Our rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
The world's only consulting detective has been given a new spin in the hands of Steven Moffat, whose season five of the reimagining of the classic British sci-fi series Doctor Who has impressed critics and fans alike. A self-professed "Holmes geek," together with co-producer Mark Gatiss, Moffat brings us an updated, contemporary Holmes and Watson with the original flavor of Doyle's Baker Street... minus the gas lamps.
That simple word haunts Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) during the press conference, appearing on his mobile and the mobile phones of all the journalists simultaneously as he attempts to explain away a series of unusual but suspicious suicides. The source of this narrow-minded correction is none other than Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbach), an enthusiastic and unusual young consulting detective seeking for someone to share the rent with on a flat in Baker Street. A mutual friend introduces him to John Watson (Martin Freeman), recently returned from combat in Afghanistan and suffering from related stress tremors, as well as a limp. Watson isn't sure he wants to share the flat, much less put up with Holmes' shenanigans, but before the night is up, he's been kidnapped and intimidated by an imposing gentleman who offers him a great deal of money to "spy" on Holmes. Indignantly, Watson refuses -- and is immediately caught up in the mystery of a string of deaths that appear to be self-inflicted but are revealed to be far more dastardly than either of them first imagined.
From a severed head in the refrigerator (so saliva samples after time of death can be harvested) to Holmes' uncanny instincts and habitual rudeness, this is Baker Street as the book fans remember it... without hansom cabs. Moffat and Gatiss reveal their familiarity with the stories in charming ways, introducing different situations, borrowed conversations, and twists and turns from more than a dozen of the originals. In each episode are at least a dozen references to individual cases, ranging from "The Musgrave Ritual" to "A Study in Scarlet." Even Watson's limp and eventual war wound discussion is a wink at audiences who love the books since in the stories not even Watson remembers where he was shot (was it in the leg or the shoulder?). To be honest, I wasn't certain this series could pull it off -- in spite of having a leading actor who has won me over before, updating Holmes is a tricky business and could lead to character tampering. I was delighted to discover that this Holmes is very much like Doyle's creation -- arrogant, superior, "bored" without intellectual stimulation, and in his own words, "a high-functioning sociopath." In short, he's the most authentic and true-to-text Holmes you will ever encounter on screen -- even if he does love his laptop.
Cumberbatch is a brilliant Holmes -- with both the physical attributes needed and the intensity required for engaging the audience in a character who is so thrilled with the proposal of tracking down a serial killer that he compares it with Christmas morning. He stalks about in trendy suits and uses his cell phone to do local research and gather weather reports. Watson meanwhile complains about the state of their cluttered flat and occasionally has arguments with the price machines in the supermarket. The actors play off one another very well and have a nice chemistry together; their banter is spot-on and usually quite funny. There are the staple trademark scenes, like Holmes shooting up the wall in their flat out of boredom or feuding with his brother Mycroft, as well as charming original moments that establish a nice camaraderie between the two men. And of course, Moffat cannot resist having a bit of fun at their expense -- in modern London, two men sharing a flat is bound to raise a few eyebrows. Watson on numerous occasions must reinforce the fact that they are not "seeing" each other (even the good-natured Mrs. Hudson is swift to assure him she doesn't judge). When Watson inquires about Holmes' love life, Holmes brushes him off and then backtracks to explain he's "married to his work, wondering if Watson is "interested" (he's not -- and becomes involved with a coworker at a medical clinic).
If the series stumbles a bit, it's in this area -- Holmes is frustrated to learn in one instance he was correct in all his theories, but that a man is in fact a woman (implying Watson's sister is a lesbian). He theorizes on the affair a policeman is having with a work associate in veiled terms (if you follow the train of thought, it's vulgar). Bystanders wonder if he and Watson are a couple and in a restaurant, someone offers to make it "more romantic" for them by adding a candle to the table. In the final episode, a suspect has a gay live-in lover -- the two of them are rather flamboyant. Holmes also informs a coworker at the morgue that she should dump her boyfriend, since the man is "obviously gay" -- and has left Holmes his number. Other than that, the content is minimal. A handful of British profanities and insults are thrown into the mix ("bloody" and "buggar" are used a few times), but there is one muffled abuse of Jesus' name. The crime scenes are never particularly gruesome (we see a minimal amount of blood) but we do see the back of a severed head, and a policeman holds up a jar with eyeballs in it -- which have been microwaved. Holmes and Watson are attacked and/or threatened a number of times (Holmes is nearly strangled); an explosion takes out half a city block, and it's implied that another has killed someone.
For fans wondering how long it will take Moriarty to show up -- shadows of him appear in the first episode, and in the third we meet him in person -- leading to a confrontation that in turn ends with a cliffhanger. This may prove somewhat frustrating, but also makes the audience eager for more -- and the BBC is going to oblige us. Personally, I can hardly wait.