Blightyvision: “Sherlock”

Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss
Based on the books by Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

It’s all well and good for me to try and convince you that you should be excited about a second season of a show you may not have seen.  I covered “Luther” last week partly for that reason — and partly because I think it’s only fair to make good on my Wibbly-Watchlist predictions*.

“Sherlock” could easily have been fraught with peril.  It was following closely behind the Downey Jr./Law remake and all its geek-beautiful steampunk action.  It went the route of straight-up modernization.  It had a gentleman on the younger side playing the world-famous literary detective.  And let’s face it — if you’re one of the several billion people in the world who was not born Basil Rathbone, no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt if you’re in the title role.

But Moffat and Gatiss (the latter of whom pulls double-duty performing as another familiar character from the original stories) are old hands at Victorian literary adaptations.  They’ve found where elements can be lifted directly (Watson’s return from Afghanistan, the presence of certain peripheral characters), and any updates made don’t feel forced — they’re either natural enough, or brief homages.

Martin Freeman, the big screen’s Dent-Arthur-Dent, is the trustworthy John Watson, who has been encouraged by his therapist to keep a blog upon his return from the Middle East.  The subject of his blog?  His new roommate, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch of “Hawking”), an emotionally-detached misanthrope in the midst of investigating a string of serial suicides.  Yeah, you heard me.  Holmes has been reaching almost dangerous levels of ennui — and, as their landlady rightly points out, a few deaths are just the thing to cheer him up.

If you haven’t guessed yet, the Holmes presented here is worlds different from any we’ve yet seen.  There’s nothing of the gentleman about him, nor of RDJ’s “Victorian action man,” nor even Hugh Laurie’s snarky House.  While he’s still completely recognizable as Holmes, he’s his own character, seeming to exist in a different dimension altogether as he races after his own thoughts — an Eleventh Doctor with no tact or off switch.  Though while seeming wildly alien (I finally figured out why, and it’s because he never blinks), he’s not alienating. His motivation is to never be bored, and he doesn’t care whom he drags along, or leaves behind, as he goes.

To keep from losing the audience, the occasional dynamic text is flashed onscreen, allowing us to see (at least somewhat) as Holmes does.  While this could have been intrusive, it’s handled quite well and not overused, allowing viewers to stay at least somewhat caught up.

With the names behind it that it has, does this even need to be said?  The writing is quick and clever, and none of the characters is stupid or weakly-written.  Even Holmes, as he snubs admirers and manipulates witnesses, remains oddly likable and sympathetic.  The writers give him fleeting moments of emotion without destroying his character, especially at the end.

Oh, right.  The end.

I have to issue my Cliffhanger Warning.  And this is a nasty, evil, disgusting monster of a cliffhanger, the sort that will have you clawing at your viewing apparatus of choice.  Worth it even so?  Well, absolutely.  The series is only three episodes long, though at an hour and a half per episode it’s more like three films.  You don’t feel cheated by what you got, but you find yourself wanting more.  Thank God there will be more.

“Sherlock” will be airing this fall as part of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, and its US DVD release in November has already made it into Amazon’s top 100 preorders.  Stay tuned to see [spoiler], [spoiler], and even the appearance of [spoiler] at a [spoiler] by the [spoiler].

* Note: the Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Watchlist will no longer be a weekly column.  Any UK/Canadian TV news will be reported like, you know, a normal news blog.