Five things I liked about SHERLOCK, the modern day Sherlock Holmes series created for the BBC by Steven Moffat (DOCTOR WHO) and Mark Gatiss (DOCTOR WHO, most notably last season’s kind of lame Dalek episode) …
1) The leads. Benedict Cumberbatch sells Holmes’s intensity, intelligence, playfulness, and dickery beautifully, and Martin Freeman — along with the writers — manages to create a Watson that certainly resents Holmes and his lack of social graces, but has a taste of the same madness that drives him towards the danger rather than away from it. The opening episode builds this perfectly.
2) The fact that it’s definitely Holmes, but it’s also definitely the 21st century. Holmes is impatient; of COURSE he would text rather than call and get bogged down in a dull conversation. At the same time, when he rattles off his laundry list of observations that led him to his conclusion, well, that’s straight out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Watson still maintains accounts of the cases Holmes solves, but now he does it at his blog. He’s still ex-military, and how convenient that there’s still military action going on in Afghanistan a hundred and twenty-some years later — the literary Watson was a wounded Afghanistan veteran, as is Moffat & Gatiss’s Watson. And it’s cute how Holmes and Watson never drive themselves, always getting a cab, and it’s always shot the same way they shoot people in carriages in period dramas — a visual nod to the period roots, updated for modern times.
3) Jumping from that, the visual panache. Much like last year’s SHERLOCK HOLMES film, Holmes’s thought processes are often spelled out through stylized camera moves, specific use of color, info graphics, etc. The third episode has a lot of cool visual touches, like the on-screen countdowns and the texts popping up next to characters as they glance down at their phones. Not style for the sake of style — style with some substance.
4) The show is just great fun. Holmes is an arrogant miscreant, but when he’s onto something and he flashes that grin, the energy is infectious; you know whatever happens next is going to be neat, or interesting, or have a cool twist to it. Also, for me there was at least one laugh-out-loud moment per episode — usually something out of Holmes’s mouth that just highlights his lack of social awareness. And you really can’t help but like Freeman’s poor, put-upon Watson. It’s not like long-suffering Wilson on HOUSE, where you sometimes wonder why he puts up with all House dishes out. Watson’s clearly having fun following Holmes on his latest quest — the more dangerous, the better.
5) The episode length. An hour and a half per episode gives plenty of room for twists, character beats, red herrings, little things that’ll pay off late enough that they come as shockers. That also gives plenty of time for long, tense scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat. The crossbow trap in episode #2 and the climactic confrontation in episode #3 both come to mind.
Now, five things I DIDN’T like about SHERLOCK …
1) The mastermind-behind-everything interweaving of the three stories. I’d actually hoped episode #2 was a standalone, but in the final moments it turned out not to be the case; I get that it was setting up the third episode, but still, annoying. Having one supervillain behind everything is too neat, too tidy, and too “comic book” in a bad way. You know, the way things get too interrelated, to the point that not a single event happens in character A’s life without it somehow being character B’s fault. Incestuous backstories, and all that.
2) Overfamiliarity. It’s a procedural with an eccentric lead who’s not a member of the police and has a way-above-average eye for detail. That’s both PSYCHE and THE MENTALIST, and MONK, too. Isn’t LIE TO ME like that as well? That’s the impression I always get from the promos. The Holmes and Watson relationship is, as noted earlier, mirrored in HOUSE, which itself draws heavily from the Holmes template (for crying out loud, it’s in their names). Those stylized visual cues, as well executed as they are here, have been in every procedural since C.S.I. Being derived straight from the source helps, and it’s done extremely well, but I couldn’t put some of those other shows out of my mind as I was watching it.
3) I’ll be honest, when the killer caught up with Holmes at the end of the first episode, I thought it took a bit too long for Holmes to figure out what was going on. I can’t help but think everyone watching spent a good twenty seconds shouting, “HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!” at the screen.
4) The low episode count. That’s just mean.
5) The cliffhanger ending. That’s even meaner.