Consider this less of a review and more of a plea. But you have to watch Sherlock. I’m serious. I don’t care who you are or what your interests are – this is an absolute, stone-cold, slam-dunk must-watch. I don’t care if you’re a fan of the classic Holmes literature or you don’t like British people or whatever. This is as smart as TV writing gets, and it’s as good as acting gets.
Sherlock is two seasons in right now, making it extremely easy for you to catch up. Even easier? Each season contains just three episodes, though each is approximately 90 minutes long, making it more of a mini-series than a typical TV show. It sets the story of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in the present day, meaning Holmes sends text messages rather than telegrams. The characters are the same: Mrs. Hudson’s still the landlady, Inspector Lestrade’s the top detective at the police and Jim Moriarty is Holmes’ greatest enemy. And what characters they are – but we’ll get to that later on in the review.
The series begins with Holmes and Watson at the beginning of their relationship, as Watson’s recently returned from the war in Afghanistan and Holmes is a still fairly unknown “consulting detective.” The two move in, become partners in the crime-solving business and begin to develop their famous relationship. Each episode involves one major case and is based on a classic Holmes story, but they’re each updated with modern twists and changes. For example, The Hounds of Baskerville features Baskerville not as a manor, but as a top-secret military facility, while A Scandal in Bohemia becomes A Scandal in Belgravia. In and of itself, that’s enough to draw me in.
But the real strengths of Sherlock are in its writing and acting, which are, as mentioned, as good as can be. The stories and the clues here are ludicrously sharp. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who created the show, might legitimately have genius-level IQs. The logical leaps that Sherlock takes to solve crimes and piece clues together would make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proud. And it’s one thing to have a smart character who can seemingly solve anything – but Moffat and Gatiss make Sherlock as real and distinct a character as possible, with equal strengths and flaws. This isn’t Nicolas Cage throwing together random clue explanations in the National Treasure movies – as insane as Sherlock’s guesses are, they make complete sense, especially in the context of his character. And Moffat and Gatiss use some unique techniques to show how you Sherlock’s mind works. Words and phrases will pop up across the screen as the detective thinks them, and quick edits help to tie his story together.
And the cast here is extraordinary. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, and Martin Freeman, who plays Watson, have got to be two of the best working actors in the medium today. Cumberbatch excels with Sherlock’s mile-a-minute demeanor and his dozens of mini-monologues, but also crushes the occasional scenes where Holmes is vulnerable and exposed. There is way more to Sherlock’s demeanor here than his intelligence and observation powers. And Freeman somehow might even be better. (How can you be better than an A+ performance? And still.) As the voice of reason for Sherlock, he runs the gamut of emotions during the course of the show, and especially draws you into the character during a few scenes at the end of The Reichenbach Fall which I will absolutely not mention here.
It is difficult to delve much deeper into Sherlock without revealing what actually happens in the episodes, but I’m not going to do that. I didn’t know anything about the show beforehand, and my viewing experience was significantly more enjoyable because of it. The Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies are entertaining but no more than popcorn-movie filler. Sherlock, on the other hand, is wickedly smart, funny and emotional within each episode, and never slows down. It’s the best show I’m watching these days. I couldn’t recommend it any more.