When I first heard that Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffatt and writer Mark Gatiss were coming out with a Sherlock Holmes TV miniseries, I was extremely excited. When I finally saw it, I was blown away by how incredibly good it is. Sherlock is a modern take on the Holmes stories, and it doesn’t disappoint. Holmes and Watson translate very well into contemporary characters with a dynamic relationship that’s brilliantly played by stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, who will play Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Sherlock is sharp, funny, and so suspenseful by the end that waiting until 2011 for more seems unfathomable. Hit the jump for my review.
Sherlock kicks off with “A Study in Pink,” probably the best take on A Study in Scarlet I’ve seen yet, and as Holmes and Watson are introduced (or Sherlock and John as they call one another here), the instant chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman is palpable. Their performances compliment each other so well from the beginning and their interplay is one of the things that makes the series so unique. Here, Holmes is a well-dressed, coolly aloof figure who beats corpses with a riding crop and is oblivious to the amorous attention of poor Molly from the lab, and Watson is a veteran recently returned from Afghanistan who’s troubled by flashbacks, a psychosomatic limp, and a therapist who makes him take up blogging. Sherlock and John are quickly drawn into a mystery involving serial suicides that’s actually very good, and so I won’t spoil that. The supporting cast here is great, from Rupert Graves’ Lestrade to Mrs. Hudson, who’s absolutely wonderful. We even got to see Mycroft Holmes in the first episode, and Mark Gatiss plays him with such relish that it’s impossible not to like him. My favorite scenes in this episode were the drug bust, when Lestrade punishes Sherlock for withholding evidence and we find out that this Sherlock thinks he’s a sociopath, and the scene in the restaurant, where Sherlock and John have a very, um, interesting moment.
The second episode, “The Blind Banker,” is the weakest of the three, but it’s still pretty awesome. The mystery in this one is less interesting until it nears the end and we get more information about Moriarty, who until this point is just a looming figure in the background. Where this episode shines is the John/Sherlock dynamic. John decides to go on a date with Sarah, a coworker who hopefully won’t become the series’ version of Mary, because things didn’t end well for poor Mary in the books. Sherlock doesn’t understand at all, and John has to explain to him that a date is when two people who like each other go out and have fun. Sherlock responds that he thought that’s what they were doing, and looks confused. He also shoots the wall when he’s bored, another nod to the original stories that I loved.
Episode 3, “The Great Game,” is awesome from beginning to end. A bomb goes off on Baker Street and Sherlock is nearly killed, which doesn’t faze him so much as it interests him. Mycroft asks for Sherlock’s help in retrieving the Bruce-Partington plans (yay), and John spends much of the episode trying to stall Mycroft while they get involved in a series of puzzles that Sherlock has to solve or an innocent person will be blown up. This episode features several different cases that John and Sherlock have to solve, each seeming like a distraction, but of course they all come together by the end. The main thread involving the bombings is wonderfully suspenseful and builds to an incredible climax with a crucial reveal: the appearance of Moriarty in the flesh, and as villains go, Andrew Scott is just so disarmingly creepy in his few minutes of screen time that this brief glimpse of an unhinged, brilliant, Sherlock-obsessed Moriarty makes a big impression. He’s unlike many interpretations of the stories’ overarching villain because he comes off as both immediately threatening and obsessively deranged, willing to “burn the heart” out of Sherlock by using Watson as a pawn.
The final episode ends with a cliffhanger that will leave you guessing, and it’s a fitting end to the best new show of the past season. Cumberbatch and Freeman are fantastic, as is the rest of the cast. Even the costume design deserves props, because this show’s just that damn good. The Blu-ray doesn’t come with much in the way of bonus features besides commentary and an alternate, shorter first episode, but it’s worth checking out if you’re interested in the immense attention to detail paid in making these episodes. The only thing that sucks about this show is that we’ll have to wait a year for more.