For some time now I've been hearing good things about the BBC TV series Sherlock, a modern day revisioning of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great consulting detective. So a couple of months ago I put the first disc of Season 1 (or Series 1 as the Brits term such things) on my Netflix queue, and it showed up in the mail last week. I should probably disclose that, while not a Holmes fanatic, I do tend to take out one of my three copies of The Complete Sherlock Holmes every few years and read it cover to cover. I have always been able to find something new to delight me in every reading, and as I grow older more and more is revealed in the text. So, not a fanatic, but definitely familiar, and maybe even well versed in things Holmesian. To this point I have generally held a low opinion of the various attempts throughout the years to revamp Holmes, with the huge exception of the Basil Rathbone films, even the ones set during World War II, because Rathbone was the only actor who really got Sherlock Holmes right, and he got him so right that the character transcended any flubs with the mythology. Rathbone is the only one who's ever been able to pull that off.
|Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.|
Cumberbatch's tall, gangling frame and long, hollow-cheeked face instantly recall the deceptively ascetic-looking Holmes of Doyle's stories, and Cumberbatch's ability to be absolutely still while expressing furious mental activity with minuscule movements of his eyes and facial muscles is matched only by his absolutely frenetic physicality when Holmes leaps into action after his period of cogitation. His Holmes is brilliant, arrogant, abrasive, and and self-proclaimed "high-functioning sociopath." He is also a terribly lonely man, who is both astonished and delighted to find, at last, a faithful friend.
Freeman (who also landed the role of Bilbo Baggins in 2012's The Hobbit) may well be the first time Dr. Watson has ever been done properly (I disliked Nigel Bruce's Watson just as much as I adored Rathbone's Holmes). A Afghan War vet, and British Army doctor who is discharged after being wounded in the field, this is the Watson from Doyle's stories: steady, an excellent physician with nerves of steel, a deep reservoir of courage, friendship, and loyalty to Holmes, while never sacrificing his own self-concept. This Watson accepts Holmes for what he is and delights in his friend's abilities and in accompanying him on his adventures, no matter how ridiculous they might seem on the face of it. Occasionally irritable, Freeman's Watson is never jealous.
The friendship between the two men is quintessentially British, acknowledged not by hugs or discussions of feelings, but a very restrained warmth and wit as the two men go about their daily routine. The cast and crew keep the the Holmes mythology intact, including the sometimes dark humor of Doyle's stories, but also manage to update things a bit and even to comment on the body of literary criticism determined to see a homosexual relationship between the two men, as in the first episode where, much to Watson's frustration, person after person assume the two are lovers - though everyone is also very supportive of that possibility.
Long story short, I've added the rest of the available discs to my queue, and can't wait to catch up on the series and to DVR Season 3 in March on BBC America. This is the Golden Age of television, Readers Mine, and I'm willing to put Sherlock right on up there with the shows that are making that gold. You should watch it.