There’s a lot to love about the breath of fresh air that is the BBC’s redux of the Victorian classic. Here is a short list of why I am all over this latest incarnation of the tactless SuperSleuth and his entourage:
5. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
The two play their respective roles with conviction. Freeman’s Watson is grounded, polite, and tactful–a fantastic foil for Cumberbatch’s abrasive but charismatic Holmes. As an updated version of the pair, they are simultaneously credible, likeable, and intriguing–in a fascinating kind of way. The pair of them also have fantastic chemistry. Which leads nicely into the next the next thing I love about the show…
4. Bromance… or something more?
The running gag of the show is that everyone assumes Watson and Holmes are a couple. On such occasions, Watson feebly asserts that they’re just friends, and yet… there’s clearly something that runs deep, between the two of them, in a way that you don’t really see in the usual run of “buddy” films and shows. It’s an intriguing undercurrent, abetted by the aforementioned chemistry, that keeps everyone guessing about what, precisely the two of them share, even if it is exclusively at the emotional, rather than the physical level.
Sherlock’s emotional distance from the rest of the word makes his swift and deep attachment to Watson–and the early, instantaneous rapport that somehow, believably springs up between two such differing personalities–all the more fascinating.
3. Moral Ambiguity
We live in an age of moral ambiguity, and the heroes of our time reflect that. Dexter. The latest Batman. Lizbeth Salander. Even Kirk and Spock, in their alternate timeline versions. These are heroes who walk a narrow line, because they have to. They go to dark places, and often end up doing the right thing only by a hair’s breadth, because they are so haunted by the darkness in themselves–indeed, part of the tension of watching such characters act can be found in the breathless doubt, the question of whether *this* time, they will finally cross the line, and cross over.
Sherlock is another in this line of characters who are believable in their moral ambiguity, and yet, he’s also different. We haven’t glimpsed darkness in his past, the way we have in the lives of the other dark heroes. Instead, his moral ambiguity is built into the way his brain works–his need for stimulation, for engagement, and for challenge. It’s hard to know why he stays on the side of the good guys–it may even be something as simple as the fact that he prefers to solve a good puzzle than to devise one–but it adds an interesting edge of tension the narrative.
2. More than Just Old Wine in a New Skin
One of the things I love about this new series is that it pulls in the old motifs from the books, but doesn’t simply modernize them. Instead, it takes the familiar tropes–the hound of the Baskervilles, a study in scarlet, the Reiechenbach falls from the Final Problem, as well as the deerstalker, the magnifying glass, the catchphrases–and plays with them. The mysteries feature frequent homages and nods to the original works, but offer different, totally new stories, rather than mere faithful retellings in a modern context. This is part of what makes it such a great show. I also love the way that other motifs are drawn in–allusions to fairy tales, for instance–and seeded throughout the episodes.
1. The Writing
This is the characteristic from which all the other things I love about the show flow–the relationships, the moral ambiguity, and so on. If the series weren’t so well-wrought, viewers likely wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to take note of the chemistry, for instance. And, while some episodes are clearly better than others (the second episode of the first series is probably my least favourite), the dialogue is crisp, witty, and entertaining. As well, the principal characters are well-drawn and the pacing and plotting are both tight and engaging.
There are many other things that I could mention, which I love about the show–the visual styling, for instance. But, five is a good number, so I’ll stick with that.
So in all–a fantastic show that’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already. But then again, there’s the Asperger’s thing. Asperger’s is evidently the new Cool Syndrome for fictional sleuths to have (just like it seemed as though OCD was the pop culture issue du jour for fictional heroes a few years ago, as manifested by characters who counted things–usually steps–but who otherwise functioned more or less normally). No doubt, this is on account of our pop culture understanding of the ways in which those who have Asperger’s possess an enhanced ability to perceive the specificity of minute detail even as it means that they are out of step with the mainstream and carry with them what we see as an intriguing emotional distance (but what may, in many cases, just amount to a way of connecting with others that is different to what we’re familiar with, rather than being emotional distance per se) that makes such characters fascinating.
And yet, it kind of works, for Sherlock (at least, based on my own understanding and reading about Asperger’s). Funny thing is that when I read my first ever Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock story years ago, I kept wondering whether Doyle might have known someone who had Asperger’s, because his fictional sleuth seemed to display so many of the characteristics we associate with the syndrome, in a period before such behaviours had been co-related and grouped, under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It seemed too odd a coincidence that he would have captured so many of the characteristic patterns of behaviour in his fictional creation, just by chance. Given that, to me it makes a good deal of sense that this contemporary incarnation of the Sherlock character should have Asperger’s more explicitly (and I must admit, it only makes him the more delightful and transgressive–often doing or saying the things most of us would love to do or say. This is the same reason, I suspect, that House is such an appealing character–he voices what we’re thinking).