Well, here’s something a little different – the recent BBC series Sherlock, which brings Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective into a modern setting.  I don’t usually review television series, preferring to concentrate on movies. But that’s OK. Especially since, in a cool and unique decision, each season of Sherlock is presented as three 90-minute movies, so I think it counts. Heck, it’s like three reviews in one.

Anyway, I really liked this a lot, which isn’t that surprising given that I am a sucker for a well-done Holmes adaptation (and usually even enjoy those that are just OK, as well). Holmes has been one of my favorite characters ever since seeing some of the Basil Rathbone films as a kid. I went on to read all the original Conan Doyle stories, and over the years have continued to read other author’s takes on the characters, as well as watch numerous Holmes adaptations starring a multitude of various actors. The thing I like about Holmes is that, like Dracula, he has become such an established icon that it now frees authors and filmmakers up to put their own unique spin on him and tweak the formula a little. I don’t mind these re-inventions; I welcome them. I like seeing Holmes depicted as a clueless actor actually following the orders of a brilliant Watson (as seen in the hilarious Michael Caine comedy Without a Clue). I like seeing Holmes transformed into more of a brawler character in a more action-packed take (like Guy Ritchie’s recent Sherlock Holmes blockbuster). And now I know that I also like seeing him moved into the modern day.

This last one is actually the least jarring change, as it turns out that moving Holmes into our times does very little to change the overall essence of the character (he’s tech-savvy now, of course, but that’s the only noticeable difference). Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes, and if that’s not the name of an actor born to play Sherlock Holmes, I don’t know what is. Cumberbatch is a perfect Holmes, highlighting the character’s almost Aspergers like attention to detail and detachment from human emotions. Martin Freeman (best known as Tim from the British Office, and soon to be Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films) plays Watson, here an army doctor recently returned from a traumatic tour of duty in Afghanistan, and who details his adventures with Holmes in a popular online blog. The interplay between these two is excellent, which is the most important component of any Holmes adaptation. You get that relationship right, and chances are you’re making a decent Holmes story.

This series is co-created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. I don’t know too much about Gatiss, but Moffat’s name alone was enough to get me excited. Most people know him as the current show-runner for Doctor Who, and writer of some of the best Who episodes of the modern era. He also wrote BBC’s awesome Jekyll series a few years ago. If you look at his work on these three shows, there’s really no question that Moffat is easily one of the most talented guys working in TV right now, and it’s no surprise that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson apparently went out of their way to convince him to write the first movie in their new Tintin trilogy.

I do have ONE complaint about Sherlock, and unfortunately it’s a potentially big one. I really didn’t like the performance of Andrew Scott as Sherlock’s arch-nemesis, Jim Moriarty. Like I said, I’m a Holmes nerd, so I got really excited when Moriarty’s name was finally mentioned in the first episode (even though I knew it was coming). And I really liked the take on Moriarty in the third episode, where he is presented as being even more psychotic and dangerous than usual – forcing Sherlock to quickly solves cases in order to free innocent victims Moriarty has wired with explosives. But once he finally came onscreen…man, I just don’t know. I have nothing against actors going over-the-top, and Moriarty is usually a perfect character to do so with (for instance, Vincent D’onofrio had a lot of fun with the character in the underrated Sherlock Holmes origin movie A Case of Evil, and he was the best thing about the movie). But there’s something so forced and annoying about Scott’s particular kind of over-the-top performance that he’s giving here – it’s more grating than endearing, and doesn’t feel like it belongs in the universe of the show. He’s just trying too hard, and I couldn’t get into it. I said this was “potentially” a big complaint because Moriarty only has one scene in this first season, and by the time it came I was already fully on-board. But it seems obvious he will be a much bigger presence in the upcoming second season (set to debut this fall), and that sort of worries me. You should never be bummed out by the prospect of more Moriarty in a Sherlock Holmes series, and that tells you something about how much I didn’t like what Scott was doing. Hopefully he’ll rein it in a little next time around.

Still, my problems with that scene aside, Sherlock was a very cool show, and I’m definitely recommending it to any fans of the character or mysteries in general. The first season is now available on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

 

 

This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on June 24th, 2011.

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