Monday, June 27, 2011

Recommended: Netflix has BBCs Sherlock

Netflix Instant Streaming continues to earn the worship it receives: they've added the excellent BBC series, "Sherlock." It sounds trite and silly to tout a modern-day update to a well-loved character (franchise, anyone?), but they put the effort to make it work.

For one thing, the modern touches are all right. Cells and the 'net are perfect for Sherlock, and he uses both to a tee. The excellent everyman Martin Freeman is solid as the new John Watson, medical soldier returned from Afghanistan with some PTSD. The modern-day police force is no longer bumbling, either - they're just overworked blokes who don't suffer from Mr. Holmes' genius.

Naturally, the linchpin will always be Sherlock himself - the BBC found a very able actor in Benedict Cumberbatch. Good lord, it's a name so preposterous that he probably related to the character since childhood. He embodies the freakish contrasts that make up the most famous PI in English fiction.

At one time, the part has to be capable of being dense despite his intellect. He must be smart enough to explain his conclusions and sound like an expert and yet still get jammed up and/or require help. And despite Holmes' personality flaws, he has to be able to act like a whole different person when a case requires it.

It's a lot to require of a role, and if it's not performed or written properly, the world's best detective comes off too much like a godly figure who's never in any real danger. It's done well, here.

"Sherlock" first came to my attention when PBS aired it last year. It got a lot of buzz, stateside. The series had already concluded in the UK, and reviewers and tv watchers alike waited with anticipation, which was satisfied in spades.

The London in the show feels very real enough, as do most of the characters. The 4.5 hours of show on display give us contain rich antagonists and neat mysteries while developing our two leads and the people they interact with regularly. The bad guys feel appropriate to both the Doyle's stories and to the modern age - they do a great job of keeping our hero in peril...

I'm especially impressed by the opening episode, "A Study in Pink." As the first entry, it has to establish the characters and their modern twists, as well as constructing an interesting story to lure viewers in to the series. It succeeds quite nicely, even if there are too many moments where people say something like, "That's you two!" "Whatever do you mean?" "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor James Watson, that's you too!" Also, a cockney guy screams, "Mo-ri-ar-tyy!"

Moments like these are groaners, but they're not so frequent to be painful.

It's a little surprising...  BBC series are known for going 7-10 episodes per season, and in a lot of ways, Sherlock is just 3 tv-movies. It's not as if that's style rare in British broadcasting, either, but this is tauted as "a show." The producers put in a lot of work with multiple tie-in websites, especially Holmes' own supposed site, "The Science of Deduction." I'd prefer it if they could lock in the leads for longer weekly run.

A similar, yet different, interview. Which take do you prefer?

The timing of this Instant release is nice, as the second season began filming last month. It will hopefully come out in the UK in the next half-year, and will (again hopefully) air in the US soon after.

There are a few criticisms to point out: it's simply too short; the series is so fun and engrossing that it's hard to be satisfied with just under 4 & 1/2 hours of material. As with so many UK shows, the actors and writers manage to pack a lot of development and character into the short space - god, I wish the US could follow suit. Still, the relative brevity of the offerings does lead to some natural disappointment.

Also, Cumberbatch, though he makes for a great Holmes, seems so young. This super-intellectual is already involved in helping Scotland Yard solve crimes and he has a network of homeless informers? That all seems a bit much for a guy who looks 27, tops. Really, if Benedict were acting in the US, he'd be playing high school kids all the time.

Another issue is the very dark sentiment at play - the US has a whole lot of murders, and a high crime rate overall. I'm torn between it being a big aspect of the culture, or something that its media turns to so often. Going by tv and film, people in America are dropping like flies. So this modern this series, you get a shockingly high body count. and a murderer may be killed rather than face justice. Both of those elements seem more American than British.

No matter what, the final episode is an amazing treat for anyone who likes mysteries, suspense, or the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. Even if what I've described sounds like it's not up your alley, I strongly suggest you check it out.

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