“The game, Mrs. Hudson, is on!” – Sherlock, A Study in Pink
Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly every asexual fangirl/boy’s favorite consulting detective, and I must say this here blogger is no exception to the rule. I started reading the exploits of this figure of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s imagination at the tender age of 9, and my love affair with the indomitable, manic-depressive, scathingly-brilliant, drug-addict Holmes hasn’t lost an iota of its original ardor in the intervening 19 years.
Imagine my glee, and the ensuing Snoopy dance, when my dear friends Anna and Hanna suggested a standing telly-watching date for the new adaptation of Holmes airing on PBS currently. Holmes! New! Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Add to that my satisfied surprise at hearing Benedict Cumberbatch (delightful name, that) would be playing the new incarnation. He fits the bill for Holmes in more ways than I can think: 1.) Tall – check, 2.) Angular – check, 3.) Pale – check, 4.) Preternaturally beautiful – check, 5.) Oddly graceful – check, 6.) Known for playing mad/brilliant/complex characters – check! (has played William Pitt, Stephen Hawking, and Vincent Van Gogh), 5.) Elocution that makes you shift (pleasantly) in your seat – check, 6.) Ability to utilize micro-expressions in acting repertoire, check. What doesn’t fit? He’s ginger. Cue the hair dye and away we go.
But wait, when you think about it, casting Holmes is not where producers usually cock things up (well, except for that debacle with Roger Moore, *groan*). It’s Watson who usually throws a spanner in the works. While the actual crime detection provides the narrative framework, it’s the story of Holmes and Watson and their brilliant friendship that pulls legions of readers/viewers back for more (and more adaptations). The chemistry between Holmes and Watson has to be as evident as that between a leading man and leading lady (yes, more on subtext and fanfic later) for any adaptation to get off the ground. If you can’t feel the enjoyment these two men find in each other coming off the screen, then it’s just going to be mediocre, full stop. Think Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.
So who did the BBC find to fill the difficult shoes of Watson? Martin Freeman. Genius! You all might know him from Love Actually (John, the stunt-bum) or The Office (Tim). As is evidenced by his previous work, he’s got the comedy chops that someone who plays Watson really needs. Watson’s frequently played as a bumbling sidekick in the previous incarnations, but I believe that’s due to the ineptitude for comedy that the actors brought to the part. Not so with Martin Freeman. He manages to balance the very real humor in a lot of Watson’s interactions with Holmes with the equally real seriousness of a trained soldier and doctor, which people often forget Watson actually is.
Important aside: Sherlock takes place in the present! That’s a very important point I forgot to mention.
Cleverly, the creators (Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat of Dr. Who fame) decided to make Watson a veteran of the current Afghan conflict, and they definitely take full advantage of all the plot and psychological character development capital that affords. But seriously, Freeman has Watson down to a science. Just his face, simultaneously open and closed, so epitomizes the remarkable dichotomy of this man. His solidity, his sheer presence, in scenes with a flailing Cumberbatch as Holmes is simply masterful. Claps all around to Gatiss and Moffat for that moment of staggering brilliance.
So, how about the plots, the writing, the cinematography you might ask? Surprisingly good! The writing is quite well-done. Sherlock’s dialogue (monologue?) is quick and sharp and fluid and witty. Everything you would expect from a modern-day Holmes. It’s rather like watching early West Wing meets Wire in the Blood. John’s dialogue is expertly clipped and laconic and wonderfully stutter-y at times. And Lestrade, oh Lestrade, he’s sardonic and jaded and weary and glorious in his portrayal by Rupert Graves.
The crimes so far have been interesting, the first from A Study in Pink far more so than that from the second episode The Blind Banker. They’re by no means obvious, I’m not saying that. I just don’t think the writers have really hit their stride yet on the plot front. But, like I said, it’s all about Sherlock and John anyway, especially since these opening episodes serve as exposition of their meeting.
Visually, this show is quite appealing. It’s mostly shot with a blue lens, which gives it a somber look that’s not altogether inappropriate. It also works to make Sherlock look more ethereal than he otherwise would given Cumberbatch’s flushed complexion typical of a red-head. Beyond that, it gives the show that tiny hint of fluorescent sterility that you often see in hospitals at night or on CSI for that matter. Given Sherlock’s predilection for “experiements” and his insistence on the “science” behind his work and deductions, it just fits. The producers shot a pilot of A Study in Pink that was never aired that uses what seems to be a pink filter, and man is it rubbish lighting.
The show also took a successful gamble on using actual text in shots to illustrate Sherlock’s thought process and, at times, his remarkably off-the-wall texts. At first, I thought this visual device might be a terrible idea. I had visions of having to read half of the show rather than watch it. But no, they use it sparingly and with tremendous precision so that it never seems to detract from the performance. Add to that the fact that they often have the text follow the movement of the shot or the character in the shot, and the added text begins to seem an organic, physical part of the scene.
I could talk about his forever, and I do mean forever, but I’ll stop here and urge you all to head over to PBS online where you can find the first two episodes available in their entirety for streaming. Trust me, there’s absolutely nothing else on the telly that you could think of watching instead of Sherlock.
As I mentioned above, for my next post I’m going to tackle the slashy – or not so slashy (depending on how you look at it) – goodness of the (sub)text between Sherlock and John, especially given that fandom has finally decided to both recognize and engage with the asexuality of Sherlock’s character.
Warning: rampant reference and rec’ing of smutty and/or asexy fanfic on the horizon.
Overall Rating: A++ with 10 extra credit points for awesome!
Life-compatible: Don’t count on it. Only 5 minutes after finishing A Study in Pink, Anna, Hanna, and I were already demanding more Sherlock NOW! Another friend has a serious bromance crush on Sherlock after just one episode. Seriously, this show is as addictive as a certain 7% solution. If you’ve got a penchant for fanfic, be prepared to need a daily dose to make the shakes go away.
Weak Points: The Blind Banker. I never was a fan of the orientalism in some of Conan Doyle’s writing, and this episode is definitely an homage to that trope.
Strong Points: Way too many to fully list. Just watch the damn show!
Things to look out for: The beautifully uncomfortable “not a date” dinner scene between John and Sherlock where John tries to understand Sherlock’s romantic geography. Special appearance by Mark Gatiss as rather an important character.
Further Watching: For Benedict Cumberbatch, definitely check out Amazing Grace, A Small Island, Van Gogh: Painted with Words, Hawking and To The Ends of the Earth. (Yep, I’ve been Benedict Cumber-binging on Netflix between episodes of Sherlock.) For Martin Freeman, The Office (UK), Nightwatching, Swinging with the Finkels, Wild Target, and The Old Curiosity Shop.