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TV Waffle - Sherlock (Season One)

Contemporary re-imagining of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective.


Sherlock is a drama series produced by the BBC.  The first series premiered on October 24th of 2010 and consisted of three 90 minute episodes.  The show stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the famous detective and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson.
I want to start this review by admitting that I am not a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories.  It's not that I dislike them, as I have read a few of the stories over the years but I personally never found them engaging enough to go any further with the character.  I feel that this is an important point to mention as it may explain some of my perspective of Sherlock in this review.
Sherlock is a reinvention of the world's most famous detective which brings the character into the 21st century.  This is not entirely new ground for series co-creator Steven Moffat as he did a similar thing with his 2007 series Jekyll, although in that case there ultimately was a connection back to the 19th century source material.  Along with his fellow co-creator Mark Gatiss, the approach taken this time is to treat the series as if this is the first the world has ever heard of Mr. Holmes. This definitely worked for me as it completely relieved me of any guilt I may have felt due to my relative inexperience with the original material.
The focus of the series is not only the characters of Holmes and Watson, but the nature of their relationship as well.  This is framed in the context of society in general's perspective on Sherlock, which seems to be one centered on his relative lack of humanity.  Holmes is largely viewed as alien by most who interact with him. Even the police regularly refer to him as "the freak" and while Lestrade clearly respects his abilities, and point blank states that he is in desperate need of them, it's not completely clear how much he actually cares about Sherlock as a human being.  This immediately casts him in the role of underdog but, between the writing and Cumberbatch's exceptional performance, it's not quite that simple, as Holmes himself carries an air of superiority which would easily make most people largely unsympathetic to him.  This creates one of many interesting dynamics for the series.
This leads directly into Watson's relationship with Holmes.  Watson is a military doctor who has recently returned from the conflict in Afghanistan.  This is the same background as the original Doctor Watson from the, over a century old, story A Study in Scarlet, which subtly begs the political question of is there any point to our presence there at all?  The doctor is a man of science and, as such, is deeply impressed by Holmes' abilities, effectively making Watson his only fan, and it becomes clear that a fan is exactly what Holmes is in need of himself.  He is also an adrenalin junkie whose habit is easily fed by Sherlock and his antics.
At this point, since there are effectively only three episodes, I'm going to address them individually.  A Study in Pink was easily the most impressive of the three and is easily one of the best pilot episodes I have ever seen but a good deal of that is due to the fact that it was a reshoot of a pilot done a year earlier.  I gather the BBC doesn't do this all that often as the only other such instance I am aware of is the first episode of the original Doctor Who.  Exceptional use is made of the opportunity as the improved quality of the second pilot is obvious when compared to the original, which is conveniently included on the DVD set.  This pilot episode did everything that you want a pilot to do and did it all exceptionally well.  It brought the two main characters together, established the parameters of their relationship over the course of solving a mystery and, in the finale, cemented their friendship in a humorously touching manner.
The second episode, The Blind Banker, while still entertaining, was the weakest of the three episodes and some people have taken it to task for some of its racial perspectives.  As someone who reads a good deal of older pulp literature I may be somewhat desensitized to this but I didn't find anything to be too inappropriate. It is a fairly straightforward mystery that attempts some character development with Watson.  This leads to my one criticism of the episode, in that Watson's date seems to recover remarkably rapidly from having her life threatened in a very real way.  Ultimately, I guess I just let it go by chalking it up to the stoicism that seems to be a hallmark of British culture. 
Moriarty, a staple of Holmes' mythology, is introduced in the final episode, The Great Game. Remaining unseen at first, he sets Holmes on a series of timed tasks with random innocent people's lives in the balance. One of these ends in a less than ideal fashion, which not only surprised me but additionally lent an element of gravitas to the story.  In the end, Holmes gets his direct confrontation with Moriarty in a scene that plays the two off as the classic opposite sides of the same personality.  During this conflict, Moriarty threatens Holmes in a way that ends up proving to be prophetic for the second series.  The Great Game also ends the series on one hell of a cliffhanger.  I also wanted to compliment the production on the planetarium scene where we hear Gustav Holst's 'Mars, Bringer of War' playing in the background, which I am guessing was intended as a shout out to the classic BBC series The Quatermass Experiment.
Overall, I really enjoyed the first series of Sherlock. While the episode quality did vary noticeably, the performances more than made up for this, creating an outstanding piece of television that is well worth anyone's time.



Nick Sauer
For more from Nick, visit his site Fantastic Television

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