By Jessica Zafra
SHERLOCK fans are among the most patient fans on earth, and they have to be. Since the BBC series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss premiered in 2010, there have been exactly nine episodes, 10 if you count the one-off holiday special that aired last week. The fans have used the time between episodes to create endless tumblr pages and memes featuring Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Check out the one demonstrating his resemblance to an otter) and Martin Freeman, write fan fiction about Holmes and Watson, organize a worldwide army (Cumberbitches), and report on every move made by Cumberbatch and Freeman. I would probably not stalk the Cumberbatch, but I might consider replacing my library if he were to record all the volumes as audiobooks.
Ironically, the fandom is partly responsible for the long wait between episodes. They have made its stars so famous and in-demand that coordinating their schedules for filming has become difficult. When the show began, they were well-regarded character actors in the “Hey, it’s that guy” category. Freeman was recognizable from the original The Office, but did you notice that Cumberbatch had a short but very significant role in Atonement? Now they are headliners with blockbusters, Emmy Awards and Oscar nominations between them. Freeman was The Hobbit, Cumberbatch is now Marvel’s Dr. Strange. As for the showrunners, Moffat also oversees Dr. Who, and Gatiss, who plays Mycroft Holmes, is a busy actor and author. When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited China in 2013, fans asked him to tell the Sherlock crew to work more quickly. A fourth season will air in 2017, and Gatiss has said that they’ve developed plots for a fifth.
Stop wasting space and tell us about the holiday special!
I’m dying to tell you about the special episode “The Abominable Bride,” but I know that divulging spoilers would result in a literal death — mine. All I can say is that it’s partly set in the Victorian London of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and Watson has a thick moustache. The Internet fantasy of Tom Hiddleston appearing as a third Holmes brother was not fulfilled in this one, but there’s always next year. “The Abominable Bride” is clever, diabolically entertaining and often hilarious, full of the stuff that has made Sherlock a global phenomenon.
Why does Sherlock work? After having been portrayed by more than 70 actors in 200 films, you’d think it was time for the character to retire. Here’s some perspective: Jose Rizal read Arthur Conan Doyle. Why are we hooked on this Sherlock?
First, there’s the approach taken by Moffat and Gatiss: a shrewd combination of reverence and irreverence. The basic premise is faithful to the Conan Doyle stories: pipe-smoking, deerstalker-wearing genius detective, writer returning from military service in Afghanistan, 221B Baker Street, Scotland Yard. These elements are smoothly reinterpreted in 21st-century vernacular. The detective is still a prodigy, but antisocial and aspergetic (Thanks to Dr. Cuanang the famed neurologist for correcting my frequent use of “Aspergery”). He is extremely knowledgeable about some subjects, such as types of tobacco ash, and appallingly ignorant about others, such as astronomy. Instead of a pipe he uses nicotine patches, and the hat was grabbed at random for disguise. The writer now has a blog, which he started as therapy after he returned from military service in Afghanistan (site of an apparently endless war). They live at the same address, in rooms rented from Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), and work with Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves).
So far, so faithful. Now add liberal doses of humor. Sherlock is amazingly brilliant, but we’re allowed to laugh at his cluelessness and hubris. Many adaptations portray Watson as little more than a factotum marveling at the detective’s brain power, but here he is our stand-in, who lets us experience the thrill of being around such an intelligence, and the exasperation of being treated as an inferior. He’s also Sherlock’s conscience, calling out the detective when he oversteps the bounds of ethical behavior. If it weren’t for Watson, this Sherlock would be insufferable. Even Sherlock acknowledges this, leading up to the lovely best man speech that was the high point of the underwhelming third season. True to the character, Sherlock had to ask the guests why they were weeping afterwards.
As for the cases themselves, they contain cheeky references to the stories — “A Study in Scarlet” becomes “A Study in Pink,” “A Scandal in Bohemia” is transposed into “A Scandal in Belgravia,” and “The Reichenbach Fall” minus the waterfalls features the most-discussed fall in recent history. Moriarty! Andrew Scott’s portrayal of the arch-villain is consistently over-the-top, but oddly right for this version.
Current technology poses problems for movies and TV: with text, Google, GPS and apps, there’s so much less reason for the characters to be rushing around and even less excuse for them to be uninformed. Sherlock’s writers deftly avoid those issues while incorporating technology into the plot. When a text arrives on someone’s phone, the words are superimposed on the screen so no one has to read it to us. Superimposed text also lets us follow Sherlock’s deductions (hair on trousers, ergo three small dogs) so he doesn’t have to explain them to us. And remember Sherlock’s attempts to crack The Woman’s password?
The show can be frantic, with a flood of text and dialogue hurtling at us, that nerve-wracking da-da-da-da-DA da-da-da-da-DA, and the shrieking violins, but there is a point to this agitation. This is the landscape inside Sherlock’s head: synapses firing, masses of information screaming to be processed, and then bang! The solution.
My health would be at risk if I did not cite the acting. The leads not only embody their roles perfectly, but have the kind of chemistry that rom-coms dream of (and slash fiction explores). In the showier role, Cumberbatch achieves the feat of being pompous yet endearing. We are convinced that whatever is going on in Sherlock’s “mind palace” is so much more fascinating than anything outside it. I’m looking forward to Dr. Strange, if only to see him cast spells using his long extraterrestrial fingers. As the decent, dependable everyman Watson, Freeman anchors this eccentric show in reality.
Sherlock is the story of the friendship between a man who views the world as a concept and a man who actually lives in it. Other people try to come between them — Moriarty, Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington). Of the three Mary has posed the greatest danger — she upset the balance, as we can see in the messy third season, and all she did was marry Watson. In “The Abominable Bride” the writers address the issue directly, which makes me think that the show is back on track and the fourth season will be scintillating. It’s only 52 weeks away, and we have so much TV until then.
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