Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sher-locked


The BBC's Sherlock recently ended its quick -- albeit eventful -- third season in early February, and I'm already going through withdrawal! What started as a contemporary retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary invention -- the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes -- has become a massive hit, allowing for the reemergence of old fans as well as forging new fans when it comes to the "world's greatest detective." First, let it be known, that if you are into any kind of crime drama/procedural shows -- fiction or non-fiction -- then you should immediately rent the DVDs or stream this show! At first glance of a season of Sherlock, one may immediately notice a season is only made up of 3 episodes; however, each episode is an hour-and-a-half long! So they are pretty much a series of trilogy movies. This contemporary spin on Doyle's great creation and his greatest stories include: A Study in Scarlet (here, the episode: "A Study in Pink"); The Valley of Fear and The Adventure of the Dancing Men (here: "The Blind Banker"); The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (here: "The Great Game"); A Scandal in Bohemia (here: "A Scandal in Belgravia"); The Hound of the Baskervilles (here: "The Hounds of Baskerville"); The Final Problem (here: "The Reichenbach Fall"); The Adventure of the Empty Hearse (here: "The Empty Hearse"); The Sign of the Four (here: "The Sign of Three"); and The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton (here: "His Last Vow").


The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave) as the titular Sherlock -- the contemporary version which still holds true to a lot of the classic Doyle character (although, with some discretions): rather than smoke a pipe, this Cumberbatch's Sherlock wears nicotine patches (yes, more than one at a time), he is able to make correct deductions from the quickest, smallest clues, and he has eidetic memory. He is described in the premiere as having Asperger Syndrome or being a psychopath, and he is highly anti-social. Sherlock describes himself as "a high-functioning sociopath." Cumberbatch can spew out run-on sentences and give a ton of answers before you can say, "Elementary, dear Watson." 


Sherlock's business partner and longtime friend Dr. John Watson -- mostly portrayed as a comic foil to Sherlock -- is played with more seriousness by the wonderful Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Freeman's Watson brings a very hard, skeptical aspect to the character while also representing the "everyman" (or, the viewer) in his experiences with Sherlock. Watson is an army doctor veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and is at first put off by Sherlock but quickly amazed by Sherlock's gift for deduction based on minimal clues. Inevitably, Watson meets a woman who is loving and quite extraordinary, Mary Morstan (brilliantly played by Freeman's real-life partner, Amanda Abbington); and, gratefully, to change things up a bit, Mary has secrets which make her a formidable equal to the dynamic duo. 


Speaking of equals, to update Sherlock's famous quasi-love interest -- "The Woman" a.k.a. the woman Sherlock comes close to loving in the only way Sherlock can romantically love -- the creators adapted Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) into a dominatrix who believes in power and trading secrets for money. She is the only person who can somewhat perplex Sherlock and her addition to the series in season/series 2 is essential! 


Finally, there is the king of all villains as far as I'm concerned: Moriarty! Andrew Scott as Sherlock's arch nemesis, the genius villain consulting criminal James Moriarty may very well be one of the best villains EVER! As Moriarty says, "Ever fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain."  He and Sherlock's rivalry are what inspired the classic nemesis pairings such as Batman and the Joker, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Doctor Who and The Master, and Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort! Scott takes Moriarty to all new levels that I didn’t think possible on television. He’s an evil whose presence is felt with every minute he’s on screen. When he angrily rumbles that he will "burn the heart" out of Sherlock (a great line, by the way), you believe him! To Moriarty, everyone is merely a pawn – their lives insignificant and expendable. He is a “consulting criminal” whose intellect matches Sherlock’s, and whose cunning and ruthlessness places him above no other. I was a bit disappointed with his and Sherlock's "end" in the season 2 finale. However, it has been teased he may be making a return, which caused me to nearly wet myself!

I have to admit that I've been very disheartened with the state of television lately. With all of the gossipy reality shows and mind-numbing reality competition shows filling the prime time slots, it's difficult to find a show that really stimulates your imagination and keeps you well entertained. Fortunately, four shows this winter saved me from complete television anaphylactic shock: The Walking DeadDownton Abbey (Yes, DOWNTON Mother-F'n ABBEY!!!), Doctor Who (Yes, I KNOW I'm coming on-board late, but I'm all caught up and am a diehard fan!), and Sherlock! They were the only shows where I became excited to watch what the characters were in store for that particular week. Don't get me wrong. There are other shows on TV that I watch, but I don't get as much from them as I do the aforementioned four shows.

The greatest thing about one of the newest incarnations of Doyle's timeless character is placing him in the modern day and the brilliant writing and production by Steven Moffat (who took the reins as head writer and executive producer for Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss (who plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft in the series, and has also contributed to Doctor Who). The writing the show churns out is some of the finest writing in television today. It's got it all: from drama to action to comedy to suspense to even a touch of romance (although, it doesn't come from Sherlock himself!). Each movie-length episode's story propels the arc of the show forward, never with a lull, and keeps me guessing in an age when I can predict what is going to happen on nearly 95% of the shows I watch. Sherlock is probably the only show on TV where I wonder how the writers are going to write solutions for the predicaments they place their heroes in; I also wonder what they're going to do next, where they'll take the characters. Here is just a sample of the cliffhanger-like writing in the series when Moriarty first comes face-to-face with Sherlock:

 

Even CBS' mild Elementary (another adaptation of Doyle's Holmes) doesn't even come close to the excellence of the BBC's version -- and it's a universe I feel needs respect. After all, this is the story that helped inspire famous fictional icons such as Batman, Dr. Greg House, Dr. Spencer Reid, and Shawn Spencer, as well as spawn many incarnations of the character by many talented actors. Now, the series will be entering its fourth season/series if the BBC decides to pick up the show again; despite the busy schedules of Cumberbatch and Freeman (who have recently shared billing in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again), as well as producers Moffat and Gatiss, the producers have written out stories for seasons four and five so that is a good sign the show will be picked up for another season.


Sherlock takes television and makes it smart again! It's no longer merely some mindless wasteland populated with attention-seeking wannabes, vapid, superficial money princesses, unfunny distracting swill, or sex-driven plots. If you're looking to watch television that actually requires your attention and thinking -- and is extremely entertaining -- then the BBC's Sherlock should be your top priority in your rental queue; this is not a show to put on "in the background" and hope to catch the gist of what is occurring (it's too involved for that and deserves anyone's full attention). My favorite episodes are season two's "A Scandal in Belgravia" (which introduces Irene Adler) and "The Final Problem" (a Moriarty-centric episode). But the entire series has great episodes! The only unfortunate aspect to Sherlock is the time between seasons/series. I'd love to think season 4 will premiere in January 2015, but that's probably wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the wait is more than worth it!

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