I enjoy a good murder-mystery every now and then, and the BBC series Sherlock is a very good murder-mystery. I started watching in 2012, and loved the first and second series. The third series, however (which premiered in January, 2014) left me a little disappointed.
Sherlock was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both of whom have also written for the modern television version of Doctor Who. Sherlock is loosely based on the original Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – reviving many of the original characters and plotlines in a modern setting. Doctor Watson (played by Martin Freeman, fantastic as the lovelorn Tim in the original BBC series The Office, more recently seen as Bilbo in the blockbuster trilogy The Hobbit) has returned from the 2001-to-present conflict in Afghanistan. And Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch, wonderful – and wonderfully different – in the miniseries Parade’s End) makes use of numerous forms of twenty-first century technology.
Sherlock Holmes – a self-described “high functioning sociopath” – works (for free) as a consulting detective for the London Metropolitan Police. John Watson, a doctor and war vet in want of a flatmate, finds himself sharing 221B Baker Street with Holmes. Together they make an extremely effective sleuthing duo, Holmes providing the somewhat cold and calculating intellect, and Watson the moral compass. It is something of a Mulder/Scully relationship: without the aliens but with the right amount of conflict (not to mention a drop or two of the sexual tension).
Sherlock episodes (generally) focus on a mystery to be solved, with a few connecting strands of a larger story weaving through each. These strands include Sherlock’s relationship with his brother Mycroft (played by Gatiss), and his arch-nemesis Moriarty (a genuinely chilling villain played by Andrew Scott).
Sherlock is a high quality detective drama – dark, funny, and very clever. The mysteries are compelling, and the characters unique and well drawn. Sherlock Holmes is like no other detective; his intelligence and eye for detail are almost supernatural. Sherlock notices details about people the way a writer creates them. While a writer does so to concoct a story, Sherlock does so to solve a murder.
Sherlock has, for the most part, been received very positively by critics. Season three in particular has gotten some rave reviews. And while the third series is still immensely clever and entertaining (certainly much better than most of what’s on TV), I didn’t enjoy it as much as series one and two. I found the latest three episodes sadly lacking in sleuthing and mystery-solving, and a bit too heavy on personal dramas unfolding between the characters. To be honest it felt at times – especially the second episode of the series, when Sherlock rather obviously informs John Watson’s new wife that she’s pregnant – a little on the soap opera side. In all three episodes I missed that wonderful ‘Aha!’ moment that usually comes at the end of a Sherlock story, which – let’s be honest – is what we really want from a murder-mystery. Series three also felt a little show-off-y in terms of its aesthetics. Fancy camera angles, speedy close-ups, lots of slow motion shots. Too much style, I felt, and not quite enough substance. There was a kind of arrogance to the filming, in this series, which I suppose reflects Sherlock’s demeanour as a character, but I still found it annoying. Too flashy, too slick, too self-aware.
That being said, I enjoyed series three (if not as much as series one and two) and I will watch series four. Hopefully by then the flash will have been toned down a notch and Sherlock will go back to being a really, really good detective show.
The first series of Sherlock aired in July 2010, series two in January 2014, and series three in January 2014. Each series is made up of three 90 minute episodes. Read more at Sherlock Holmes’s blog The Science of Deduction, and The Personal Blog of John H. Watson.