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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Game is On

*Pics by me.*

I'm pretty much trend-proof. If it's must-see, chances are I haven't seen it. If everyone's buying it, I don't feel compelled to slap down money. I'm a skeptic; I reserve judgment. And when internet photos of Benedict Cumberbatch's dyed-dark, scarf-wearing, collar-flipping Sherlock Holmes started making the rounds on the web, I was, as always skeptical. A new Holmes? I didn't know about that...

If you've read Whatever Remains, you know the title was taken from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quote. Sherlock Holmes - that's where it's at.  I grew up on the PBS reruns of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring the man who is, in my opinion, the definitive Holmes, Jeremy Brett. Anything Sherlock, I loved. It's so smart, so civil, so atmospheric, so British. And then the buzz started up about BBC's new series, their modern retelling of Conan Doyle's classics, simply titled Sherlock.

Could it be as good? I wondered

As it turns out, it's better.

Not because it's newer; not because it's trendier. It's just really great TV, and if you're looking for something new to watch, run yourself out and get the DVDs; they're well worth the cost, because they're the sort of thing you want to watch more than once.

Reasons to love it:

John. In every other incarnation of the series, Sherlock's sidekick was the mustachioed, dignified Dr. Watson. I'm not sure I ever knew what his first name was. But in BBC's version, Watson - played by Martin Freeman - is, while still a doctor back from military duty in Afghanistan, known simply as "John," both to Sherlock, and to the fandom. This is a more complex, more independent Watson, one who very obviously loves Sherlock and is, throughout the series, Sherlock's salvation in a world of humans he would otherwise care nothing about. John is the heart of the show. For viewers, he isn't just the sidekick, but one of two primary characters, one the audience loves and identifies with. Martin Freeman brings him to life like no one has before.

Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a detached, at times emotionless Holmes: brilliant, quirky (to put it mildly), rude, unapologetic, and graceless in every social context. Rather than affected, Sherlock's misunderstanding of social niceties and rituals is a true comprehension gap. He can read everyone like binary computer code, can use human behavior to crack every case, but openly admits to being bored by what he sees as trivial human motivators. He isn't normal, doesn't pretend to be, doesn't want to be. The result is kind of adorable. And it makes his affection and devotion to John all the more special because, in his own words, "[He] doesn't have friends. Only one."

Mrs. Hudson. (Una Stubbs) She loves her boys. This show takes a background character and fleshes her out: Mrs. Hudson has a sketchy past, a strong maternal streak when it comes to Sherlock and John, and this wonderful way of saying "Oh, dear" and insulting you all at once. She's indispensable.

Mycroft. Co-creator and writer Mark Gatiss steps in front of the camera to fill the role of Sherlock's fussy, refined older brother. "He is the British government."

Lestrade. (Rupert Graves) He's not a bumbling idiot in this version, but a competent detective. He's not too proud to admit he needs Sherlock's help - character improvement? Yes.

Molly. (Louise Brealey) The geeky Every Girl who'd do anything for Sherlock. A fandom favorite, she's got a thing for high-functioning sociopaths.

While Moriarty is a splendid villain, I love having a show that you don't want to watch solely for the villain. This isn't an anti-hero show, and that's a pleasant change to what's currently on TV.

The only drawback is the length of each season - only three episodes. But each episode has a runtime of nearly two hours, and is packed with cases, and enough straight-from-the-text Conan Doyle references to keep any Holmes fan happy. It isn't a show that gets talked about at dinner parties in the US, but it should be. It's absolutely worth getting addicted to.

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