Friday, November 29, 2013
I stumbled across this simply wonderful television show last year when Season Two was running on PBS. It was the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably my favorite novel which drew me to it. It was splendid and I also caught the final episode of the second season. But that was all, a few tantalizing episodes, admittedly large morsels at ninety minutes, but I was hankering for more. Sadly the dvds were precious to buy and I just never found the impetus and the ready cash syncing up. Then a few months ago I found both seasons discounted at Barnes and Noble and with my additional discount it made bringing them home feasible. I'm exceedingly glad I did.
Season one of the series, originally aired on the BBC in 2010 and adapted three of the classic Conan Doyle stories for a new audience with a hero plunked right down in the twenty-first century. Played stunningly by Benedict Cumberbatch (also infamous as Star Trek's Khan Nonnian Singh), this Sherlock Holmes has all the acid wit of the classic character along with the arid intelligence and fundamental misanthropy which define the character for me. He is joined by Martin Freeman (now at least equally famous for being Bilbo Baggins) as a stalwart, brave, and even daring Dr.John Watson. This is a Watson with PTSD who finds in his dangerous association with Sherlock the juice he misses from his warfront days, which in a peculiar way heals his spirit.
The three tales in the first season are "A Study in Pink", "The Blind Banker", and "The Great Game". The first, clearly a spin on "A Study in Scarlet" introduces Sherlock and Watson as they meet and move into 221 B Baker Street just in time to try and solve a series of seemingly disconnected suicides. The second has echoes of "The Sign of Four" as weird symbols left in peculiar places send a myriad of folks running in fear for their lives. Set in London's Chinatown this one has a real exotic flair to it. The final episode of the season reveals Jim Moriarty, a grinning ghoul of a criminal mastermind who openly pits himself against Sherlock by having him solve puzzles and crimes on a clock before innocents are killed.
It's all heady stuff, filled with mysteries with some real twists. The stories are plotted and told with a forward-thinking sense of detail which keeps you watching for clues in every moment. The two characters of Holmes and Watson are at once hilarious and compelling as they bolt around London trying to stay ahead of the criminals they seek to uncover.
It anything the second season is even better.
The second season picks up where the first left off, literally. Then we transition to three more wonderful episodes. Cumberbatch and Freeman never miss a beat, and if anything are even more comfortable in the skins of their classic interpretations.
In the first story "A Scandal in Belgravia" (a take on "A Scandal in Bohemia" of course) we meet Irene Adler, a dominatrix who has embarrassing photos with royal interest. Sherlock and Watson are to get these back, but quickly learn there is much more at stake. "The Hounds of Baskerville" is a simply brilliant spin on classic and exceedingly familiar but in fantastically surprising ways. A young rich man comes to Sherlock to help him solve the twenty-year gone murder of his father by a giant hound and Sherlock and Watson find themselves investigating a government laboratory filled with mutant animals. "The Reichenbach Fall" (based on "The Final Problem" ) brings all of the stories to stunning climax when Moriarty returns to wreak his revenge on Sherlock, and that's enough said, save that the story begins with an assault on the Crown Jewels no less.
These are well-crafted television shows, with clever camera work and scripts which sing out with character. As it turns out, Sherlock Holmes as a modern man who texts and is adept with all things technological is still the character Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created so long ago. He was a modern man then in the waning days of Victoria's England and he's one again in the final years of Elizabeth II.
These are must see TV.