Monday, December 17, 2012

Tale of Three Sherlocks

Are we living in a Doyle-lover's paradise? Perhaps.

Right now we're seeing Sir Arthur's Sherlock Holmes stories reimagined in three different ways: as a steampunk-driven movie franchise that stars Robert Downey, Jr.; as a modern-day techno-fest in London, with Benedict Cumberbatch; and as a workmanlike CBS production starring Jonny Lee Miller that moves Sherlock to contemporary New York City, places him in recovery from a drug addiction, and assigns him a female Dr. Watson as a "sober living companion."

The first and the third are excellent craft; Sherlock, though, is art.

Some of the episodes require a lot of reading, as text-messages appear onscreen. So my elderly mother has to sit upright to watch, rather than reclining on her couch. And the fast cuts make the stories too exciting to be a last-thing-before-bed affair—meaning insomniacs like me have to watch them right after dinner, and then find an economics textbook to read.

It's all worth it.

The Mark Gatiss/Steven Moffat premise—techno-Sherlock, Sherlock with a cell phone, living with a compulsive blogging-Watson—sounds so cheap that it's a tremendous relief when the execution turns out to be so brilliant. The stories are authentic on one level, hopelessly twisted on another. And one of the main characters is actually modern-day London: steel-gray, a hodgepodge of cobblestones and brilliant architecture.

At the center of the production, Benedict Cumberbatch creates a Holmes who is emotionally disabled at the very same time he is, on an unorthodox plane, passionate. The quirkiness of the Holmes character is played for laughs a little bit, as in the Robert Downey, Jr., movies—but in Sherlock the quotidian realities are explored, as well. What, the writers ask, would it be like to live with a brilliant man of action who is also a thorough nut? Martin Freeman, as Dr. Watson, is more than a straight man; he is the lens through which we see this humanized freak show.

Furthermore, one has to give credit to Gatiss, Moffat and the other producers for the attention to detail surrounding the series. One can actually find, on the real internet, fake websites representing Dr. Watson's blog and Holmes' own online case files.

So if you have room for only one Sherlock in your life, let it be Cumberbatch's.
But do not deny yourself the pleasure of CBS's Elementary, which is of a high caliber for American television—and a perfectly serviceable bedtime story.

After all, Lucy Liu does a lovely job of playing straight-woman. And you needn't stay away from the Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law movies, which are beautifully produced and chock-full of big screen spectacle, though in that particular rendition Dr. Watson has learned to accept the strangeness of the great man, and brings skills of his own to the table that Holmes cannot quite match.(They are not to be watched on instant download, though, unless your system almost never hangs up; make sure your WiFi connection is good before you try it. Also, the movies are lovely enough to make them worth seeing on a big screen, in a theater. Or at least on your biggest television, rather than a laptop.)

For those of us who haven't read our Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories in years, any of these series do what they set out to: provide us with an inspiration to dust off the old volumes once more, and immerse ourselves in the originals. Once more, we can see how it all started, and get to know the character Doyle tried to kill off, but had to bring back by popular demand. All of these shows are, in their own way, worthy of the original fictional maladjusted genius—that hopeless loner in a deerstalker cap.


  1. Howdy!

    I want to recommend a written historical mystery novel that I finished reading just a short while back; a book I picked up at a yard sale and DAMN! I'm glad I did.

    Ian Pears' "An Instance of the Fingerpost". That will take you back to the days of the precursors of medicine, to the royal wars of England and the early styles of life in Oxford. And you'll brush up on your Latin.


  2. Sherlock is some of the best television on television.

    I actually think Steven Moffat does a better job with Holmes than with Dr. Who as he's not tempted to constantly create temporal paradoxes.

  3. You are too kind by far to Elementary which is already showing its threadbare and poorly written roots. I had high hopes but they were soon brought low. What the Sherlock of Elementary needs is serveral booster shots of the seven percent solution.

  4. Well, I am just a little bit behind in my *Elementary* viewing . . .

  5. I've seen all three of the Holmes renditions, and I agree that "Sherlock" is the best. However, I like them all.