gatiss, this Mycroft is tightly wound, practically neurotic, but clearly as driven in the end of his own means as is his brother. I’m very curious to see where they take the relationship given that Mycroft seems to make a regular thing of keeping his brother under surveillance. The moment at the end of the episode when Mycroft and Sherlock come face-to-face for the first time in the series was HILARIOUS. I loved when they started talking about stressing “Mummy” and “can you imagine what Christmas dinner was like?” Hysterically funny stuff, as was Watson’s somewhat crestfallen reaction to the realization that Mycroft was Sherlock’s brother, and not the sinister criminal mastermind he first seems to be.
Sherlock’s reluctant associate on his investigations is Detective Inspector Lestrade, played by Rupert Graves. After seeing his rather unsavory turns in the just-completed seasons of Inspector Lewis and Wallander, can I just tell you it is so nice to see him finally playing one of the good guys?! Turns out he’s actually capable of that, LOL! It’s really interesting to see a character of Sherlock’s caliber, who’s so freaking high maintenance, interact with modern police. Many view him as a potential threat, a loose cannon, and rightly so – but others, like Lestrade, recognize his brilliance, even though his methods are unconventional and he’s oh-so-difficult to stomach, and his limitless potential.
A few notes about some other cast members…Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock’s landlady, is played by actress Una Stubbs. I’m not really familiar with any of her previous work, but the way the show sets up her relationship with Holmes and Watson had me in stitches (“I am not your housekeeper!”). She’s going to be a great member of the core cast, as despite her affection for Sherlock (due to getting her husband put to death on some charge in Florida, LOL), one can see where her unconventional tenants will test the limits of her patience. The villain of this piece is perfectly played by Philip Davis. Davis has appeared in Collision, Doctor Who, Miss Marple, and Bleak House, and really the man seems to excel at playing creeps. I really enjoyed his showdown with Sherlock, it was interesting to see him get under Sherlock’s skin.
The look of this show is just spectacular. I loved everything about the sets and costumes (Benedict can rock a scarf, just sayin’!), to the innovative way the filmmakers let us “see” how Sherlock thinks. The show is fast-paced and thoroughly modern, but very, very true to the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations and his writing. And the music – oh my how I loved it! Both David Arnold and Michael Price have credit for the show’s music on the IMDB, and I’ve got to say they did a fantastic job. The music is bright and vibrant, the perfect accompaniment to the action on-screen. There are moments, flourishes in the music that reminded me of Sherlock’s origins in Victorian London. The score is definitely cinematic in scope and an integral part of fleshing out Sherlock’s world as the sets and actors.
online here through December 7th.
|Sherlock happily contemplating his latest incarnation...|
- For another review of A Study in Pink, check out Sherlock! A review of A Study in Pink: PBS Masterpiece Mystery!
- Read Charity's review: Sherlock: A Study in Pink