Sherlock Season 1
Recurring character(s): Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss)
Original air date(s): 07/25/2010 to 08/08/2010 (UK), 10/24/2010 to 11/07/2010 (US)
DVD Date: 11/09/2010
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 461 minutes
Note(s): Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
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Review: Back in December 2008, the BBC issued a press release announcing the network had commissioned a pilot for a contemporary update of Sherlock Holmes, calling it "a thrilling, funny, fast-paced take on the crime drama genre set in present day London." I said at the time that I was "not altogether thrilled by this description." Well, I would be wrong. Sherlock is creative and innovative with well written scripts and a great look yet still respects the characters originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle more than 100 years ago.
The 60 minute pilot eventually turned into three 90 minute episodes that comprise the first season of Sherlock. The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a young, maybe early 30s, Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as a similarly aged Dr. John Watson. Some may argue that these two men are too young to play the characters, but their ages are actually quite close to those in the original books and short stories (the so-called "canon"); Sherlock Holmes met Dr. Watson when he was in his 20s. The casting of Cumberbatch and Freeman are inspired; within minutes of their first appearance on the screen, they become Holmes and Watson to the viewer. The setup of how they meet is also true to the canon: Holmes has an apartment at 221B Baker Street and is in need of a roommate to pay the rent; Dr. Watson, back from the war in Afghanistan where he was wounded, has no immediate prospects of employment and is in need of an inexpensive apartment. Other familiar characters include landlady Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, Holmes's brother Mycroft and his nemesis Professor Moriarty.
The contemporary update comes primarily from the use of technology (cell phones, texting, the Internet and blogs) and a very modern looking London. But this update also includes numerous references to the original stories. For example, Holmes, who has quit smoking, wears a nicotine patch. But when Watson sees him with three patches, Holmes declares, "It is quite a three patch problem", a modification to the original quote "It is quite a three pipe problem" that Holmes makes in the short story "The Red-Headed League." I caught several such references and no doubt missed many others; I'm certain someone at some point will make a list of them!
Of the three episodes that were made, the first, "A Study in Pink" (another twist on the original "A Study in Scarlet", itself the first story to feature Sherlock Holmes; the plots also share some elements) is brilliant in almost every way. It's certainly possible my expectations were set a bit low, but I was enthralled with this episode. It surprised me at almost every turn.
Less successful is the second episode, "The Blind Banker", which was loosely adapted from "The Dancing Men". I wasn't quite as engaged here as in the first, but again, I'm willing to believe that my expectations here might have been too high, believing (hoping?) that this episode could somehow maintain the magic of the first.
The third episode, "The Great Game", which includes some plot elements adapted from "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans", falls somewhere between the two. It's simultaneously over-complicated (with Holmes pretending not work on a case presented to him by his brother Mycroft) and over-simplified (with Holmes playing logic and deduction games with a serial killer that start out interesting but quickly get tedious ... though the final one in the art gallery is exciting). It also seems like two endings may have been written and filmed, one if the series was renewed by the BBC (which, indeed it has, for three more 90 minute episodes to air Fall 2011), and a second if it wasn't. What we see is the first, but I think it would have been more satisfactory had the episode closed cleanly, without a cliffhanger. (The renewal came three weeks after the conclusion of the series airing in the UK, so I could be way off on my supposition here.)
The DVD set includes several bonus features, but the one I enjoyed the most was the original 60 minute pilot. The storyline is similar to that of the 90 minute first episode, but the look is quite different, as if the producers were trying to reproduce Victorian London in 21st century London. I will say I strongly prefer the look to the 90 minute episode over that of the 60 minute pilot -- but I'm thrilled that both were included and I had the opportunity to see the original vision and the modified result.
If you missed the airing of Sherlock on PBS earlier this month, you can watch the episodes for free on the PBS website through December 7th, 2010. But if you're interested in the series, or even if you watched it on television, I strongly recommend the DVD set, mostly for the extra features.
A year is a long time to wait for the next episodes in this superb series, but I'm confident it will be worth it.
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