Each month, we like to spotlight a British television show that you really should already be watching because, frankly, almost everything on British television is required viewing. Last month, we gave you just a little taste of the pick’n’mix that is a wonderful little show called Misfits. This month, the hits keep coming with Sherlock.
If, like many of us here at VaginaCon, you watched the Emmys last week, then you may recognize Sherlock as the miniseries that didn’t win jack shit. First of all, award shows are really just glorified circle jerks… when the “right” people don’t win (Peter Dinklage, we’re talking specifically about you**). Second of all, Sherlock is so much more than just category fodder for award shows. Undoubtedly, you are at least aware of the Sherlock mythology (if only because of the fantastic Robert Downey Jr. movies). If you are somehow in complete darkness on who the character of Sherlock Holmes is, don’t worry; I’ll hit you with a crash course.
Sherlock Holmes was created in 1887, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is a “consulting detective” in London, which basically means he helps solve the crimes that nobody can solve. He is a master of logical reasoning and forensic science, among many other things. Holmes is accompanied by Dr. John Watson. In those original stories, Watson played the key role of narrator; the adventures were told directly from his point of view (most of them). Everything the reader knew about Holmes was seen through the prism of Watson’s eyes: Sherlock’s qualities, his faults, his accomplishments, and his failures; they were almost all relayed by the narration of Watson, his endearing and almost beloved companion–as “beloved” as anyone can really be to Sherlock Holmes.
From 1939 to 1946, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce played Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, in a series of fourteen films. While this is largely regarded as a great film series, it doesn’t really stick very closely to the source material. The most notable of these differences is the portrayal of Watson; he’s a bumbling, incompetent fool. It completely lost the integrity of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Never mind the overcoats, the silly hats, or even the crimes; the true heart of these stories is this love story between Sherlock and Watson–I mean, Watson is writing books about Holmes, for crying out loud. That film series, as fun and really fantastic as it is, kind of ruined these characters for decades.
That’s what is so great about this show, Sherlock; it brings those characters back. It resurrects that love story. By the way, when I say “love story”, I don’t mean they want to bump uglies; it’s like brotherly love. They complete each other, in a platonic, psychological sense. This is so well illustrated in the show, within minutes of the opening credits of the first episode and is reaffirmed throughout each of the show’s six, feature-length episodes, with several homoerotic moments; a narrative tool that may or may not have been as overtly used in the time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The series’ setting has been updated to modern-day London, and I hate to keep going back to this well, but the contemporary setting is best illustrated by the fact that Watson’s narration has now taken the form of a blog; he’s blogging their adventures in the surprisingly violent streets of London.
The aloof, sociopathic Sherlock is deftly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the man with a name for gardening (I kid, honestly; the man is amazing), while the lovably naïve Watson is portrayed by Martin Freeman. Throughout the series, we meet several important characters whose names you may recognize: Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother (Mark Gatiss); Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade, of Scotland Yard (Rupert Graves); Irene Adler, reimagined as an English dominatrix (Lara Pulver); and, of course, Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ archenemy (Andrew Scott).
The show’s creators, Mark Gatiss and God–I mean, Steven Moffat, somehow manage to craft a believable, modern world around these characters, while remaining remarkably true to source material written a century ago.
I mentioned the films with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law playing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that those films, too, recaptured a lot of what had been lost of the Sherlock Holmes mythology. If you like those films, you should like this series. It’s as simple as that, and they differ enough that you don’t feel as though you’re watching the same thing twice. That’s where I’m not so sure the new American series, Elementary, will succeed; it seems to be trying to be “different” in the wrong places. I have liked Jonny Lee Miller for nearly twenty years and like Lucy Liu, but why is she playing Watson? Why is Watson a woman? That discards the entirety of the nonsexual sexual tension between Sherlock and Watson, but I digress. This is not about the problems with that show; it is about the inimitable qualities of Sherlock, this month’s British Invasion selection.
Here are a few highlights you can look forward to:
Andrew Scott’s performance as the antithetical Professor Moriarty; he is Sherlock Holmes, only he’s a douchecanoe who gets his kicks from causing crimes instead of solving them. Perhaps it can be said that all he needs is a Watson?
The scene in “A Scandal in Belgravia” where we are introduced to Irene Adler. It could have been played very differently, but it’s so interestingly uncomfortable.
The hat, the blanket, and the phone. You’ll know when you see them.
Lastly, Louise Brealey, who plays Molly Hooper. It’s an unassuming, minor character, but I love Louise Brealey on this show; I think she steals every scene she’s in.
**Sorry, Aaron Paul. No offense… bitch…