Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Mystery Solved

This past December, Todd and I saw one of the more underrated literary adaptations of 2011, the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Thrones. There was a lot to like about Ritchie's sequel, from the amazing portrayals of the iconic Detective Holmes and his faithful companion Dr. John Watson by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, to the clever story and ingenious technical effects, to the perfect sobriety that accompanied Jared Harris, playing Sherlock's arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty with such distinction that it put far more "renowned" performances of the year to shame. Yes, I loved SH2, whose wit and charm won me over even as many passed it off as more of the same. I'd never seen a better pairing of actors in Downey Jr and Law on the big screen, and certainly not a better Holmes and Watson, not even when they were played by Data and Geordi LaForge. I of course did not believe that I'd see better anytime soon. Little did I know, not only would I find a Sherlock/Watson coupling so perfect that it would eclipse the Hollywood duo easily, but where I would find it... on the small screen.

"The Game is a hand! No, that's not right..."
Todd actually put the seed in me for this series... well, to be fair she was the loudest of a few people who had at least mentioned the BBC show Sherlock in my presence. I'm not much for television in general, despite some of the best-ever shows running as you read this. I've yet to see an episode of Game of Thrones, despite loving the books. I've only seen the first season of Mad Men. The same with The Walking Dead. The Sopranos. Deadwood. Rome. I've seen none of them. I love Battlestar Galactica and Sex and the City, but in all honesty I saw most of their episodes for the first time on DVD, well after they originally ran. I've seen How I Met Your Mother and Leverage on DVD only. It's not that I don't enjoy just sitting down to watch TV; I simply don't make time for it, a casualty of my focus on film. If I sit down to watch TV, it's purely from chance; the best example of which is when I accidentally saw the pilot episode of Burn Notice and proceeded to watch everything Netflix had, even the mediocre-at-best Fall of Sam Axe mini-movie. Another Netflix catch, Supernatural (another one we can attribute to Todd), has held a couple of seasons worth of my attention so far.. Recently I noticed that Sherlock was available and, as I had nothing else to do, I sat down and watched the entire first series of the modern-day take of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's penultimate detective.

As always, there's a good story behind this.
Wow. All I can say... Wow.

Similar in tack to Guy Ritchie's take on Holmes but set in today's London and Europe, the series, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, explores what the master detective would look like in this day and age. The series first aired in 2010, with a three episode arc that introduced us to eccentric detective Sherlock Holmes and his straight-laced partner, veteran military doctor John Watson, who find themselves sharing a flat at 221B Baker Street by chance, and eventually teaming up to solve mysteries the police cannot handle on their own. Don't get too worried when I say that there are only three episodes in the series' first season; each episode is an hour and a half long, making each story less of a TV episode and more of a miniature movie. Based on the tales and characters of Doyle's fiction, the first season of Sherlock turned out to be a wonderful mixture of mystery, humor and amazing character development, a show so good that even when the second season became available to own this past week, I was sure it couldn't possibly live up to the spectacle of the first... well, I've been proven wrong before.

Miss Irene Adler always knows how to make an entrance.
After the dramatic introduction of psychotic mega-criminal James Moriarty (BAFTA-winning Andrew Scott) at the conclusion of season one's finale "The Great Game", season two kicks off with the introduction of another legendary Holmes character, the mysterious and beautiful Irene "The Woman" Adler (Lara Pulver). In "A Scandal in Belgravia", Adler uses her work as a popular London dominatrix to gather into her possession a government secret of such power it threatens to topple the balance of power in Europe. It's up to Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) to steal that secret back, but The Woman proves a greater challenge than anybody expected. The biggest mystery might not be how Sherlock wins the day, but whether the emotionless detective and the calculating Adler might actually be falling for one another. In "The Hounds of Baskerville", Sherlock and Watson investigate reports of giant wild dogs in Dartmoor, and whether they have anything to do with the top-secret genetic experiments of the nearby Baskerville government research complex. Finally,. "The Reichenberg Fall" sees the return of mastermind Moriarty, on a mission to debunk and discredit Sherlock's success thus far in the series. In settling what he calls "The Final Problem", Moriarty wants to humiliate and eliminate his nemesis, leaving the criminal mastermind to operate his activities with total impunity.

No comments, or at least none you would understand...
Sherlock is easily among the best-written and best-acted television shows I've seen in years, and that's not a short list to join. In this second season, Moffat and Gatiss made a serious attempt to update some of Doyle's classic stories, after creating relatively original tales in the show's first season. The results are some of the best television I've seen in years, especially "A Scandal in Belgravia" and "The Reichenberg Fall". Of course, their brilliant wring would be worthless without excellent actors to deliver the goods, and Cumberbatch and Freeman are simply amazing. The stellar Cumberbatch uses many of the same intricacies that made Robert Downey Jr's depiction of Holmes so wonderful, but manages to outdo the Iron Man with an arrogance that turns off just about everyone around him, while making him utterly irresistible to the audience. Freeman plays Watson as a true everyman, honest and loyal and friendly, the yin to Cumberbatch's yang. Sherlock has catapulted both actors to new heights, and all you have to do is watch a single episode of this show to see why. The show's regular guest-stars are all at least solid actors, but the real standouts are the villains played by Scott and Pulver. Though she only appears in the season opener, Pulver is absolutely intoxicating as the only woman Sherlock ever loves, a character written so smartly and originally she is more of a unique person than Doyle ever imagined. Scott, on the other hand, is power incarnate. Assuredly deserving his BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor on this show, Scott builds Moriarty as a something far different than the posh genius Doyle first created as Sherlock's foil. Equal parts psychotic, brilliant and manic, Scott seems to play what would be if Sherlock actually had chosen to become evil, a terrifying prospect that really makes the character ring true.

The Devil in a Gray Suit.
Possibly the only real flaw with Sherlock is its incredibly short run time; even with episodes three times longer than most sitcoms, three per season is simply not enough, as the dedicated viewer can watch both full seasons by simply devoting a weekend to it. And filming on the third season won't even begin until January, with Cumberbatch's work on the new Star Trek film and Freeman's leading spot in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit already chewing into their rapidly-filling calendars. It's no wonder Hollywood is already breaking out their own modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptation, with Elementary set in New York and even featuring a female Watson. However, there's just no way to duplicate what Moffat and company have done with the Sherlock Holmes legend. While there's plenty to keep you occupied until 2013, I still say that you should give this series a shot if you haven't done so already. It's arguably one of the best things coming out of Great Britain right now, and if you want to say that you saw stars Cumberbatch and Freeman BEFORE they made it in Hollywood, this is your big chance.

1 comment:

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