Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reinventing Sherlock

When I find myself in need of a break from watching Asian dramas or simply in search of respite from reading subtitles, I usually look on to the BBC to provide me with alternative entertainment. Most shows take anywhere from 3 to 13 episodes, so like your standard jdorama, it only takes a relatively short time to go through a season. Since I've had a good run with Merlin for three years now, I figured it wouldn't hurt to check out what they can do with another reboot of  a classic character, this time in the form of Sherlock Holmes. I wasn't expecting much from it really, but after watching the first episode, I found myself hooked and loving it. So if you haven't seen it yet, I suggest you go watch it immediately. A definite must-see this year.

*   *   *
When BBC/PBS announced their intention to create a Sherlock Holmes series set in modern-day London earlier this year, a lot of people couldn't help but question the propriety of updating such a well-loved and iconic character for television. Coming on the heels of the Guy Ritchie adaptation, the public wasn't so sure whether they were ready to see the great detective once again, and in such a short period of time, without his signature fore-and-aft deerstalker cap, inverness cape and curved calabash pipe, solving cases outside of the Victorian period. It didn't seem like such a good idea to rework such a classic figure, especially when actors such as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett have already left an indelible mark in playing the said character. To do so, was to court disaster; but to do so and get away with it, would simply have to be a work of genius. And that's basically what creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's Sherlock is---inspired work.

Away from the fog and the gas lit streets of the Victorian era, the Beeb's latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is young, dapper and tech-savvy; possessing all the eccentricities and resourcefulness of the Arthur Conan Doyle original, albeit now more pronounced, having been adapted to a contemporary setting.  Meanwhile, Dr. John Watson, who's previously been relegated as the bumbling sidekick in a great many screen adaptations, now gets the respect he deserves, being portrayed as a solid and capable fellow.

The pilot episode, A Study in Pink, recounts how the two first meet and end up solving crimes together, all in the course of taking up residence at 221-B Baker Street. It's an absolutely brilliant episode, penned by series creator Steven Moffat, that's set up to provide sufficient character exposition. It alone gives tremendous insight as to what qualities and attributes that make up for Sherlock and John's odd yet interesting partnership, all the while engaging audiences with this mystery that involves a slew of suicides, the cause of which, the police have trouble figuring out on their own. What makes this episode particularly memorable is that not only does it sparkle with wit and humor, it's also smartly written and paced in a manner that pays homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's works without necessarily censuring itself from introducing enough changes to keep the material fresh and original. With excellent cinematography and wonderful camera work that can rival that of a full-length movie feature, the first episode of this series directed by Paul McGuigan is a certified winner, not to mention a rare piece of television. 

I'm a high-functioning sociopath, do your research.

Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as the 21st century Holmes; he is a delight to watch, as is Martin Freeman, who winsomely plays the great detective's esteemed colleague. They play off each other so well  that it's not hard to imagine why this legendary pairing between an invalided army doctor and a consulting detective in literature is so well-loved.

Cumberbatch's version of Sherlock is by the book, highly intelligent and scientifically inquisitive, peerless and impressive, appallingly obnoxious and more so, painfully exacting in his social ineptitude. In order to demonstrate the character's superior mental acuity for observation and deduction, Cumberbatch delivers some of his lines in a flurry, at times they're even spit out in an exasperated tone---clearly to lay emphasis on the fact that words often fail to coincide with  the speed in which Holmes has assembled  the facts and therefore, everyone else has to pick up their pace to keep score. It's a spot on performance, one that calls attention to both the character's brilliance and underlying compulsion to prove himself  superior. He also does quite well in showing Holmes's occasional fits of lethargy, particularly when the detective finds himself without a case to solve in order to make life a little less boring.

Equally noteworthy in the role of Dr. John Watson is Martin Freeman, whose earnest demeanor and appeal provide a wonderful yet endearing contrast to Cumberbatch's domineering presence as the great Sherlock Holmes. Playing the loyal friend and chronicler, he's the guy who best represents the viewer;  one who's synchronously impressed and baffled by Sherlock's intellect and its "limitations". Proving himself indispensable as the everyman in the course of each adventure, Freeman's Watson is perhaps the one closest to the original---he's strong, reliable and practical, he's the heart and conscience to Sherlock's detached objectivity, the sole anchor that gives the genius a semblance of humanity. 


Of course, the two are drawn together out of a need for action and adventure, and The Blind Banker, finds the two of them officially turning into a crime-fighting duo and settling down into their respective roles. The second installment to the said series comes off more as a routine episode, as Sherlock and John find themselves at odds with a Chinese smuggling syndicate, after being asked to investigate a mysterious break-in at an investment firm. Writer Stephen Thompson works with a locked-room mystery and delineates the case with a certain level of detail and difficulty, making it an episode worthy of the attention of Sherlock Holmes.

The third episode, The Great Game, packs a mean wallop as writer-creator Mark Gatiss fills up the show's 90-minutes with bite-size mysteries to set up the first appearance of Sherlock's archnemesis, Moriarty. It's an ambitious episode that plays on a heightened sense of danger; it's fast-paced and dense with information, leaving audiences hanging on to every word and breathless with the onset of action. It  also beautifully tracks the development of the relationship between its two main characters, with particular emphasis on Sherlock's tendency to obsess over certain matters. The whole endeavor ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger that's certain to keep audiences eager and hungry for its next season. In sum, the BBC series, Sherlock, is a remarkable piece of television programming. It's probably one of the best, if not the best to come out from across the pond this year. Those looking for quality entertainment should definitely consider putting this on their watchlist---not only is it worth every minute of your time, but you'd be hard pressed to find another pairing with such charm and chemistry.    


  1. yeah.. jude law was totally a sidekick from the movie adaptation.

    i will put this show on my list.. maybe buy a dvd in the future.

    the movie sucks though.

  2. The movie was an interesting attempt at modernizing Sherlock (they made him look more like a zany action figure), unfortunately, it didn't turn out good. For one, it probably pissed off a lot of Conan Doyle fans and second, it looked too commercial.

    Robert Downey, Jr. is always interesting to watch but he loses hands down this time around to Benedict Cumberbatch. I know it's a tad unfair to say so, but in terms of material, this series really is far more superior. Really love this show. As you can see, the original plan was to keep writing about Asian stuff but I made an exception for this series--that's how much I liked it.

    Okay, I should stop gushing now since it might just raise your expectations. Let me know if you're interested in getting a copy, I can mail you one since season 1 can fit in one disc. Shouldn't cost much.

  3. sweet! my aunt has a door to door business. i can send you the payment. that is, if it is ok with you to disclose information about house address, and many more.. but since im holding my money for now, it might take awhile.

    and yes, i dont get the movie. it really sucked! oh! there is a part two i saw from E!news.

    do you have a copy of jdrama chase and gaiji keisatsu or shinya shokudo? written in the heaven sub just release the subs of shinya shokudo.

  4. Sorry for the late reply, jt, was away over the weekend. Yep, I have all the jdramas you mentioned. Chase and Gaiji Keisatsu, I have the 704x396 version, yung Shinya Shokudo 1280x720. Basta email ka na lang if you want to request for something, I'm sure we can agree on an arrangement. :)

  5. Excellent pimp post if there ever was one. I'm so happy you recced this, zooey! I'm even happier that I finally got to watch it!

    I mean, wow. An absolute stroke of genius, this show -- stylish, inventive and super-smart. (Loved the modern touches like the texting and blogging.) Sherlock makes shows like CSI look more soulless than ever, lol. One "obviously" from Benedict Cumberbatch would whup all of David Caruso's remove-shades-stare-off-into-horizon pseudo-sagacious one-liners combined!

    BBC1 took a huge risk by transplanting the well-loved source material and iconic characters into the modern world, but the whole thing worked so bloody well (lol I'm so feeling that Brit accent right now =P) because it's really about staying true to who the characters are than about when they lived or what they wore. And Cumberbatch and Freeman just nailed the characters, they furrreakin' nailed 'em.

    As much as I enjoyed the Guy Ritchie action caper (w/c could've been a much better experience without Rachel McAdams, what was she even doing there @_@) and I enjoyed the chemistry between RDJ and Jude Law (loved how they bickered nonstop like an old married couple), RDJ's portrayal felt too much like his default smart-alecky, insufferably cocky (but hot) bastard role (i.e. Tony Stark or his lawyer character on Ally McBeal). It was Benedict Cumberbatch who really made me sit up and go, "OMG THAT'S HIM, THAT'S SHERLOCK." Watching him go about his sleuthing like a high-functioning autistic, mildly sociopathic weasel-ferret, I was truly convinced that there wasn't anybody like him in the entire world. (Martin Freeman was so adorable Watson!!! And Sherlock saying "Now where would I be without my blogger?" had me replaying the scene while laughing nonstop.)

    Madly anticipating Season 2. Obviously. =P

    p.s. The actor playing Moriarty scared the bejibbers outta me. He obviously did not take notes from the Diether Ocampo School of Acting haahaha

  6. Ooh, I'm so glad you liked it. Ditto to everything you said about how this show is a stroke of genius--and yes! yes! yes!! to it being stylish, inventive and clever.

    The humor was spot on, the banter between John and Sherlock's => pure gold. I kept laughing all throughout episode one and right then I knew I was a goner. I especially loved the scenes where people around John kept assuming how he and Sherlock were in a relationship and I always got a kick out of watching Watson go into the defensive. ("This is not a date. We are not on a date!"; "Of course we'll be needing two bedrooms." LMAO :D)

    Ach, I also liked the supporting characters from Lestrade to Mrs Hudson and Sherlock's bro, Mycroft. I also didn't mind having a younger, loonier Moriarty. It was a nice switch, made me feel like Sherlock was up against someone unpredictable and truly dangerous which just makes it more exciting.

    It was Benedict Cumberbatch who really made me sit up and go, "OMG THAT'S HIM, THAT'S SHERLOCK."

    So true. RDJ was entertaining but he never really made me believe that I was watching Sherlock-SHERLOCK. Benedict Cumberbatch on the other hand really rose up to the challenge and he set the bar high. Oh and I adored Martin Freeman in this as well, he did a mighty fine job and held his own in this series. I might have been wowed by Cumberbatch's Sherlock but I couldn't help but have a soft spot for Freeman's Watson.

    I'm so happy to hear that you liked it as much as I did. This was one of the few shows I saw last year that didn't make me feel like I wasted my time. So yeah, bring on season 2! :)

    lolz on the Diether Ocampo School of Acting.

  7. zooey! THANK YOU for recommending Sherlock!

    I've just finished marathoning Sherlock season 1 and my head is spinning. Please excuse the following incoherent rambling and french... OMG!!! Sherlock is F*@&-ing BRILLIANT! I literally sat at the edge of my seat, eyes glued to the screen and ears tuned in because if I blink or missed a dialogue, I would've missed something important. And was thinking, "I need subtitles/closed caption for this because they speak so damn fast and adding on the British accent, sometimes hard to understand."

    And the dynamic duo! Who is this Cumberbatch? I did not know who he was before Sherlock but goodness, his portrayal is excellent. Wasn't familiar with Freeman either but also decent performance from him. And the two of them together = love! (I mean, I love the pairing.)

    The layered characterization, especially of Sherlock, the well-written cases, intricate details, suspenseful, the dark humor (when S & W were fighting with Gollum in the planetarium... unexpectedly funny)

    Also love Watson's dry sarcasm..

    And surprise of all surprises.. "gay" Jim?! WTF?!

    I'm not familiar with BBC so how does it work? Why is there only a few episodes for its shows? Like Miranda only has 6 eps per season and Sherlock only 3 in season 1? It's not enough! I WANT SEASON 2 NOW! ahhlhdfakhdfkahkhdf

  8. @ doozy - Lol, don't worry I went, "OMG!!! Sherlock is F*@&-ing BRILLIANT!" as well when I first saw it. I was also all eyes and ears watching it because every detail and dialogue was vital to the story.

    And Cumberbatch really is a fine actor. I bet you've seen him before but you just didn't notice him. He was in Atonement, The Other Boleyn Girl and Starter for 10. As E.G. mentioned, he played the creepy red-haired pedophile who got James McAvoy's character in trouble in Atonement. Anyway, the man IS Sherlock, no question about it. :)

    I so love watching Sherlock and Watson together. I also laughed my head off watching the showdown in the planetarium... it was suspenseful, dorky and at the same time so them hehehe. Also can't wait to see more of "gay" Jim. ;)