Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Sherlock (BBC Series)

When it comes to fictional sleuths - he's the holiest of the holy, the mightiest of the mighty, the guru of gurus. Don't fuck with the formula because if you do, a thousand rabid fans will descend on you with the combined malice of a million Moriartys and tear you limb to limb. Don't you dare touch the deerstalker hat, the pipe, the bumbling assistant and the 19th century London setting - lit by its flickering gas lamps and defined by its shadows. Sure, Guy Ritchie made an action movie and called it Sherlock Holmes, but even he didn't dare change the setting. It would take a brave man indeed to overhaul the whole formula and survive.

Well, apparently Stephen Moffat is a very brave man. And a very smart man. Not only has he updated Sherlock to a Blackberry-using, internet-surfing, comeback-spewing, trenchcoat-wearing dude, he's also got the purists eating out of his hand. Because everything that made Sherlock, well, Sherlock, is still right here. In his reinterpretation of Sherlock, Moffat has created a character who is modern, yes, but also quintessentially the Sherlock Holmes we know and love, only born a hundred years later.

The number of homages, even the small ones, this series pays to the original books is staggering. If you play a spot-the-reference drinking game with the episodes, let's just say you will be in no state to drive even at the end of the first one. Much like the books, the stories begin with Watson, a veteran of the Afghan War (the new one), who walks with a limp and a cane. Unable to afford a flat in London at his army pension, he is dejected and depressed until a friend leads him to a potential flatmate, and a potential residence at 221 B, Baker Street. Before the first three episodes are over over the duo will face a strange serial killer, an international gang of thieves and murders and finally, a man who is very, very familiar to even the most casual fan, the quintessential arch-enemy, the original supervillain, the...you get the point.

As for performances, Benedict Cumberbatch does a fantastic job as Sherlock. Although the speaks-really-fast-because-that's-what-geniuses-do shtick has been around forever(most recently employed by Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), Cumberbatch is brilliantly successful at bringing out the OTHER aspects of the genius personality, the obsession, the frustration at everyone being slower than him, mingled with a healthy degree of arrogance and of course, single minded focus. This Sherlock "prefers to text" because that we he clearly isn't a big fan of two-way communication; everything bores him unless its a cracking good mystery. And of course, his values are somewhat skewed - he shamelessly exploits other people, uses their feelings to his advantage and proudly proclaims he feels no empathy for the victims of a gruesome serial killer because it would help his thought process. This is not how the old Sherlock behaved, but it makes perfect sense here and you know what? Maybe the old Watson glossed over a few unsavory details for a more genteel era.

Speaking of Watson, Martin Freeman plays him as a man who is initially in absolute awe of Holmes' skills, then angry and frustrated at his lack of consideration and empathy, and finally, grudgingly accepting of the man Sherlock is. However, this Watson is no bumbling fool, and certainly knows his way around a gun when the situation calls for it. Yes, he seems like a rank amateur around Sherlock Holmes, but then again, who doesn't? He is the perfect foil for Sherlock and the perfect "straight guy", the everyday bloke who hangs out with a genius. In short, he is all that Watson should be.

The mysteries are heavily derived from the old stories, but feature twists where internet, cell phones and GPS systems feature prominently, without seeming like they have been shoehorned in. After all, the old Sherlock used the latest technology of the day to solve his crimes, so why wouldn't this one? Even if you have just read the old stories, the new series is highly watchable, because it's not about knowing who the killer is, it's about seeing how Sherlock gets there ahead of everyone else.

PS: Anyone who feels Cumberbatch is too young to play Holmes(it's the hair) should definitely hang around for a while. Yes, initially even I had the same reservations, but the way the actor grows into the role is a thing to watch.

PPS: Another detective, a favorite of Bengali's, has been modernized for a series of films in recent years. While the films have been of uneven quality, the "modernization" aspect has been ham-handed at best and awful at worst. Mr. Sandip Ray, please watch this series over and over and over again to understand how you can completely overhaul old stories and yet retain their authentic flavour we all know and love.

1 comment:

Suranjana said...

started as a skeptic, now i am a die-hard fan of this series. not missing a single chance to spread the good news of its existence. Hail Holmes!