Monday, October 25, 2010

Sherlock: A Study in Pink

"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.

Now, what to say about Sherlock? 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.

I can already tell my biggest problem with this show is that this season is only three episodes long! Needless to say I cannot wait till next week. If you watched this episode, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so bring on the comments! And if you didn’t – well, what are you waiting for? PBS is streaming A Study in Pink online here through December 7th.

There’s so, so many more things I could say about how much I LOVED this show, so many more observations I’ll have to make after subsequent viewings – but I’ll leave it at this. It goes without saying that I would LOVE to discuss this, so comments are MORE than welcome on this post, especially. *g* Sherlock is the crown jewel in what has been a pretty spectacular Masterpiece Mystery season. I can’t wait till next Sunday!

PBS made the fantastic poster image on the left available to fans of their Facebook page for download. You can snag that image here (perhaps make it your Facebook profile picture like I did...just a suggestion!).

Now, any post where I'm discussing the one and only Sherlock Holmes at length just wouldn't be complete without a little nod to the man who started my obsession - the lovely Jeremy Brett.

Sherlock happily contemplating his latest incarnation...
I like to think that if he was still with us, he'd be pleased with Sherlock...


Ruth King said...

This is going to be a ridiculously long comment, I just know it. I've always wondered if Blogger has a character limit for comments, and I think I may be testing that theory fairly soon...

I can't decide who I loved more, Cumberbatch as Holmes or Freeman as Watson, and I think that's so very fitting. They're so perfectly suited to each role that the amazing friendship, camaraderie and respect each man has for the other is evident from very early on in the episode. I loved how Sherlock could see, correctly, that Watson's physical symptoms were psychosomatic. I felt like cheering as the two of them were running after the cab and Watson was suddenly able to keep up, cane completely forgotten at the restaurant. We really see Watson come alive over the course of this episode, and it's beautifully done.

Cumberbatch as Holmes. My goodness, that was masterful. My biggest issue with RDJ's Holmes was that he didn't seem like Holmes until the last third of the film. It's not until that point that we fully see the full power of his mind, but we're privy to that very early on with Cumberbatch's Holmes. I loved how the text bubbles gave us a look into Holmes's deductive process, but in no way were they a substitute for -- or distraction from -- Cumberbatch's performance, merely an amplification of it. Nor does this device give away too much, I found myself puzzled over Sherlock's realization of the killer's mistake ("PINK!") in the same way that Lestrade and Watson were, only to later realize how absurdly simple, yet brilliant a deduction it was. (For the record, my favorite color is red, and every single piece of luggage I own is I really should have called that one.)

Holmes is such a moody character, and that can be a very delicate balance for an actor. There's always the risk of making Holmes too maudlin, too manic, too callous or even too compassionate. Cumberbatch achieved this balance like a tight rope walker, just like Jeremy Brett before him. We saw the full range of Holmes's moods, but none of them were over or underplayed.

Re: Watson. I think Martin Freeman is my favorite Watson ever. I love this character so much. Too often he's depicted as a bumbling fool, but in the original stories he's every bit as competent as Holmes, his strengths complementing Holmes's perfectly. Martin Freeman is Watson for me. The right age, the right military bearing, loyal, awed by Holmes but never overwhelmed by him.

Una Stubbs was delightful as Mrs. Hudson. I loved her insistence that she wasn't their housekeeper. Gatniss as Mycroft was BRILLIANT. I can't wait to see where they go with his character. The entire end scene with Mycroft, Sherlock and Watson was pitch perfect. All of the supporting characters were great -- absolutely no throwaway roles. I loved Holmes and the killer. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Wonderful bit of vulnerability from Holmes at the end wanting to know if he'd chosen correctly.

I'm so glad you mentioned Sherlock's scarf. I was knitting as I watched this episode, working on a red scarf for myself. I'm sure a heathery navy blue scarf will be on the needles soon...

I'm sure there are a ton of other things that will occur to me as soon as I click "submit" but I'll sum up by saying that I haven't loved a TV show this much this quickly in a very, very long time, if ever. I've already watched A Study in Pink twice and plan on a couple more viewings before next Sunday.

I loved your tribute to Jeremy Brett and I'm in complete agreement. I think he would be very pleased indeed.

Kaye Dacus said...

I loved it! So well made and well acted.

I still think they need to darken Benedict's eyebrows just a bit to go with the dark hair, but otherwise, everything was pitch-perfect.

I loved the text-message bubbles because it keyed me in right from the beginning that they weren't taking themselves too seriously in this production.

Several laugh out loud moments---usually Watson's unexpected, gleeful responses of agreement or compliance with Holmes. Both actors are perfect embodiments of the characters they're portraying.

I'll definitely be getting this on DVD!

Unknown said...

@Ruth - I love your ridiculously long comment. Brilliant to see how we once again channel each other. LOL!

Cumberbatch and Freeman have fantastic on-screen friend chemistry - it's positively electric. I can't picture another other actor working half as well with either of them. And thanks for bringing up the cane episode - that was brilliantly, beautifully handled - I loved seeing Watson "wake up" over the course of this ep as well.

Agree about RDJ as Holmes - the last third is when anything resembling a "traditional" Holmes kicked in. (Aside: seriously, your favorite color is red? Because that is my favorite color, and I promise you I am not just saying that!)

The tight rope analogy is quite appropriate. Perhaps subconsciously that is one of the things in Cumberbatch's performance that reminded me so strongly of Brett's take - they both managed to achieve that balance of cold brilliance with just a dash of compassion at the right moment. Brilliantly done.

Freeman is a terrific Watson. Not that being Watson has anything to do with being Bilbo, but I'm even more excited now by his casting in the Hobbit project. Mrs. Hudson is going to be priceless, I can tell. And I can't wait to see where they take Mycroft's character...with him tailing Holmes they're adding some interesting shades to his character. Oh, and the thing with the pills - I think if Holmes hadn't been distracted by seeing Watson, etc., he was so tempted to take the pill to test his theory. That's how much being right and constantly upping the ante/risks means to him. Love it.

I haven't loved a show this much, this immediately since probably Doctor Who. I was telling my boss (who is also a Who fan) to watch it soon, because it's THAT good. :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

@Kaye - So happy you enjoyed it. I honestly totally forgot to pay attention to Benedict's eyebrows, I remember you mentioning that. LOL!

The text bubbles were such a great way to incorporate modern technology in the show in a fun way. Very nice tough. And I loved all the humor!!! You will probably not be surprised to hear that I've preordered this (along with Doctor Who Season 5). But it's my last preorder on Amazon at the moment...I had to cut myself off, LOL! Right now I think it's at $23.99 or thereabouts.

Deborah said...

just will say one word: LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unknown said...

@Deborah - I know, me too. Didn't expect to love it so immediately. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. :)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your assessment of this show. Your review is spot on. I did not much think about Benedict Cumberbatch before seeing him as Sherlock, but he is perfect. And you are right, too often the Watson character was played as a sidekick buffoon. I have linked your post to mine.


Unknown said...

@janeaustensworld - Thanks for stopping by, Vic! I enjoyed Cumberbatch in Amazing Grace (that's when he first appeared on my radar) but since then his appearances were a bit ho-hum...this blows everything else out of the water! And Freeman is brilliant. Thanks for linking to my post, I'm adding a link to yours as well!

Charity said...

Lovely post, and very well said. Most of this I already address in my own blog entry (thanks for stopping in to comment, by the way) but I will say that Martin is fantastic as Watson -- and no, you were not projecting; he will be a brilliant Bilbo. I just love the faces he makes at Holmes, kind of a "huh??" without looking like a buffoon, which is very, very hard to do. He has an excellent chemistry with Ben too, which is nice -- they are totally believable as (future) friends.

This is the best of the series, in my view -- it's marvelously written and has so many nice nods to different cases and incidents. I LOVE Holmes at the crime scene; I think seeing how his mind worked is GENIUS. It's such a fun segment overall, and peppered with his traditional snark. UGH. LOVE IT.

The music is fantastic. I wish I could have that main theme in MP3 format. I'd probably run my computer into the ground replaying it five hundred times...

Unknown said...

@Charity - Thanks for stopping by! You are right, Freeman is incredibly expressive, and it's great that he can do so, and be funny, but still intelligent. A great Watson!

I am so jealous that you've already seen all three eps! :) And Cumberbatch does the trademark Holmes snarkiness beautifully!

One of the first things I did after this episode finished was get on Amazon UK to see if they had made a soundtrack (I was hopeful since the Doctor Who music is available over there first). Sadly nothing yet...maybe if the show continues to be popular they'll start releasing albums!

BTW...I'm adding a link to your Pink review too!

Lori said...

I can't wait to watch this online. I'm glad it was so fabulous!!! I have to make one comment: of course Rupert Graves can play good. He will forever be Freddy Honeychurch in my mind—he's absolutely adorable as Freddy!!!

Unknown said...

@Lori - HA!!! How could I forget about A Room With a View, you ask? Well I have never really gotten that movie, I must admit. *ducking and running for cover as I type* ;) But shame on me for not reading his IMDB history more thoroughly...Graves his quite funny as the exasperated Lestrade here.

I can't wait to hear what you think of this, I just know you're going to love it!

Lori said...

No need to duck for cover...even if you don't get that movie, I still think you'd have to recognize Rupert's fabulousness in it!

I know I'm going to love Sherlock too...the cast alone is amazing.

Unknown said...

@Lori - Well I do like Rupert Graves, and I trust your judgement (in spite of the Alex O'Loughlin "incident" - HA), so I'm sure you are correct. ;)

Get to watching Sherlock TONIGHT!!! No pressure tho...

Lori said...

Oh, that doesn't even count! I never claimed the Alex incident would not be emotionally scarring. So, no errors in judgment on my part...though maybe there have been a few with Daniel. ;)

Unknown said...

@Lori - HA!! Well...I suppose I must concede that you have a you're bringing up a completely different set of scary issues! LOL!

Heidenkind said...

So you liked it, then? ;)

I really enjoyed it, too. I loved how they have Sherlock being played as very young--it was kind of cross between a Mary Russell pre-quel and the RDJ Sherlock. There were also a lot of visual quotes taken from Sherlock Holmes book illustrations and movies that were fun.

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - HA! The bias isn't apparent at all, is it? ;) Absolutley LOVE it. I'm still rather in awe of how they were able to pay tribute to the source material so often & so well.

So are you gonna review it too? :)