Sherlock, PBS Masterpiece Mystery

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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Benedict Cumberbatch (left) and Martin Freeman in “Sherlock” on PBS Masterpiece Mystery!

“Sherlock” – a 21st-Century Sherlock Holmes series on PBS Masterpiece Mystery!

Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, inspired by the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson
Screenwriting by Steven Moffat (“A Study in Pink”), Steve Thompson (“The Blind Banker”), and Mark Gatiss (“The Great Game”)
Directed by Paul McGuigan (“A Study in Pink,” “The Great Game”) and Euros Lyn (“The Blind Banker”)
Produced by Hartswood Films for BBC Wales, co-produced with PBS’ Masterpiece
PBS stations, Sundays, Oct. 24 and 31, and Nov. 7, 2010; 9 p.m. ET/PT
(See video preview below.)

The imaginative premise for this dynamic new PBS Masterpiece Mystery! series is that a young consulting detective named Sherlock Holmes lives and works in present-day London. The creators, “Doctor Who” writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, have written all new plots for this clever and fast-paced three-part series. And more episodes are to come.

Portraying all the brilliance, remoteness, and idiosyncrasies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s conception, our new young Sherlock lives at 221B Baker Street; plays the violin; has a brother Mycroft, a mysterious government heavyweight (played by co-creator, Mark Gatiss), a solicitous landlady, Mrs. Hudson, (Una Stubbs), a police colleague, Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves, “The Forsyte Saga”) and an arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty (Andrew Scott). The series’ Dr. John Watson was wounded in the current Afghan war, while Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson was wounded the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

Instead of smoking a pipe, our contemporary young Sherlock wears nicotine patches. “This is a three-patch problem, Watson,” he says, in one of the series many allusions to Conan Doyle’s writings. These bon mots will delight Holmes fanatics (including this writer), who approach all Sherlock Holmes adaptations with skepticism.

Surprisingly, the new series has turned Sherlock into a bit of a superhero who can use his physical strength as well as his powers of observation and analysis. He practically bounces off the walls as he pursues criminals, more to prove his abilities than to help the victims.

In the series opener, “A Study in Pink,” we are treated to the first acquaintance and budding friendship of Holmes and Watson. When a wave of suicides by poison grips London, Holmes suspects the victims are not doing so voluntarily, as the police believe. Holmes and Watson seize on the minute details of the most recent victim, a woman dressed entirely in pink (a send-up to Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet”), to reveal a mastermind with the perfect cover and a diabolical motive.

The second episode, “The Blind Banker,” finds new flatmates, Sherlock and John, solving the puzzle of a banker and a journalist both shot dead by a killer who seems to walk through walls. In “The Great Game,” Sherlock pits his wits against a devilishly clever bomber, who straps explosives to innocent people and has them call the detective with a series of baffling mysteries to solve.

One note about Moriarty: he appears in only two of Conan Doyle’s works, although his name is referenced in some others. I hope that this series doesn’t devolve into a cat-and-mouse game between Holmes and Moriarty, as opposed to more cerebral, meticulous and clever stand-alone mysteries.

Benedict Cumberbatch (“Atonement,” “The Last Enemy”) is outstanding in the title role. His Sherlock is edgy and energetic, with an incisive mind and a manner so neurotically inconsiderate and disagreeable that it exceeds his namesake’s renowned insensitivity. Perhaps our Sherlock’s youthful enthusiasm is to blame.

Cumberbatch is a three-dimensional Holmes, with character development and acting prowess significantly superior to most attempts, celebrated Holmes portrayers, Jeremy Brett (1933-1995) and Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) excepted.

Dr. John Watson, acted by Martin Freeman (“The Office UK,” “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”) is first rate. Far from the awkward bumbling fool often portrayed on screen, this Watson is serious, thoughtful and intelligent. The Holmes-Watson relationship is one of the most interesting elements in the series. The two share mutual aggravation, annoyance, admiration and affection.

The 21st century is also one of the stars of “Sherlock.” Whereas the old Holmes sent cables, the new Sherlock is an avid web user and texter, with his own website. Watson’s dispatches to the Strand Magazine are replaced by his blog. Clues and locations occasionally flash on the screen, as in complex video games.

The pace of the series replicates the velocity and intensity of Sherlock’s physical speed and powers of deduction. His rapid speech and thought processes are difficult to follow at times. We’re always a step behind. Were it not for the speed of the episodes, the mysteries might be easier for the viewer to unravel. Alternatively, they might seem less logical and therefore impossible to solve.

Although the “Sherlock” plots can’t beat Conan Doyle’s works (and whose could?), they are impressive, inventive, baffling, exciting, and engrossing.
©Emily S. Mendel 2010 All rights reserved

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