Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #20 - Sherlock


There is a reason that the character of Sherlock Holmes has endured.  He is both a powerful and pitiable person.  We all long to be as smart as he is and yet we see the burden of that genius on his heart or lack thereof.  The great detective has had many incarnations in movies and TV.  But this show added the slightest of innovations that added an additional hook:

What if Sherlock was alive today.

Rather than have him be a relic of a Victorian era gone by, this Sherlock is a man who is more knowledgeable and is more disconnected from his fellow man.  This makes him a wonderful commentary on our internet age where knowledge is abundant but human intimacy wanes.  The show fully embraced a bold visual style to bring the character into the 21st century and play around with the old Arthur Conan Doyle stories.

Another wonderful innovation that sets this show apart is the formatting.  Most dramas are 42-50 minutes in run time.  Sherlock about doubles that, making each episode its own full-length feature.  This allows for a slower and richer unfolding of plot and mystery.  It also allows for more twists and turns and complications than you could get in your regular detective show.

Great credit should be given to creator Steven Moffat for breathing such life into Holmes and Watson.  Simply transporting them in time is not enough.  He had to make them and their adventures feel relevant to today's audience.

But the most credit should be given to lead actors: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

There are many in this generation who now see Cumberbatch as THE defininitive Sherlock, and it is hard to argue.  This role has made him a star.  His Sherlock is terse, flippant, boarding on psychopathic.  He is, as he says of himself, "I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-around obnoxious [person] that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful, and uncomprehending in the face of the happy."

If this was all there was to the performance, I do not think that the show would have lasted.  But underneath all of that is a vulnerability, almost a childlike vulnerability.  Cumberbatch shows us that at the heart of Sherlock's frustration is that he can see so much of what others cannot, but he cannot see what everyone else can.  He tries to understand the human heart from the outside-in and in galls him.

And Martin Freeman is just as much a reason for the shows success.  He is our window into Sherlock and he is truly the heart of the show.  His Watson is not simply a sidekick.  Freeman shows us a man of great contradictions, like Sherlock.  He is a healer and a soldier who now does not know where he fits in the world.  It would be to simple to call him an everyman, because Freeman's Watson is extrodinarily brave, kind, and clever.  You understand immediately why he, and almost no one else, was able to break through Sherlock's steely exterior.  And you understand why Watson puts up with Sherlock's prickliness.  Freeman is incredibly moving when he says, "I was so alone, and I owe you so much."  Such a plainspoken statement of affection could fall horribly flat, but Freeman gives it the perfect delivery to cut to the heart.

I also have to say that this might be my favorite depiction of Moriarty.  The idea behind it blew my mind in a way that created a villain that was in every way Sherlock's equal and yet was unlike anything I had seen before.

And above all, Sherlock is a good mystery show.  You want to follow the clues to try and figure out the impossible problems, of which Holmes and Watson have no shortage.

"A Study in Pink"

The pilot was fantastic and has all of the elements in itself that make the show great.  Not only is that innovative visual style present from the first moments, but the mystery is intriguing.  3 people are found who have apparently been forced to commit suicide.  How do you get someone to do that?  What could possibly drive someone to that?  And why?  Not only was the mystery horribly interesting, but the draw of the characters was completely amazing.



"The Hound of the Baskervilles"

There are only 3 episodes per season of Sherlock.  This episode solidified that the idea that the middle episode of each season is the worst.  And this episode lacks a strong tie to the overall continuity, but the mystery is not that interesting and the answer to the problem is less-so.


"The Reichenbach Fall"

This was the height of the show's strength.  The mental chess match of Sherlock and Moriarty came to a head and Sherlock was faced with an impossible problem.  One of the great things about the episode is that Sherlock is smart enough to see that he may not be able to come out victorious and that melancholy permeates the whole episode.  Not only that, but it is very exciting to see someone we come to think of as almost superhuman face off against a challenge that is believably scary.  I will not spoil how the episode ends, but it is tense, exciting, dramatic, and emotional.


Sherlock is something special.  And part of what makes it special is how rare it feels.  Each episode feels like an event.  There are still more episodes to come and I cannot wait to see where it goes.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. It also has a wry sense of humor about itself.

    Yes, Freeman has the most important, and most unappreciated, job in entertainment - straight man.