Thursday, January 9, 2014

What Am I Missing? Sherlock: Season One. An Overview


I have completed Season/Series One of Sherlock, the BBC update of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and frankly I can't understand why Sherlock fans are so fierce and fanatical over this particular series.  The way they talk about this show, you'd think no one had ever adapted the Arthur Conan Doyle stories of The Great Detective before. 

I need to set some things straight from the start because I know I am leaving a bad impression.  Therefore, let me state it clearly and succinctly without equivocation.




I however, do not think Sherlock is a.) the greatest Sherlock Holmes adaptation ever made, and b.) do not comprehend the fanaticism surrounding it. 

Yes, they'll rank among the greats.
But as for being The Greatest....

After watching Season One of Sherlock, I think it is a good show, boosted by the two leads' performances.  As the title character, Benedict Cumberbatch does a magnificent job in making Sherlock Holmes one for this century.  He is crusty, dismissive, knowingly aware of his intellectual prowess and unashamed of it.  For this Sherlock, the methods, and especially the successful discovery of the solution, trump everything.  Cumberbatch as Sherlock is by his own words a high-functioning sociopath, but for him, like all good interpretations of Holmes, the exercise of the mind is more important than human connections.

Still, when humor does slip in (such as when Holmes suggests his idea of a date is as good as Watson's in The Blind Banker), we see that Cumberbatch can have some fun with the character, making him almost endearing.

He is equally matched by Martin Freeman as John Watson.  Freeman starts well as Watson, sticking close to the Canon by having Watson be a troubled Afghan War veteran.  He is the heart to Holmes' brain: compassionate, concerned for people, unafraid of ladies and their company, and perhaps the closest thing to a friend Holmes has.

My caveat with Freeman as Watson has been how he veers more to the Nigel Bruce style of Watson (the bumbling dimwit who can't quite put it together) than the Jude Law style of Watson (a brawler who isn't dumb and enjoys life).  I winced when Watson starts shouting at a check-out machine in The Blind Banker, and Freeman has this style to him, what I call flustration: a mix of fluster and frustration, almost befuddlement at what is going on.  The rapid pace of how poor Watson has so much thrown at him in A Study in Pink made me feel almost sorry for him.

They didn't invent it, you know...
My big beef with Sherlock is more with the writing.  I don't think it's genius.  I know Sherlock co-creators Mark Gatiss (who also dons the role of Sherlock's older brother Mycroft) and Steven Moffat well.  Yes, I'm not partial to what they've done on Doctor Who.  Be that as it may I think that apart from A Study in Pink the two other Sherlock stories in Season One are not the greatest.  The Blind Banker had this rather distasteful air of 'yellow menace' coursing through it, and The Great Game gave us in Jim Moriarty someone who looked like he was auditioning for The Master in Doctor Who.  Instead of being this master criminal, the intellectual equal to Sherlock Holmes, he's just bonkers (and highly camp to boot, which turn in into almost a caricature of a Bond villain than a true rival to Sherlock). 

I don't think the stories are terrible per se, but again, I can't quite figure out why they are seen as this brilliant, unimpeachable bits of television on par with Upstairs, Downstairs or I, Claudius.  Yes, they use the Canon as a springboard to create their own take on Sherlock Holmes, which is a good idea.  I'm not so beholden to the past to think Holmes can't appear in the context of the 21st Century.  However, I haven't been as entranced as others when it comes to the stories themselves. 

I like to think Sherlock isn't all that big on the cases being investigated.  In The Blind Banker in particular, I figured things out faster than Holmes did.  Granted, I had slightly more information than he did, but on the whole even without knowing the Chinese Connection I deduced the killer must be some sort of acrobat. 

If Sherlock is more a character exploration, particularly with the interplay entre Holmes et Watson, then Sherlock does a fine job of it. 

I'm gay, so I can get away with homophobic bits.
A particular dislike of mine has been the 'people think we're gay' storyline that is so at odds with the world.  How many times did people suggest that Sherlock and John were lovers or boyfriends in A Study in Pink?  Seriously, was this necessary?  It wasn't funny, and it was starting to annoy me.  I'd say it even came from out of nowhere, this subtext where two men in a close relationship causes grown (heterosexual) men to giggle nervously.  This 'gay humor' seems to come from another time altogether, and I just don't understand why we need it thrown at us so much. 

As I look at Sherlock Season One I admire things in it (Cumberbatch and Freeman) and am not overwhelmed with other things (the stories, good but not on par with actual Canon).  Sherlock is its own thing, a series that uses the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories to build up its world where the characters live, work, and play.  I liked it, I liked things within it, but I didn't love it. 

I don't think Sherlock is worth all the adulation and worship the rabid hardcore fanbase accords it.    

Is Sherlock a good show?  Yes, I would say it is.
Is Sherlock worthy of all the fanaticism attached to it (Sherlockians crying at every turn, Cumberbatch as the ONLY Sherlock in the world yesterday, today, and tomorrow)? 


I admire the work in Sherlock, and don't hate it like the Sherlockians push me to.  I however, don't think it is the greatest Holmes adaptation ever made or ever to be made. 

Therefore, again I ask, 'what am I missing?'  What is it about this particular Conan Doyle adaptation that has grown people crying?  What is it about Sherlock that has people hyperventilate and think it the ultimate thing on television. 

Sherlock is a good show, a very good show.  However, after watching Series/Season One, I admire Sherlock, but I don't love it. 

You're good, but so long as Brett's around
you'll always be second-best.

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