It is an interesting phenomenon to have two very different presentations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his trusty sidekick John Watson on the telly at the same time. This is only possible really because one is a BBC production which gets farmed to the U.S. a season late by way of PBS, and one is the brainchild or the brain trust at CBS. When you throw in Robert Downey Jr’s. movie Sherlocks the visual arts are virtually buzzing with Sherlock possibilities. And indeed they are all different, very different. This particular review will focus on ‘Sherlock’ rather than the movies or the American TV series ‘Elementary’.
The basic conceit of the ‘Sherlock’ series is that various of the original Conan Doyle stories will be updated and postdated into the present. Thus the original stories are taken and modified to suit a contemporary ethos. Undoubtedly, many purists will not be happy with such tampering with the original tales. One wonders what Jeremy Brett would have said as well. The other element in this on again, off again series, is that we have precious few episodes, but each episode is done like a mini-movie, of 90 or more minutes. Thus we have run through three seasons, and the last two have had exactly three episodes each.
Let it be said that the acting Of Cumberbatch and Freeman is terrific, if too sporadic to keep ‘Sherlock’ regularly before us, because they are too busy with work for the silver screen. And now the word is, it may be two years before there are any more episodes. Let it also be said that the cinematography and special effects are terrific as well. But quite frankly, some of the adaptations don’t work so well, and the stories themselves stretch credulity past the breaking point at times.
Even within a certain genre of story telling like this, there needs to be an air of believability, that is sometimes lacking in this show. For this third season’s three episodes, the first episode, ‘The Empty Hearse’ is really the winner of the three, but the tale set during John Watson’s wedding to Mary Morestan really does become something out of theater of the absurd, especially during the speech-making at the wedding reception. In the hands of lesser actors, this episode would have turned into a farce, and as it is, one wants to say—-Really? Really? I don’t think Conan Doyle would have been happy. The final episode of the season, a modification of the Charles Milverton story does present us with a creepy villain, and provides Sherlock with a real challenge, but still it could have been more. Lestrade in this third season is a pale shadow of the Lestrade in the original stories, or even in the first season of ‘Sherlock’ and hardly provides a foil for the great detective here.
For my money, the series ‘Elementary’ which provides us with all original stories set in NY instead of London is the more steady and reliable, not to mention believable, series. While Jonny Miller and Lucy Lieu may not be quite a match for Mssrs. Cumberbatch and Freeman, they are plenty good enough, and have already provided us with lots of 43 minute episodes week after week. Of course each series should be evaluated on its own merits, and within its own evident goals. We are fortunate to have two quality series on Sherlock. One can hope that at some point the BBC will have enough revenue and time to do a larger number of episodes in a season.