I think people who have never heard of Holmes (poor souls!) and Sherlock Holmes purists alike may find this TV series delightful.
“Sherlock” puts the titular character, the world’s only consulting detective, in 21st century London. But the series preserve (at least it seems so to me) the characters of Holmes as presented in Conan Doyle’s writings. Unbelievably smart, insufferably confident and annoying, aloof most of the time, never bothers to be polite. And the rest of the groups are there too: ever loyal, long suffering Dr. John Watson who shares the flat in 221B Baker Street with the detective; Mrs Hudson the landlady; Detective Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard who has to put up with Holmes’ unintended insults. And of course Ms. Adler and Moriarty are there (though the writers of the series took the liberty of removing her dress and his tenure), and Mycroft Holmes, the smarter big brother.
Half the pleasure of watching this series came from the guessing game. No, not the who-dun-it guessing. Guessing (or should I say, trying to remember) which Holmes’ stories or sayings are alluded to in each episode. It is fairly easy with the titles: A Study in Pink of the series – A Study in Scarlet in the canon, The Geek Interpreter – The Greek Interpreter, The Speckled Band – The Speckled Blonde, you get the idea. Some are more subtle: a three pipe problem has become a three patch problem (the 21st century Holmes has to be content with nicotine patches as smoking is not viewed as favourably now as it was hundred years ago), five orange pips became five pips in a mobile phone.
Many of Holmes’ lines in the book are preserved, some are quoted almost verbatim. With a 21st century touch, of course. To Watson’s question whether Holmes would like his company in investigating a case, the Edwardian Holmes quipped, “I will be lost without my Boswell”. The Sherlock of our time is no less witty: “I’ll be lost without my blogger.” Holmes likened his mind to an attic which should not be cluttered with unimportant information. Our Sherlock likened it to (well, what else could it be) a harddisk. Some things never change, though. He is still unaware of the fact that the earth goes around the sun. “If it goes around the moon or go around and around the garden like a teddy bear, it will make no difference to us!” he retorted. Interestingly, G.K. Chesterton shared his view on the importance of the knowledge of solar system. But that is another post for another day.
Sherlock and John (that is how they are referred to – over and done with Victorian / Edwardian formality) are very amusing to watch. How can it be not amusing, watching your favourite characters given a new life that remains true to their personality? I congratulate myself that finally I have an interest on something that was produced less than 50 years ago.
But some of the minor characters are rather surprising. I am not amused. A slender, energetic Mycroft who pops up in Baker Street every now and then? A Moriarty without his professor chair? He is supposed to be a very respectable academic – apart from being a genious criminal mastermind. That is what makes him so fascinating compared to the standard villains. Learned, respectable, publishing a monograph that solved a long standing puzzle in mathematics while organizing crimes – that is fascinating. I think Sir Conan Doyle got it right. A brilliant professor would have the brain and the guts to be a criminal mastermind if he so chooses. I believe my fellow PhD students will agree.
And now we come to the biggest disappointment so far (I have only watched up to 1st episode of season 2): Ms. Irene Adler. I watched that last night, when I wanted a break from my paper. I much enjoyed the episode, but my final impression was: “You call that THE woman?” That woman who undressed herself proudly; who got her secret information mostly by giving men and women ‘what they like’ – in terms of sexual pleasure, I would presume; who admitted at the end that it was Moriarty who planned all the smart moves; you call that THE woman? Irene Adler was remembered as the only woman (perhaps the only person) who ever outwitted Sherlock Holmes. In what way in this TV series she outwits Sherlock has completely escaped me. She has not beaten Sherlock, except for the literal beating she gave him. With a riding crop. (Oh, please). In the end of the episode Sherlock deduced her secret password, and made Ms. Adler lose the game. How can that be considered being outwitted? She captured Sherlock’s interest, yes, and that is a major accomplishment, yes. But in the book Ms. Adler achieved much more than that (she charmed him) by doing far less (she did not pull a gun or undress herself – she simply acted cleverly and graciously).
And the ending of that episode seems a bit far-fetched. Sherlock Holmes is great, but for him to infiltrate a terrorist cell inKarachiin order to free Ms. Adler? With his policy of decluttering the attic (or the harddisk, if you prefer it), I bet he does not even know where Karachi is. OK, that is a bit extreme, but my point is it takes a great deal of planning and energy to infiltrate a terrorist cell. And in the story it is not even mentioned that Holmes disappeared for some time to plan and exactly perform the plan.
Another thing that puzzled me is the ’50-50 chance’ in the first episode of season 1. In that episode, Sherlock was confronted by a serial killer who offered his victims with 2 bottles: one contains deadly poison, one contains harmless stuff. When finally Sherlock and the murderer met, the murderer proffered a bottle to Sherlock, and gave him the chance to either take it or to take the other bottle. “Play the game,” he said. To which Sherlock replied, “What game? It is just a 50-50 chance.” Do you think it is a 50-50 chance? The probability that bottle A contains poison is 0.5, of course. If the murderer let Sherlock choose, then it is a 50-50 chance. But he offered him a certain bottle. The probability that bottle A contains poison, given the fact that bottle A is offered to you by the murderer is not necessarily 0.5, is it?
All that being said, I am ready to admit that I enjoyed the series immensely. And that when few days ago my boyfriend asked me to watch a certain movie, I directly said yes, just because I know that Mr. Cumberbatch is in it.
* With thanks to a friend who introduced me to this BBC series; and to SH who introduced me to Mr. Holmes years ago, and who has the privilege of sharing the same initials with him.