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I dreaded the thought of watching another attempt at bringing Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson and London to life. Personally, I had concluded that the brilliant Granada series starring Jeremy Brett as a living personification of Holmes would never be topped. Any attempt which doesn’t stand up to that mark would be an affront to Sherlock fans and to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary characters themselves. I’m happy to let you know that Conan Doyle would not be turning in his grave any time soon.
The writers of the BBC Sherlock Series, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had done the impossible – shepherded Holmes and Watson into the 21st century without compromising the vision of Conan Doyle as to the characterization of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. The series bristles with wit, charm, astounding sequences of deductions and some clever who-dun-its. The writers have made sure that the juice is worth the squeeze.
The series is set in modern-day London. Victorian era houses, hansoms, castles and mist is replaced by modern-day London’s chaotic hustle and bustle, skyscrapers and cabs. Shots of London are artfully fast forwarded, blurred and tinted to dramatic effect. Sherlock’s favorite tools are texting and web surfing which powers his extraordinary deductions. This firmly grounds the series in the present day and any reference to the past is gradually and inexorably forgotten after watching the lead actors breathe new life into their roles.
The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is inspired. Benedict Cumberbatch is a revelation as Sherlock Holmes. What Cumberbatch brings to the table is that physically he looks like no other actor, projects a certain gravitas and intelligence which has not dimmed through the season, straddled the fine line between manic intensity and madness and makes arrogance seem like a virtue. The only one who did this better is the late great Jeremy Brett. Brett set an impossibly high bar with a tour de force performance as Sherlock Holmes. His Holmes was a force of nature, impossible to contain and best left to express itself until it was spent. Cumberbatch probably knows this and wisely doesn’t channel Brett. Instead he has given his own spin on playing Sherlock as slightly asperger-ish, high-functioning sociopath with arrogance matched only by a truly genius level brain. Cumberbatch is a worthwhile successor. Would Jeremy Brett approve? I think he would.
There can be no Sherlock Holmes without a stalwart Dr. John Watson to define him. Martin Freeman plays an invalided soldier and medic back from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress. He has embraced the role and made it his own, completely unlike any other actor’s performances as Dr. Watson. He brings a certain warmth laced with plenty of deadpan humor to the series. He is the long-suffering room-mate and everyday man of the series and though his Watson is less physically imposing and mentally endowed than Sherlock, he is no pushover and holds his own against the great detective knocking him down a peg or two with some acerbic wit. Bloody awful cabbie anyone?
Chemistry cannot be manufactured and it shows in the pair’s performance as Holmes and Watson. They bounce lines off each other like a squabbling old couple and yet there is a strong undercurrent of friendship and loyalty simmering underneath. The writers also recognized the incongruity of two bachelors staying together in this day and age and have fun with a running gag about the pair being mistaken for a gay couple. Martin Freeman is a hoot to watch trying to explain away their status every chance he gets. As actors, Cumberbatch and Freeman look like they are on two different parallel roads and never the twain shall meet. Yet somehow their performance as Holmes and Watson complement each other and possibly even raise each other’s caliber a couple of notches which endows the pair a genuine ‘X’ factor. That is what defines a winning combination.
It’s a pity that there are only three episodes in season 1 – A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game. But they are sufficiently lengthy at about one and half hours to whet the appetites of Sherlock fans. Personally, I felt a A Study in Pink and The Great Game are far superior in content and execution to The Blind Banker, but all three are highly entertaining nevertheless. Strong supporting characters playing detective inspector Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson add considerably to the enjoyment of the series.There are some fantastic villains in the series, one who is genuinely off the rails, but unfortunately nothing more can be said without giving out plot details. A quick heads up – some of the dialogues can be a bit incomprehensible with the British accent and blindingly fast deduction sequences. Unless you plan to make friends with the rewind button, closed captioning would serve you well.
If you are looking for an intelligent, well-thought out crime drama with a heart and soul that respects your intellect, look no further than ‘Sherlock’ from BBC. Highly recommended to get your blood pumping and to clear those cobwebs from your brain.