by Deborah Harter Williams
Starting its second season May 6 (PBS) is the BBC’s Sherlock. The three new episodes will be reworks of the classics: “A Scandal in Bohemia” (Irene Adler with nudity and laptops), “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (a 20 year disappearance…a monstrous hound…I wouldn’t have missed this for the world) and “The Final Problem.”
The first season garnered widespread acclaim and a BAFTA award for Best Drama. It delivered just enough in-jokes for the aficionados and enough action adventure for someone new to the characters. The addition of airplanes, cell phones, GPS and computers is accomplished in a way that is both appropriate and quirky.
The team that put together the series honed their chops on the revival of Dr. Who.(Sue Vertue producer, Steven Moffat writer and Mark Gatiss writer and actor). In fact it was while commuting from London to Cardiff during shooting for Who, that Moffat and Gatiss re-conceived Sherlock Holmes as a contemporary character. Much of the writing and directing team also had Who experience. Vertue and Moffat are husband and wife and creators of the show Couplings (based on their own lives). Gatiss also plays the part of James Moriarty.
Benedict Cumberbatch (Warhorse, Hawking, Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy) is a brilliant Sherlock, boyishly petulant and surly when bored but sizzling with intensity when on the case. The way he flings his lanky body around seems destined to break the furniture. He can also be languid and lazy in a way that communicates the importance of using his energy for more important things. Once he starts moving he is hard to keep up with.
This Sherlock is fervid yet focused, oblivious to other’s feelings but hyper-aware of the all-important details and appropriately exasperating on many levels. He orders people about, has no patience and would rather borrow a cell phone (he prefers to text) than get up and cross the room for his own. When called a psychopath he rejoins, “I’m a high functioning sociopath, do your research.”
Martin Freeman (The Office, Love Actually, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is Watson recently “invalided” home from war in Afghanistan, just as his forbearer. It adds a particular poignancy to realize that wars in Afghanistan are ongoing, painful and never won. This Watson is struggling with re-entry and misses the war as much as hates it. That his injury moves around and sometimes disappears suggests that it is more psychological than physical. Just what he needs is the distraction of a demanding, engaging and exasperating partner in crime. Sherlock senses this and plays to it by offering, “…dead body, gore, etc.–do you want to come?” Watson replies that he’s seen enough of that, and then jumps up to follow Sherlock out the door.
In an upcoming episode, Sherlock orders Watson to punch him in the face. When his friend does not immediately comply he snaps at him, “I said punch me in the face, didn’t you hear me?” To which Watson replies dryly, “I always hear punch me in the face when you’re speaking but usually it’s subtext.”The writer’s have said that one of their themes for the series was “friendship” and promise an arc that reveals an evolving relationship between the two.
The cinematography is both elegant and compelling. This is not just an armchair Holmes. One of our first peeks at Sherlock in the first season comes from the point of view of a corpse in a body bag. The use of unusual angles and POVs mirrors Sherlock’s ability to look everywhere and in different ways. This is a very visual retelling of the canon with strong pictorial clues replacing the traditional fingers-steepled narrative. Cinematic, cerebral, clever and compelling–I can hardly wait for the next three episodes. ‘The game is afoot.’