I was never really a fan of fictional mysteries. When I was growing up, they always seemed more suited to my parents or grandparents. Agatha Christie felt old and dated. Murder She Wrote always seemed to be a show for senior citizens sitting at their TV trays. The closest I got was probably that big old set of Hardy Boys books my brothers left in the attic when they abandoned them in the 1960s.
It’s no surprise then that Sherlock Holmes was, to me, just an old series of movies starring Nigel Rathbone on Detroit’s Channel 50 when nothing else was on the other four or five stations. Heck, I would’ve watched Channel 9 — the Canadian station — before subjecting myself to that! In recent years, even bad boy Robert Downey Jr. didn’t entice me into the whole cult of Sherlock.
Then — as happens with a lot of my pop culture appreciation — I was drawn into this latest incarnation of Conan Doyle’s fictional sleuth by a daughter. PBS is currently in the middle of sharing Sherlock season three via Masterpiece Mystery! There are only three new ones, bringing the grand total up to nine episodes (three shows per season). That hardly makes for a series. But each show clocks in at just under 90 minutes, so they really are individual movies unto themselves.
I am hooked. To use a reference from season two, “I am SHERlocked.” If you haven’t heard the name Benedict Cumberbatch, you’ve probably seen him. Last year alone he was in everything from The Simpsons and Star Trek to The Hobbit and August: Osage County. The guy is a serious over-achiever and his loyal female fan base even has a name unfit for the genteel readers of this blog. Cumberbatch plays an insanely addictive Sherlock, but I’m more partial to his Watson, Martin Freeman, whom I first noticed back when he was the loveable stand-in for the porno movie scene in Love Actually. He earlier made a name for himself in the original British version of The Office, playing the character that John Krasinski played in America.
The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman is fantastic. But the crimes they solve through amazing deductive reasoning are the stuff of legends. Actually, forensic science owes a huge debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who helped pioneer such commonplace techniques as ballistics, blood sampling, fingerprints and footprints.
I can’t say enough about this latest incarnation written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who brilliantly plays Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft Holmes). It is funny yet suspenseful, wonderfully filmed and adheres quite rigidly to the original plot lines, with modern day twists. Instead of Watson being Holme’s biographer, now he writes a blog. Instead of a pipe, Sherlock has a nicotine patch. And both characters are much younger men now than in the original writings. There’s a sad similarity, though, between the old and the new. The original Watson was an army doctor wounded in Afghanistan back in the 1800s. The current Dr. Watson was also wounded in Afghanistan, showing just how long that Middle Eastern country has seen turmoil.
Two characters who come and go also add fantastic performances. The updated Moriarity is acted formidably by Andrew Scott. Lara Pulver plays the seductive dominatrix Irene Adler. Many other characters and actors make this particular Sherlock remix an outstanding series and well-worth watching.
You can catch up with previous episodes on Netflix, Amazon and Google Play among others. Or you can make your DVRs just keep recording after Downton Abbey this Sunday and next to see the final installments of the season. I really think you can come in anywhere in the series and feel just as confused or up-to-date as anyone else. Nobody can match the brain of Baker Street, so don’t worry if it’s tough to figure out all the clues and red herrings. Just have fun and let it wash over you.
I found myself sitting on the couch the other day watching a recorded Sherlock while munching my lunch. The previous night’s episode was on way too late for me. I realized, with a smile, that I’ve become one of those oldsters I used to disparage in my youth. And how that happened to me is quite the mystery.