On October 24th I watched the premiere something that got me very excited and had me laughing and reacting in ways that only Stargate and Sanctuary have ever been able to do before. And yet it’s still not on one of the network stations. It’s on PBS! Anyone surprised?
I wasn’t very interested in Sherlock when I saw the ads for the new Masterpiece Mystery series. Billed literally as “A Sherlock Holmes for our time,” I figured it was going to be some cheep modern attempt to recreate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s murder mystery writings. I grew up watching Jeremy Brett play Holmes. To me he was Holmes! It wasn’t until just recently when I started reading the cases for the first time and then saw some of the old Mystery episodes again that I realized just how perfect Brett was for the role, and how difficult it is to truly do justice to Doyle’s writing style an infinitely intricate plots. In fact, I didn’t even bother going to see the Sherlock Holmes movie, and I’m not sad that I still haven’t seen it.
After some coaxing from my mother, who said that the series had recieved some good reveiws, I sat down and watched Sherlock. We missed the first 15 minutes or so because the Amazing Race ran late, but it didn’t take me any time to figure out what was going on. The episode 1 title, ‘A Study in Pink’, was all I needed. Based on the original pilot story of Doyle’s series, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, it had me worried at first. I didn’t think that when they said this series was “A Sherlock Holmes for our time,” they meant it quite so literally. I expected characters that represented Holmes and Doctor Watson, Detective Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and other regulars of the original stories. I did not expect to meet Sherlock Holmes with the same eery abilities for deduction, and Doctor John Watson with the same military background. They are the same and yet so much younger than I expected, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, though that is actually truer to the books. I didn’t expect them to live in 221 B Baker Street, nor did I expect the living room to have the exact same layout as in the Jeremy Brett series!
Now you might be thinking, “Wow, what a rip off! Did they do anything original with it at all?” Indeed they did, and actually it was their attention to the original details coupled with their modernization of the story that got me so excited! Without giving the plot away entirely, let me give you some examples. The mystery is literally set in the present day, with present day technology. Newspapers give way to the internet and smart phones. Forensics are available, and Scotland Yard’s forensic scientist is on the scene, but who needs him when you have Holmes, right? He just gets in the way, which sets up an interesting rivalry. There’s a woman on the police force, Sgt. Sally Donovan, and she has made it very clear she doesn’t like Holmes. Hmmm. Coachmen give way to taxi cab drivers, and pipes become nicotine patches. Way to go, showing people how to abuse them, by the way! Texting is used instead of telegrams. You know how the old shows used to make us try to read the paper in the character’s hands? The creators of Sherlockhave that text appear as you see the character checking their phone! The results are very intersting, and comical as well, especially after the third text from Holmes telling Watson to meet him, even if it’s inconvenient, and it could be dangerous. This method of providing the audience with something to read is also used when Holmes is studying a crime scene. Not only do you see what he’s looking at, but you read his thoughts as he peices what he sees together. This helps the veiwer to keep up as Holmes then turnes to Lestrade and raptidly fires off his deductions!
Even the way in which the very plot of the original story was modernized was really very innovative. If you don’t want it given away, you might want to skip this paragraph! In the original, Holmes finds a ring, dropped he expects, by the killer. He advertizes that he has found the ring in the paper to have the killer come to him, but it’s a plan that fails. In this version, it’s what Holmes doesn’tfind, a cell phone, that leads to the murderer. In the original, the killer writes a German word, “Rache” on the wall in blood. The police fixate on it because at that time Germans in England were not seen favorably. The killer knows this, and he wrote it on the wall only to throw the police off. In the modern adaptation, the same word is scratched in the floor by the victim. It turns out be her attempt to write “Rachel”, her deceased daughter’s name, and the password to the GPS locator of her phone! Plug it into a computer and they got the phone and the killer! That is, after a few complications! Technology can do wonders, but nothing is perfect!
Half the fun is in the way the story has been changed to suit the present day, and the other half is in how the present day effects the characters that were born in 1887. The trick is allowing the time period to effect them without loosing the essence of the characters, which, if you want anyone to beleive that they are the legendary Holmes and Watson, is an absolute must. So far this is working well. The interactions between Holmes and Watson have been just as I would expect, though less formal. When Holmes actually gives that well-known line, “The game is afoot!” I really expected Watson to pause and say to himself, “Who talks like that anymore?!” Maybe that’s just the American in me! There is just the right amount of humor, and the flavor of the show was pleasantly familar to me. It wasn’t until after it was over that my mom told me that some of the writers of Sherlock have written for Doctor Who!
The writers have even managed to nip one old theory in the butt. More than once when Watson and Holmes are seen together, someone makes a snide homosexual comment to Watson. Finally, after getting annoyed for the fifth time, Watson pretty much confronts Holmes about it. While they both admit that it’s perfectly acceptable, they both also as much as say that they don’t swing that way. Thank you!
This series has some big challenges ahead if it is going to succeed telling 19th Century mystery stores in a 21st Century setting. I would not be surprised if some of the stories are just too tricky to modernize. There is also the issue of Watson being a notoriously underused character. Doyle uses him to tell his stories and to break though Holmes’ sometimes cold detachment from events. On camera it’s difficult for a director to know what to do with Watson, and he turns into Holmes’ fawning assistant. However, so far this writing staff has done an excellent job of showing that Watson is a strong character in his own right by giving him emotional and physical issues to overcome that are still consistent with Doyle’s writings. We see him overcome these problems, and we also see him act with admirable strength and conviction when put into a couple of difficult and unique positions. This Watson is no fixture, he’s a fighter!
I am looking forward to the next addition of Sherlock, and a part of me is already wondering – and hoping! – that the series could be successful and long-lasting enough to be able to retell all sixty published tales in this exciting new format! Let’s watch and see, shall we? The game is afoot!