The Culture Beat

October 31, 2010

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century

Filed under: Television — Alex @ 8:45 pm

No, the above title isn’t the same cartoon series about a master detective unfrozen from suspended animation and solving crimes in the future. The new Masterpiece Mystery! British import, titled Sherlock, that started last week posits that the legendary logician begins his adventures in our time and uses smart phones the same way Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s creation employed couriers and the Baker Street Irregulars to solves crimes. The concept works marvelously well because the series’ new creators, Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who’ve written for the BBC’s Dr. Who) steeped since childhood in the original stories, have stayed true to the spirit of the Victorian era adventures and best of all to the characters of Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson. Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch ( a name as striking as the character he plays) with such brilliance that I haven’t seen in the character since the classic Jeremy Brett portrayal from twenty years ago. (I was not at all attracted to the Robert Downey Jr. Holmes-as-action-hero feature film this summer) Arrogant but with a hint of loneliness caused by his singular genius and obsession with solving crimes, the modern-day detective finds a friend for life when Dr. John Watson (played perfectly by Martin Freeman, recently cast as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s upcoming The Hobbit), wounded while serving as a military physician in Afganistan (just like the original version) agrees to share quarters at 221B Baker Street in London. While Holmes benefits from Watson’s grounding normalcy, the doctor’s inner hero finds fulfillment in fighting crime with the great detective.

The first episode, “A Study in Pink,” was by turns thrilling, suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny as the two new partners seek the cause of a series of murders that seem like suicides. When Watson discovers Sherlock on his couch deep in thought and wearing nicotine patches because of London’s proscriptive smoking ordinances, Holmes aficionados will laugh in recognition when Holmes states that “It’s a three patch problem.”

The PBS site is a great introduction and you can watch the first of three 90-minute episodes there if you missed it last week. Check your local listings for broadcast times.



  1. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I was apprehensive at first because I’ve seen so many things done about Holmes that were so far flung from the original spirit of the character. My fears of “Homes… with an iPhone?? What’s he going to do? Catch the bad guy with Twitter?” raced through my mind.

    I needn’t have worried. All 3 episodes were positively riviting. And that’s a lot to say coming from me.

    I normally take offense at people who don’t know the canon very well overplaying Moriarty’s role as Holme’s nemesis. In actuality, Moriarty only played a significant role in 2 of the original books.

    But this was very well done. The first 2 episodes mention Moriarty either by name or indirectly. But while his involvement is a major factor in all the criminal activity, the character himself (much like in the original books) is that of a puppetmaster hiding in the shadows, pulling at the strings of the London underworld. Only in the last episode does he make a physical appearance. And the actor who portrayed him couldn’t have been better. I expected a bit more of a studious figure, in keeping with the tradition begun by Doyle. But the comtemporary psychpath that I found on my screen matched wits and words with Holmes perfectly. It’s almost as though you could feel the simultaneous respect and loathing. It’s always important for Holmes and Watson to have chemistry to really feel like a team. But it’s just as important for the hero and his archrival to have chenistry, too.

    And THAT kind of chemistry is really hard to fake.

    Comment by Ashley — May 26, 2011 @ 10:35 am | Reply

    • Hi Ashley, Yes, it’s a remarkable new series and more will be shot this summer as Freeman takes time off from his Bilbo role. They got it right by perceiving what’s essential about the character and what’s not (fog shrouded streets, hansom cabs, etc.) They located just what needed to be updated and finessed it. Moriarity, who was invented by Conan Doyle as a means of killing off Holmes, appeared, as you said, only once more, but given his place in popular culture as an early modern nemesis and prototype for supervillains, why not introduce him right off the bat and set up the never-ending battle? Looking forward to the next batch.

      Comment by Alex — May 27, 2011 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

      • Considering that (according to Wikipedia, anyway) the third episode of the second season is titles “Reichenbach Falls”, I already have a sense of what’s coming from the Moriarty part of the story. I’m not sure how the first and second episodes will work out, but since Episode 1 is titled “A Scandal in Belgravia”, I can only assume about the iminent introduction of Irene Adler. And Episode 2 is “The Hounds of Baskerville”, though, again, I have no idea exactly how that’s going to translate into a modern-day setting.

        And if Martin Freeman is playing Bilbo in The Hobbit, well, that’s just one more reason to go see it. πŸ™‚

        How’s your summer movie list coming along?

        Comment by Ashley — May 28, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

      • I’m just as busy as during the 9-month marathon but am self-scheduled mostly with various projects I don’t have time for the rest of the year, as well as the online internship course. One reason I haven’t posted lately.

        Comment by Alex — May 28, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  2. I know how the busy thing goes. Got a new job at Microsoft last month, and I don’t get off work until 6 PM.

    I haven’t been to the movies much. We did go see Thor for Keith’s birthday, but we haven’t done much else. I did discover a treasure trove of MST3K videos on Netflix and have introduced Keith to it, and Mr. Bean, too.

    He laughed so hard he almost choked on his nachos.

    There’s really nothing on my list until Courageous comes out in September. So it’s going to be a loooong boring summer.

    Probably better that way. I’ve had several requests for needlepoint I should work on.

    Hope your summer schedule frees up a bit more. Give my best to your wife and son. πŸ™‚

    Comment by Ashley — May 28, 2011 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

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