Most of the time I am not hard to please, but there are exceptions. Sherlock Holmes is one of them. I have a love / hate relationship with most of the Sherlock Holmes representations on the screen, ranging from them turning Watson into a dolt in the Basil Rathbone productions to having Holmes shooting up in the midst of a case in several small screen adaptations. I knew Moffat modernizing Holmes would be a bit of a risk — but it had two things going for it… Moffat himself, and Benedict in the lead. I’ve liked that actor since his stint in Amazing Grace, and have watched his career with interest ever since. As this series vaulted him into the public eye in England and made Sherlock not only the hottest thing on telly but a trend-setter in London fashion, I wonder how he’s going to handle a million plus American females falling madly in love with him?
This weekend, the first episode of Sherlock premiered on PBS as part of their Masterpiece Mystery series. I have seen all the episodes multiple times but that did not prevent me from sitting down to watch it… and grinning the entire way through. This morning, I awakened to another world — a world in which everyone I know is going nuts over this series. Half the posts on my livejournal friend’s page referenced it, raved about it, loved it. E-mails mentioned it. Forums all over the internet are buzzing as fans freak out over how good it is. “Finally,” one enthusiastic figure wrote, “they got it right!” And that is difficult to do when you are moving the characters over a hundred years forward! It is, quite frankly, a rousing success… and it deserves to be.
“A Study in Pink” is the strongest in the three part series. It is brilliant, referencing the originals with a twist of modernization that is unmistakable but no less intelligent than the initial conclusions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Newbies to Holmes (God forbid… is there such a thing?) can follow it, and adapt quickly to this eccentric, rude, and egotistical figure — but long-term fans are the ones being the most amply rewarded, with dozens of nods to incidents and conclusions from the short stories and novels. Most of its plot is drawn from the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, but aspects of other cases are woven in as well. There is so much to love about it — Holmes’ introduction to Watson, Watson’s fascination and befuddlement at this insane flat-mate he has just been thrown in with, his marvelous introduction to “the rest of the family” (my word, I love the set-up for that… Moffat wants you to think it’s Moriarty but I knew from the first!), Mrs. Hudson’s charming but snide remarks (“Oh, Sherlock! What a mess you’ve made!”), the ongoing sibling rivalry, and of course Holmes’ loathing for Anderson, who works for the police.
Slamming doors in people’s faces, sitting on the back of furniture, shouting for everyone to shut up so he can think, revealing inner-police sexual shenanigans, commenting on lipstick colors, and tricking Watson into forgoing his limp … this is Holmes as he was meant to be. Albeit somewhat more rude than the original, but he’s young … give him time. (And in truth, his blatant rudeness makes him endearing, at least to me. ) I love also the emphasis on Holmes’ boredom and brilliance, two dangerous things to pair up. Lestrade and another policeman warn Watson that things could go very badly if Holmes ever did get truly bored (“One day we’ll show up and find a body, and it’ll be Holmes that put it there”). That was a momentarily touched on thread in the stories, in one in particular when Lestrade says thank God Holmes did not turn to a life of crime, but I love that they have referenced his potential darkness.
Moffat’s affection for the original is apparent in his writing, which is tight, strong and hilarious. Much of the first episode can be compiled into individual quotes that are funny even out of context, although I think his true touch of genius here is in the faux drugs bust Lestrade sets up in order to wrangle his way into Holmes’ apartment. Holmes is annoyed, Mrs. Hudson is frantic, and poor Watson is blathering on about how he cannot believe it, how Holmes would never do such a thing… and then is warned to “shut up.” “No!” he says. “YOU??” Funny or not, it is a means of addressing one of Holmes’ most notorious habits — one that in the Victorian era was a moderate concern but that in the modern age would be just plain illegal. (On that note, Holmes never was an addict. He could go for months, even years, at a time without touching the stuff — he indulged simply out of excess boredom.)
Where other adaptations have failed in various areas, this new series is solid for the most part — none of my complaints have to do with the characters so much as later weaknesses in the scripts. And it gives me a keen sense of delight that in two weeks, the rest of America will be in the same boat I am — left at a cliffhanger, wondering how on earth we are going to pass the next twelve months before Holmes returns once again to the small screen, this time to meet Irene Adler, confront a brutal hound, and engage in a conflict with his arch-enemy Moriarty. It seems fitting almost that the new series is generating the same tremendous sensation of interest in our modern world as the original stories did in the Victorian era… in which we are all waiting to see what happens next in the lives of the tremendous Dr. Watson and his psychotic friend, Sherlock Holmes.