The UK’s Latest Masterpiece: Sherlock

It’s been a great year for discovering new television shows, and I mainly have the Brits to thank for that. I discovered teenage superhero comedy, Misfits, which I found to be distastefully delightful. I’m working my way through six seasons of Doctor Who, which is really starting to grow on me. But finally, I’ve discovered yet another British show that is far and away the best new program I’ve seen out of any country in the last few years.

A modern day reboot of Sherlock Holmes sounds like a bit of a boring venture, as I hate procedurals with a passion. I can’t stand shows like CSI or Law and Order that have one mystery per forty minute episode, and everyone stands around looking at hair fibers until they can prove one of the four people they interviewed is guilty.

It’s beyond formulaic, and generally painfully dull. I was worried that perhaps the Brits were looking to us Americans for a change, and would set this new Sherlock to be clever detective that solved a mystery an hour and that would be that.

I should never underestimate British television.

Sherlock is instead what all mystery shows should be. They’ve created complex, head-scratching cases, many of which overlap and most that tie into a grand central plot pertaining to the entire series. The cast is full of lively characters, and Sherlock himself is the most loveable, strange savant since Rain Man.

In true British form, the seasons (series, as they say) are quite short, with only three a season. However, each episode is a full ninety minutes, without commercials, making each practically its own film. This allows the show to craft a much more complex mystery than one that would have to be solved in a mere 42 minutes on CSI, and the show benefits greatly because of the format.

The titular two roles of Sherlock and Watson are played by Benedict Cumberbatch (recently spotted in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Martin Freeman (of The Office and now Hobbit fame) where Freeman must play the straight man to Cumberbatch’s eccentric Holmes. Cumberbatch is one of the most interesting actors I’ve seen in quite some time as he’s got such unique facial features he almost looks extraterrestrial, but has a deep booming voice that sounds like Alan Rickman if you had your eyes closed.

His brilliant portrayal of Holmes is why the series works. He’s a “consulting detective” that the police turn to when their crimes are too tough to solve. Unlike the recent Robert Downey Jr. variant however, who was so smooth he might as well have been a predecessor to James Bond, Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a self described “high functioning sociopath” who is completely clueless in social situations or practical knowledge (he never bothered to learn that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth), but has a superhuman ability to find, process and analyze data. The segments where he understands an entire person or crime scene based on a the most subtle of clues are jaw-dropping, and it’s the best concept of an intelligent superhero of sorts I’ve ever seen.

Every superhero needs a villain, and classic Holmes nemesis Moriarty exists in this modern word as well. He’s as much of a genius as Holmes, if not more so, and seems to have a finger in every major case that crosses his desk. The constant battle between the two is what makes the show far more compelling than its procedural counterparts, and in the series two finale, their struggle made for the most intense episode to date.

With the equivalent of six movies in two season, it’s tough to make every episode as brilliant as the last, but Sherlock almost does it. The pilot got me addicted about twenty minutes into it, while the season two premiere is among my favorite episodes as it shows a human side to Sherlock by introducing Irene Addler. The finales of both seasons are pulse pounding, and will have you on your edge of your seat throughout. I didn’t care as much for the middle two episodes of each season, and particularly didn’t think the update for the Hound of Baskerville fit with the tone of the show, but even a bad episode of Sherlock is still pretty great.

I highly recommend finding this show however you can, and I predict many of you will be as addicted as I have been. Series two just ended this Sunday, and I’m on pins and needles waiting for the third to be announced.


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  1. Haven’t caught an episode of Sherlock yet, but it’s definitely near the top of my must watch list…esp after reading your review.

    Interesting synchronicity BTW…not only is Freeman playing Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, but Benedict Cumberbatch will be providing the voice and motion capture for Smaug the dragon in the same film!

  2. I just finished series 2 yesterday! I love the show and your review parallels my view of the show to the “T”. You’ve re-enforced my love of the show and now I have a great article to reference when I share the show with my friends. Thank you.

  3. Definitely one of the best TV show I’ve seen in years. My wife discovered it on Netflix a few months back (Season 1) and I’ve been preaching left and right about it ever since.

    I completely agree with Paul as I too didn’t care as much for the middle two episodes (they are still pretty good) but the closing of season 2 last Sunday was phenomenal.

    Great acting, great dialogues, great production values. (BTW, Mycroft is Mark Gatiss, co-creator and writer for the series.)

    Episode 4 (or shall we say the opening of Season 2) “A Scandal in Belgravia” is quickly becoming my favorite of the bunch.

    Sherlock is a MUST SEE TV show!

  4. I second the shout out for Luther, another great crime drama from over here, albeit grittier than Sherlock.

    After episode 1 aired over here there was outcry in one of our terrible tabloid newspapers about the Irene Adler nudity, even though there wasn’t actually any nudity on screen, it aired around 8.30pm and we have a watershed of 9pm. The BBC loved the attention it gave them and even linked to it on the official Sherlock Facebook page. Interestingly though, episodes 2 and 3 did air after 9pm (whether or not this is linked is up for debate however, as episode 1 was aired on New Years Day so the schedules were all over the place with specials etc).

  5. Thanks for the heads up! Didn’t realize that Series two was already out and done with.

    By the by, if you hadn’t put it together yet, Steven Moffat, one of the primary creators and show runners for Sherlock, took over Doctor Who 2 Series/Seasons (series 5/6 and onward when Matt Smith takes over for Tennet) ago.

    Need to get some Who reviews (probably by series makes the most sense) from you.

  6. OMG I didn’t even realize that season two had aired! I can easily watch any of the episodes for season one and enjoy them, but now I have a whole new season to watch.

    I am a huge sherlock holmes fan, and while I loved Robert Downey Jr. movies as awesome action mystery movies, they were very disappointing as a sherlock holmes tale. The BBC series makes up for it in being extremely close to the original, even being set in the modern day.

    Now I have something to enjoy until House comes back on for new episodes (I know the show has been decaying for seasons, but I stay a loyal fan) they are both the same character, and house Is largely based on Sherlock Holmes.

  7. first time posting:

    Sherlock is a power house. the last episode had me head scratching all night long. [SPOILERS, YE HAVE BEEN WARNED] How did he survive??? for every hypothesis i have i have a counter argument. and how does his survival link with why the girl shrieked when she saw sherlock and what about molly?

    what i like most about the series is that its the first time i have seen a “modern” interpretation that worked so well. From Watsons Blog, to the Hat, to SMS and Mobiles, everything about it fits together. its just how a modern sherlock would be. I also like how they incoporate so much stuff from the novels into the series (e.g.: the thing about the sun and many many other)

    Cumberbatch is so great in his role. he is SHERLOCK and not Jason Bourne on opium (looking at you mr. downey jr.). the way he looks, talks, strolls, run and have menacing eyes. everything is great. in some ways he reminds me of the Doctor. A mix of Smith and Tennant.

    everyone is a perfect cast. Moriarty is sooo sinister and the last thing he did blew my mind (no pun intended xD)

    and yeah the 2nd and 5th episodes werent that great but the other 4 were amazing. i really love how so much cases were solved by sherlock in the 3rd alone.

  8. This is why I love this site! Been watching it four hours straight and it’s awesome. That forensic guy is is the greatest prick I’ve seen in a long time. Also really looking forward to the Hobbit films now. That guy really looks like a Hobbit

  9. Worst part is that we’re going to have to wait at least a year before a new series is finished, and some people are saying it might be two years. (Cumberbatch is in Star Trek, Freeman is in The Hobbit)

  10. I don’t normally agree with you but I found Sherlock on Netflix a while back and loved it. I agree with your assessment whole heartedly. I’m constantly checking to see if the new episodes have been added yet but they have not. I have not seen the misfits as its not on Netflix yet but I may have to go see if I can find it somewhere.

  11. I’m currently working my way thru both seasons of ‘Sherlock’. While I totally agree with you on Cumberbatch, I think you’ve given Martin Freeman short shrift as Dr. Watson.

    As Freeman proved on the UK ‘Office’ & later in ‘Love, Actually’, he’s the archetypal Everyman, the one the viewer can most identify with. He follows Sherlock around, befuddled more often than not, denying to all & sundry that they’re lovers.

    The special effects also deserve a mention. As seen in the unaired pilot of ‘A Study in Pink’, the show plays much differently without the graphics overlay showing Sherlock’s deductive processes.

    & the writing…kudos to Stephen Moffat & co. for updating Conan Doyles’ stories so effectively. I think the show deserves applause all around. It’s the best UK import since the 1st 2 seasons of ‘Shameless’.

  12. We agree on this!

    Its an hour and a half per episode and the quality that has gone into each is very good. In other words, I like to pretend they release three movies a season instead of 3 episodes.

    I agree that the second episode in each was the weakest.

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