If you’re a fan of mysteries, if you’re a fan of beautiful cinematography, if you’re a fan of well-written television, you should be watching the BBC’s Sherlock. Having just wrapped up its second season and gearing up for a third, there’s no better time than now to become a fan of this award-winning crime drama.
Sherlock is a modern-day adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous Sherlock Holmes character and stories. The characters in Sherlock use modern technology–cell phones, computers, DNA testing–to solve crimes and advance the plot. John Watson keeps a blog of the duo’s adventures, and even Holmes’s arch nemesis Moriarty often corresponds to the hero via text message.
But what really makes this show stand out isn’t some “modern Holmes” gimmick, it’s the incredible standard of excellence that each episode exudes in its writing, character development, and cinematography. The first season won the 2011 BAFTA for Best Drama Series, and more accolades seem inevitable after last Sunday’s dramatic Season 2 finale. Seasons are made up of only three episodes, but each episode runs 90 minutes long. This gives Sherlock the freedom to explore complex storylines that a shorter format might make difficult. A single episode can span anywhere from six days to six months, character relationships can be established, broken down, and built back up again, and the mysteries and puzzles can be woven in the most intricate and interesting ways.
I actually haven’t read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so I can’t say much about the updating of the original stories and characters, but I have a feeling the writers have had a lot of fun making these adaptations creative (for example, I don’t think the original version of The Hound of the Baskervilles had anything to do with genetic experimentation). The show feels fresh and modern, unafraid of employing unconventional techniques like using text overlays to show text messages or Sherlock‘s internal deduction process.
The mysteries themselves are always compelling and fun. There are rare moments when I get to feel like I’m one step ahead of Sherlock, but for the most part I’m just along for the ride (and sometimes barely keeping up). I frequently find myself shouting at the screen when a new piece of the mystery unfolds and it all starts becoming clear. This show has definitely mastered the art of the dramatic reveal, and there are few things more enjoyable for a mystery fan like me.
A larger-than-life character like Holmes requires an actor to match, and Benedict Cumberbatch delivers with a Holmes that is compelling, enigmatic, and sometimes overwhelming. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman’s performance as an achingly genuine John Watson is enough to leave you in tears by the end of some of the more emotional storylines. Cumberbatch received a 2011 BAFTA nomination for Best Actor, and Freeman won Best Supporting Actor, so I’m not the only one who thinks these two are incredible. One of the most satisfying and interesting elements in this show is watching the chemistry between the two characters, and seeing their relationship develop.
If I had to choose one word to describe Sherlock as a whole, that word would be quality. Every moment feels like it has been executed exactly the way it was meant to be. Nothing forced for a cheap laugh, nothing awkwardly edited for commercial placement, and nothing held back to play it safe. Sherlock makes my other favorite shows seem boring and predictable. The production values make me long for a blu-ray box set. And the compelling nature of the show makes me want to send a copy of that box set to all my friends.
Funny, smart, engaging, and breathtakingly beautiful, the BBC’s Sherlock is a true delight for all fans of mystery and visual storytelling.
Season 1 is available on Netflix Instant Queue, and is for sale on DVD and Blu-ray (make sure you get the right region for your area). For those in the UK, all three episodes from Season 2 are available for viewing online for the next five days on the BBC website, but Americans will have to wait until May 6 for the PBS airing of A Scandal in Belgravia. (For the impatient, there are several avenues for viewing both seasons online, I recommend Siries for their HD option). Season 2 will be released on Region 2 DVD on January 23rd, but no word yet on other regions or Blu-ray.