My keen powers of observation have allowed me to deduce that you’re thinking “Another Sherlock Holmes project? Enough already!” Sure, the Robert Downey Jr. movies and previous TV series and books and such have kept Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation firmly entrenched in public consciousness, and yet the current BBC series proves that there’s still plenty of life in the old property.
Instead of just rehashing the old-timey sleuthing tales of Holmes and Watson for the millionth time, series creators Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen) updated the action to present-day London, with Holmes as a misanthropic savant and Watson as an ex-military doctor recovering from post traumatic stress disorder. The move to the modern day allows the series to incorporate all the latest high-tech gadgetry, but CSI: London this is not. Instead, it’s a brilliant character study of Holmes as he attempts to connect with others even though he not so secretly views himself as far superior to mere mortals. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a consistently powerful performance as Holmes, fully conveying the character’s vast intelligence and uncanny deductive skills. Freeman has little opportunity to excel here, but his Watson character acts as a nice buffer between Holmes and the general public as well as Sherlock’s only true confidant.
The series format is similar to Wallander, another ongoing BBC crime show, with each season comprising only three feature-length episodes. While it’s a bummer that we only get three new stories per series, the expansion to 90-minute shows affords the opportunity to fully exploit those stories and deliver what are in effect movies instead of just episodes. The cinematic feel carries over to the production design as well, with great sets, camera work, and even scattered special effects that make the show well worth watching on Blu-ray.
In the first episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia”, Sherlock meets a femme fatale named Irene Adler and enters an engaging battle of wits and emotions as they attempt to outsmart each other. The interplay between them is fantastic as we see the normally unflappable and uncompassionate Sherlock possibly falling in love. Next up is “The Hounds of Baskerville”, where Holmes and Watson leave the confines of London for the wilds of Dartmoor and encounter some potentially supernatural forces at play. This was the least effective episode for me, as the supernatural touches, and for that matter the natural touches of the wilderness, were not a good fit for the urban investigators. The final episode, “The Reichenbach Fall”, returns Sherlock’s archenemy Moriarty to the forefront, with Sherlock tasked with stopping Moriarty’s reign of terror . I wasn’t fond of Andrew Scott’s wimpy take on the Moriarty character in the first season, but his psychotic, menacing work here changed my opinion. Watch for the shocking conclusion of the episode and see if you can figure out how Sherlock did it before the next season.
The Blu-ray set is short on special features, with only a brief behind the scenes segment offering any additional insight into the show’s production.