Sunday, November 14, 2010

TV Review: Sherlock

The BBC has a recent history of producing very entertaining, high-quality programs. Everything from the new Doctor Who to Top Gear have been smashing successes worldwide. High production qualities, top notch acting, and quality writing have abounded. Even some of their misses have been better than anything on American television today, like Primeval and Apparitions. The new PBS Masterpiece Mystery program Sherlock, a BBC production, easily continues that tradition.

Sherlock is a three part series that is written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and directed by Paul McGuigan and Euros Lyn. This is the team responsible for the best Doctor Who episodes, including The Empty Child, The Beast Below, The Time of Angels, The Girl In The Fireplace, and Silence in the Library, as well as Torchwood Children of Earth. They also wrote the Victorian Era episode The Unquiet Dead. Moffat also previously adapted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into the 2007 series Jekyll. So this is an impressive pedigree, and they don’t disappoint.

Modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes are difficult, almost by definition, because Holmes is so associated in our minds with Victorian times. The way he speaks, his habits, his style of reasoning, his relationship with others are all deeply Victorian, as are the types of crimes and criminals he pursues. Indeed, prior to this series, I suspected that his very essence was uniquely Victorian and probably could not be brought outside of that era. But this new production proves that wrong.

What is truly striking about Sherlock is just how well they capture the essence that is Holmes. They kept his superior intelligence and his incredible ability to deduct stunning (yet obvious once you hear them) conclusions from minute details that you or I would otherwise miss. But even more importantly, they’ve managed to keep the balance between Holmes’ amazing ability to understand everyone around him instantly, against his inability to relate to anyone. Indeed, despite his almost omniscient grasp of human nature, he seems strangely incapable of dealing with others on any personal level. And it’s not clear if Holmes is a pathologically introverted character who offsets his problem with extreme arrogance, or if his “bored genius” makes him a “high-functioning sociopath,” as Holmes describes himself. This is classic Holmes.

Moreover, they have done a stellar job of maintaining the relationship between Holmes and Watson without giving in to modern "sensibilities." Indeed, at a time when it has become popular to suggest that the two are gay (a misunderstanding of Victorian era norms), this show avoids that trap, just as it avoids introducing modern soap-opera-like drama into their relationship. At one point, they actually poke at this theory when Holmes jokingly suggests that people might think they were gay because of the way Watson is behaving.

The production qualities are first rate as well. The sets are well chosen, giving you a flavor of London without doing the usual clich├ęs. In other words, rather than doing things like setting scenes at the gates of Buckingham palace, they use locations like a railway yard with only a hint of the famous Battersea Power Station peeking out from behind an overpass. The inside sets are realistic as well, unlike shows likes CSI where the coroners work in the dark under intense mood lighting. In fact, every single setting is entirely believable and feels like something your would find in real life.

The actors are well chosen too. Holmes and Watson are strong actors with obvious chemistry as friends, but also manage to display the tension that comes from Holmes’ constant condescending to Watson. There is a character introduced near the end, whose name I will not reveal, who also ends up being perfectly played despite my initial shock at his mannerisms. The extras too impress me. Most of them are fat or old or simply "normal," but that helps make them entirely believable. Indeed, this is something great about British television, which is lacking in Hollywood: the ability to produce believable “every day” people on screen.

Finally, the show is fast paced with gripping plots that balance carefully between giving you enough to follow the story and to feel that you can predict where the story is heading, and giving away too much. In fact, you probably won’t have any idea what will happen next, though you never feel cheated. And even better, there isn’t a hint of political correctness. We are not treated to anti-war statements, attacks on religions or the military, attacks on corporations, attacks on conservatives, etc. They don’t wedge minorities into every position of authority, there are no moments where we are told that Islam is wonderful, and Watson even shows disgust at the homeless. There are even two moments that the gay lobby would not have accepted on film in this country. It is refreshing to not feel like you are being lectured.

All in all, I highly recommend this show. They really have managed to take the essence of Sherlock Holmes and bring it to the present. The only complaint I have is that there are only three episodes. Let’s hope for more!

Finally, for a limited time, all three parts are available for viewing on the PBS website: Click Me.


23 comments:

Dane said...

I saw this the other day after Tennessee Jed mentioned it and I loved it. Great review. I think you always do a great job with reviews.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Dane, I enjoy the reviews -- though as I always say, I try to do more of an "analysis" than a review.

Jed told me about this show too, so I should probably thank him!

Tennessee Jed said...

I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. Jolly good to the Brits, even if they have that damnable socialized medicine.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, The BBC has really been hitting on all cylinders later. They've just had a string of great hits that I've thoroughly enjoyed. I'm sure they have junk too, but we don't tend to see that.

Thanks for the heads up on this!

Ed said...

I haven't seen it because I didn't think Holmes would translate to a modern setting either, but I will check it out.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, As I mention above, I had the same thought, but I really think they did a great job of keeping the spirit of Holmes while moving it to the present. It took a moment to get over the fact that he doesn't look like the Holmeses that we've gotten used to, but after that, it's very easy to see him as Holmes.

I was impressed.

Janet said...

Thank you for the review Mr. Price. However, I do wonder what you mean by "political correctness." Why do you believe it would be wrong for Watson and Holmes to be homosexuals and do you believe people who do not support war do not have the right to say so?

AndrewPrice said...

Janet, Welcome back, and thanks. I supposed you could make them gay if you wanted, but it would not be consistent with the original material. The problem is not that someone chooses to make them gay, but the people who are claiming that they were gay in the original material. That is wishful thinking based on an ignorance of the societal norms of the Victorian era. And, let me add, the evidence they rely upon would even be considered innuendo at best today.

As for the anti-war statement or whatever other political correctness, I did not say they don't have the right. They certainly have the right to include such things if they want. And I have the right to hold it against them. My question, however, is why would you want to keep including such things? Just because I believe that Obama has a disasterous foreign policy does not mean that people want to hear me saying that in everything I do.

Janet said...

I understand what you say, but it seems to me conservatives use the term "political correctness" to describe things they do not like.

CrispyRice said...

This is totally up my alley, thanks. I loved reading the books when I discovered them as a teen, but I've been disillusioned by most modern productions. I'll check it out.

AndrewPrice said...

Janet, That's not correct. Political correctness is more than simple disagreement, it is when someone tried to impose something that is not true as true.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I think you're really like it. It either is already on DVD as well, or is coming. There were talking about the DVD's on PBS.

I too read the Holmes stories for the first time as a kid and I really loved them. Doyle was an incredible writing. With a minimum of words, he still managed to give you an incredibly vivid world and vivid characters. It's no wonder that fans of his exist all over the planet today!

CrispyRice said...

Oh, I'll check them out on the stream at PBS. Thanks for the link there.

Also, let me add that I totally agree with you that the BBC is MUCH better about using "normal" people than Hollywood. It's just another thing where Hollywood is really out of touch.

AndrewPrice said...

Check them out soon Crispy because they're only available on PBS for a limited time.

As for the normal people, I really do prefer that. I think it makes the world a much more real place when not everyone looks like a silicon enhanced hardbody. That's not the real world.

It's the same thing with the sets. While I don't mind the occasional stylized set, it's become so common that it's a cliche these days.

CrispyRice said...

Totally, Andrew! I was catching up on the new Dr. Who series recently, and had to admire how well put-together they are. It really feels like an honest cross-section of Britain. (Of course, since I haven't been there lately, who knows, I suppose.) But it certainly doesn't smack of the "we must show nothing but young hotties" that Hollywood suffers from.

The sets are great, too, and, as you pointed out the stories and the writing. Good stuff coming out of the BBC lately.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I've been meaning to review the new Doctor Who for some time. Maybe this week would be good since they are re-starting?

Hmmm...

Ed said...

Wow, is Janet the first liberal to comment?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, We've had liberals before.

DUQ said...

Janet, it seems to me that liberals use political correctness to squelch anyone from so much as talking about anything they don't like.

Interesting review, Andrew. I've never been one much for British TV, but I'll check the show out.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, There's a lot of good stuff on British television right now. I think you'll like this one.

Also, I have to agree with your definition of political correctness. It's the way liberals try to pretend that things that aren't true are true by making everyone act as if they are true.

Kurosawa said...

Nice article! I'll have to watch an episode or two of Sherlock and see how it goes. There has been some impressive TV coming out of the UK recently, especially the last installment of Torchwood.

Kurosawa said...

Nice article! I've been noticing some impressive looking TV coming out of the UK lately, especially the last installment of Torchwood. It's great when we have worthwhile choices in TV from either side of the Atlantic, and the internet bandwidth to make it all possible...

AndrewPrice said...

Kurosawa, Thanks. It's definitely worth checking out. And you're right about Torchwood, especially Children of Earth -- great episode!

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