Ah, summer hiatus. Once a TV viewing wasteland, it’s become common over the years as being a haven for catching up on ignored TV shows either via DVD or now via online streaming. Amongst the busy summer of vacations, kids summer camps, and a list of family activities that rival most grocery lists, I still found time to discover some TV shows to binge watch during this summer. What adventure it was.
I had a new rule this time, pick at least one show I had never seen before. Traditionally I spend a good amount of time catching up on the half seasons that I let accumulate on the DVR due to lack of time to view them first run (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and The Vampire Diaries were the most notable ones this year). Also, when faced with the overwhelming choices of what shows to select for viewing, I tend to fall back to old classics that I hadn’t seen in years. While last year’s marathon viewing of old The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes was most enjoyable, all it did was remind me that I had indeed seen these shows before and maybe it wouldn’t hurt to broaden my horizons and see something new.
We ended up choosing Sherlock because that’s the one my 16 year old daughter wanted to watch (at urging of all her friends). We aren’t very avid PBS watchers and I honestly had no idea this show ever aired to that network, let alone aired three series over the last four years! We turned our binge viewing of the nine “movies” into a family viewing event, and it quickly turned into a family viewing obsession. We were hooked from the first ep, and now we truly understand all the hype about Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, he’s that good. But it isn’t just one accomplished (and good looking) actor that boldly and brilliantly took on one of the most iconic fictional characters in history that makes this show work. The writing rivals the dialogue and plotting of Oscar winning feature films, the production is of high quality not seen in most TV shows, all the actors are truly extraordinary and the gorgeous location shots of Central London make the city as vital a character to the story as Holmes himself.
I’m sure though that for many of you, my summary above is preaching to the choir. Sherlock has managed to become a worldwide sensation, even though it merely has cult status in the US thanks to it’s airing on our often ignored and forgotten PBS. So what is it about this show that captivated me? Each of the three series is very different in terms of tone and character development, and through binge viewing I found all three equally as brilliant in their own right. Since there are only nine episodes, in these reviews I’m looking at each series separately and giving my general reaction to each episode as I saw them. My viewpoint is admittedly skewed by binge viewing vs. watching it live. Sherlock especially had two year breaks in between each series, leaving a lot open for interpretation and anticipation of what was to come. I do admit, it was much easier watching episodes like “The Reichenbach Fall” knowing that “The Empty Hearse” was the next episode on my Netflix playlist. So perhaps because of that, I didn’t experience the typical expectations and let downs from series to series that comes with live viewing.
In this part, I take on Series 1. Series 2 and 3 will follow in the next few days.
I’m impressed how much this series is balanced in it’s storytelling. The episodes are very fluid and even, and it’s an amazing introduction to the characters Holmes and Watson in modern day London. Series 1 focuses more on the mysteries and solving the puzzle, as well as the introduction of the most nefarious villain in the Sherlock Holmes universe, Moriarity. Each episode had very strong merits, and it’s hard for me to label one weaker than the other, probably because each episode dug deeper into that strange mind of Sherlock Holmes through the eyes of John Watson. It’s my understanding that this is the true Holmes as written by Doyle, but trying to nail such an exacerbatic and very complex character in the span of a few hours on the large screen is a daunting feat. It’s best for a TV series. With the modern day rise of the “fan boys” in the television medium, particularly the writers and showrunners, there’s never been a better time for faithful adaptations with a twist.
A Study in Pink
My reaction in a nutshell: What isn’t there to love about this series premiere? The purpose is to establish characters, premise, and tone, and while easily convincing the viewing audience that a modern day tale Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in London can be done. Mission accomplished. I like that is was the POV of John so that we could see the brilliant yet completely eccentric Sherlock Holmes from a more revealing angle, as if we’re seeing this long iconic character for the very first time. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a Sherlock that has never been done before and it’s amazing. Heck, he’s triggered a worldwide fan meltdown! We really don’t want to see what goes on inside him yet because like John, we’re too thrilled with what we’re watching from the outside.
Modern day Sherlock Holmes embraces technology! Like most social misfits, he likes to text instead of make phone calls (so does my teenage daughter), he is up on the latest technical advances in lab work and he understands social media. He can’t smoke in London anymore, so nicotine patches will have to do when he needs a little boost in problem solving (another modern day solution). We learn through the case he dabbles in recreational drugs, and considering that’s canon in the novels, it’s good they get that out into the open early. Mostly though, he’ll go to extremes to solve the puzzle. Would he have taken that pill if John hadn’t shot the cabbie? I have money on yes, but we’ll never really know.
What sells TV shows the most though, modern day setting or not, is the chemistry among the actors. No doubt about it, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are the ideal pairing. Any actor can run with good material, but they do more than recite the clever lines. They sell the best friends act from the second they meet and it’s the strangest most dysfunctional friendship we’ve ever seen. It inspires the inner fan girl to want to fix these two, even though on paper the writing is clearly on the wall. These two are beyond fixing. It becomes a fight for survival in a way, because without the one the other is truly lost. Bottom line, the entire screwed up relationship makes for great television.
(Check out Nicole’s more detailed review of “Study in Pink”)
What I didn’t like: It’s hard to be overly critical of pilot episodes. As far as a base introduction goes, this is ideal.
Episode Highlight: I like the first meeting of Sherlock and John. It was fun, easygoing, and Sherlock accepted John the second he saw him. He didn’t have to ask a lot of questions, and assumed right away he was there to be his flat mate. It’s a match made in Heaven I tell you (I know, I don’t need to sell it to the millions of shippers out there). It’s even funnier that Sherlock was already living there and didn’t share that fact until John came to check it out. But that’s the world of Sherlock Holmes, a lot of half truths and trickery to get what he ultimately wants.
John: That…was amazing
Sherlock (long pause): Do you think so?
John: Of course it was. It was extraordinary; it was quite extraordinary.
Sherlock: That’s not what people normally say.
John: What do people normally say?
Sherlock: “Piss off!”
Donovan: You know why he’s here? He’s not paid or anything. He likes it. He gets off on it. The weirder the crime, the more he gets off. And you know what? One day just showing up won’t be enough. One day we’ll be standing round a body and Sherlock Holmes’ll be the one that put it there.
John: Why would he do that?
Donovan: Because he’s a psychopath. And psychopaths get bored. (IMPORTANT FOR LATER!!!)
John: That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done.
Sherlock: And you invaded Afghanistan.
Sherlock: I’m not a psychopath, Anderson. I’m a high functioning sociopath. Do your research.
The Blind Banker
My reaction in a nutshell: Another thrilling case. I really, really liked this mystery and was engaged from beginning to end. There really isn’t much to say about it though other than it was a solid episode that kept me engrossed from the word go. This had everything. Comedy, action, and a mystery that had you guessing most of the time.
What I didn’t like: A lot of time was spent on Soo Lin Yao just for her to be easily killed half way through. It kind of made her disappearance and purpose in the story useless. Also, the dialogue wasn’t as sharp and it was often missing the really funny. But the mildly amusing worked.
Episode Highlight: For me, I love how London became a character of its own in this episode. The location shots were gorgeous, and it really established a tone that has played throughout the series. Central London itself is going through many modern day changes, and to see both the old and the new in the setting, it accents how this is the new Sherlock, but the stories are still very much adapted from the original works. I also loved John’s date. Those two were fun to watch together. She seemed to take the whole almost dying by arrow rather graciously. I would have ran and never looked back.
Shan: “I am Sherlock Holmes and I always work alone…because no-one else can compete with my MASSIVE INTELLECT!”
John: Did I really say that? (chuckles) I suppose there’s no use me trying to persuade you I was doing an impression?
Sebastian: He really climbed up onto the balcony?
John: Nail a plank across the window and all your problems are over. (Sebastian is not amused).
John: Over a thousand years old and it’s sitting on her bedside table at night.
Sherlock: He didn’t know it’s value; didn’t know why they were chasing him.
John: Hmm, should’ve just got her a lucky cat.
The Great Game
My reaction in a nutshell: What a thriller! Granted, it’s a very dark premise, and Sherlock’s emotional detachment from what are essentially acts of extreme human suffering shows how much he needs John around. He is all about solving the puzzle, and will resort to any method necessary to get to the truth. John brings that human equation and POV to the partnership, something Sherlock no doubt sees as a deficiency within himself. Granted he doesn’t see it as a weakness; he would much rather have John take on that role and bring that perspective.
The most fascinating aspect of this script though was the parallels between Sherlock and Moriarity. Those two are alike in so many ways it’s scary. They’re both psychopaths (or high functioning sociopaths), they both have no regard for a human life when the game is on, and even though one is considered a “consulting detective” and one is a “consulting criminal,” they essentially have the same job function. They are both very bored people that need situations like this to keep their superior minds entertained. The thin line is only that one is working on the side of the police, and one is working on the side of the criminals. Andrew Scott is just as fascinating as Moriarity as Cumberbatch is Sherlock, and their showdown scene together at the pool is explosive (yes, I made a funny since a bomb was strapped to John).
What I didn’t like: I thought that the first set of puzzles were good, but five ended up being a bit much after a while. The fourth one especially was clunky in execution, even though the payoff was great. Watson was right, Sherlock would have figured that one out much faster if he’d actually payed attention to the solar system!
Episode Highlight: Aside from that closing scene at the pool? I loved the beginning actually, seeing how petulant and childish bored Sherlock can be. The smiley face painted on the wall by yellow spray paint from the previous episode was a nice touch of continuity, the firing of the gun was totally reckless (and really hot too), John finding a head in the refrigerator was hilarious, as was his talk to Sherlock about his blog. It’s a fascinating reveal, Sherlock’s brain actually does have limited capacity. This is a genius problem indeed! Then it all ends in a visually effective massive explosion behind Sherlock. Not just figurative, their blow up is literal!
Sherlock (after John has taken the gun away from him): Don’t know what’s got into the criminal classes. Good job I’m not one of them.
John: So you take it out on the wall.
Sherlock: The wall had it coming.
John: Did you like it?
Sherlock: Erm, no.
John: Why not, I thought you’d be flattered.
Sherlock: “Sherlock sees through everything and everyone in seconds. What’s incredible, though is how spectacularly ignorant he is about some things.
John: Now hang on a minute, I didn’t mean that in a-
Sherlock: Oh, you meant ‘spectacularly ignorant’ is a nice way. Look it doesn’t matter to me who’s Prime Minister…
John: I know.
Sherlock: …or who’s sleeping with who…
John: Whether the Earth goes around the Sun…
Sherlock: Not that again. It’s not important.
John: Not impor- It’s primary school stuff. How can you not know that?
Sherlock: Well, if I ever did, I deleted it.
John: Deleted it?
Sherlock: Listen (points to his mind). This is my hard drive, and it only makes sense to put things in there that are useful…really useful. Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish, and that makes it hard to get at the stuff that matters. Do you see?
John: But it’s the solar system!
Sherlock: Oh, hell! What does that matter? So we go round the Sun! If we went round the Moon, or round and round the garden like a teddy bear, it wouldn’t make any difference. All that matters to me is the work. Without that, my brain rots. Put that in your blog. Or better still, stop inflicting your opinions on the world. (Lies on the sofa childishly with his back turned and curls up in a ball).
John: So why’s he doing this, then – playing this game with you? Do you think he wants to be caught?
Sherlock: I think he wants to be distracted.
John: I hope you’ll be very happy together.
Sherlock: Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them. (IMPORTANT FOR LATER!!!)
John: You know, I’m still waiting
John: For you to admit that a little knowledge of the solar system and you’d have clearedd up the fake painting a lot quicker.
Sherlock: Didn’t do you any good, did it?
John: No, but I’m not the world’s only consulting detective.
Sherlock (smiling): True.
Coming up next, my look at Series 2. What are your favorite parts of Series 1?
(a MASSIVE thanks for the quotes from ArianeDeVere.livejournal.com. Her transcripts of all the Sherlock episodes are freaking amazing! So detailed, and I laughed at her small bits of commentary through the transcript. The screencaps are from Kissthemgoodbye.net.)