Sherlock Makes Television Worth Watching Again
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Now that the Moffat-Gatiss take on Britain's best-loved detective has hit the US, it's a hit with Caleb...
With every generation, there is always someone who truly believes that they can take a cherished character and make them 'relevant'. Since the invention of the moving picture, literary characters have been taken and changed by writers and directors to fit the times, or to be the one to present the most 'accurate' portrayal of these figures. Arguably the most prominent literary figure to have undergone such revisions is the great Baker Street detective himself, Sherlock Holmes, portrayed in numerous incarnations by many actors, all giving us shades of the man from the books. The role's most synonymous actor remains Basil Rathbone (which has the unfortunate side-effect of bringing to mind Nigel Bruce in the complementary role of Dr. Watson), whilst Hammer Studios gave us a film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles which was brilliant, but a flop due to the fact that people expected gothic horror from Hammer. Most Holmes enthusiasts (myself included) think of Jeremy Brett as the ultimate Holmes, a performance about as close to the literary version as any have been.
Holmes has been re-imagined in comedies (such as The Seven Percent Solution), as a fish out of water – several television specials and the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century had a detective that was reanimated in a future setting – and even as an action hero in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 steampunk Sherlock Holmes film (which, while taking liberties with the source material, still managed to be remarkably faithful in their portrayal of the eccentric detective).
So with all of these versions out there, how would one even begin to try to make it worth the effort?
Bring in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, two of television’s finest writers. Together they have brought Arthur Conan Doyle's hero to the small screen again, having both written some of the finest episodes of the revived Doctor Who series (Moffat now holding the reigns as executive producer). In Sherlock, gone are the gaslights, hansom cabs, and even the trademark tobacco use that we have come to expect with Holmes. Moffat and Gatiss have taken the character and re-imagined him as a contemporary man, with all of the original’s tics and eccentric behaviors. Not all has changed: Holmes remains a consulting detective to whom Scotland Yard's DI Lestrade resorts when he needs help on a case - which, as usual, seems to be all the time. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, and he is wonderful in the role. His Holmes isn’t as self-assured as the original, and relies on more technological means to solve the crimes, but the brilliance is still there. His companion, Dr. John Watson, is brought to life by Martin Freeman.
This Watson is still an Army doctor, and is still a veteran of a war in Afghanistan (the more things change…). Freeman brings warmth to his portrayal, and makes him a very likable person. He seems intrigued by his new roommate, especially when in his first moments everyone he meets tells him to stay clear of Holmes. Here, though, the diaries are gone, and now Watson blogs about his exploits with the detective (to further represent the presence of technology, Holmes’ famous line is changed to “I am nothing without my blogger”). The two actors have a certain chemistry that comes across in the episodes. You could believe that they could be great friends, or as close to great friends as one could be with a figure as aloof as Sherlock Holmes. The three 90-minute episodes – which just showed here in the states – are loosely based on three of Holmes’ adventures ('A Study in Scarlet', 'The Dancing Men', and 'The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans').
Everything is transposed for the modern day, which makes the characters more accessible for those who can’t get into a Victorian story (yes, those people are out there, and they need our pity and support). It also allows them to interject modern biases and views into the story, such as the questioning of Holmes’ sexuality, the idea of mental illness (one of the police officers calls Holmes a psychopath, to which he retorts that he’s a “high-functioning sociopath”), nicotine patches (because people smoke only because characters on television and in movies do it), and the usage of cell phones, which helps speed the stories along.
It helps that Moffat and Gatiss are both huge Holmes enthusiasts, and that enthusiasm comes through in the brilliant writing. The episodes are fast paced, and shot in an engaging manner that brings the viewer into Holmes’ world. While I am normally no fan of changing a beloved character merely because you can, I was instantly a fan of this show. And apparently, many others are, because it has been picked up for another mini-series to show this coming April. I, for one, am eager to see what is coming next for Holmes and Watson.
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