Sunday, September 26, 2010


As many of the interesting TV shows I've watched over the years were produced in the UK (The Avengers, The Champions, Desperate Romantics, Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I Claudius, Lark Rise to Candleford, Life on Mars, Merlin, Murder Rooms, Primeval, Red Dwarf, Robin Hood, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Sherlock Holmes (with Jeremy Brett), Space: 1999, Thunderbirds, Torchwood, UFO, Upstairs Downstairs, just to name a few), I have developped a special appreciation for British series (and I'll definitely write an article on that subject when I have the time). So, when I heard that the BBC was planning a modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, I was already intrigued. When I realized that it would be co-created by Steven Moffat (who's now the lead writer for Doctor Who), I was really interested and determined to check on this new series.

Simply titled “Sherlock”, the series is a piece of very clever writing. The first episode, titled "Study in Pink", is probably the best. It is obviously based on the original story "A study in scarlet". The character of Watson is introduced in a manner that is superbly similar to the original: he is a recently discharged soldier back from a tour in Afghanistan where he injured his leg (although Sherlock diagnosed his limping as psychosomatic). In the original, Sherlock also deducts lots of information on Watson family background by looking at his pocket watch. Here, he does the same by looking at his cellphone! In the first episode the parallel between the clever adaptation and the original story is more easily drawn. In the subsequent episodes (titled "The Blind Banker" and "The Great Game", respectively inspired by “The dancing men” and “The Bruce-Partington plans” amongst others) the story is increasingly complex and the parallel less obvious. Unfortunately, this complexity and the fast pace of the storytelling make the series a little too hard to follow for the people who prefer more simple and quiet stories. It really gets worse with the third episode, as if they wanted to cram too many elements in the 90-minute broadcast show.

Despite the fact that Holmes uses the latest of technology to solve crimes, the modern adaptation is, in many aspects, more respectful of the spirit of the character than Guy Ritchie's recent movie. It is exactly the same type of adventures as written by Doyle, but played in fast forward for the attention-deficit plagued video-game generation. In his crazy way, Sherlock (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) almost feels and speaks like The Doctor in “Doctor Who” (no wonder there considering Moffat's involvement). There's quite some good acting in that part. And, having watched the entire Granada Television series, I can certainly say the adaptation is brilliant in its every details: Watson writing a blog, Holmes using nicotine patches instead of smoking and shooting heroin, etc.

My main disappointment was that only three episodes were broadcasted on the BBC in late July and August 2010 (they are due to air on PBS in the USA from October 24th 2010). There will be a new series in Fall next years, but unfortunately it will be again only three 90-minute episodes.

Another disappointment is that Moriarty is way too present in the story. I guess the general public perception of Holmes stories is probably at fault here: since Moriarty is Holmes archenemy, people imagine he must occupy a large place in the original stories whereas he appears only in a few episodes. Interestingly, the modern adaptation ends in a way quite similar as in the first Sherlock Holmes book: rather than letting his enemy go, Sherlock doesn't hesitate to die with him. In the original story, he jumps (or falls) into a waterfall with Moriarty. In the modern version, it is suggested that he will blow a bomb to kill Moriarty as well as himself (and Watson). Will he really die? We'll see in the second season, I guess.

A clever and intellectually challenging tv drama. It is quite promising. I can't wait for more. It is already available on DVD in the UK and the North American release will be in November. It would also be a good occasion to read (or re-read or read about) the original stories.

No comments: