Fans of Guy Ritchie’s 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, still have a week to wait until the much-anticipated sequel “A Game of Shadows” hits theaters. But if you’re looking for something to tide you over, I’d highly recommend the BBC’s imaginative, modern update on the Sherlock Holmes story called “Sherlock” (2010).
The three-part miniseries re-envisions the famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes as a modern-day private investigator living in London. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) become unlikely friends and work together to solve several cases.
I’ll admit, I was initially skeptical about the concept. I’m always a little nervous whenever someone announces they want to make a modern update of a literary classic. Often a book’s historical setting is part of its magic, and it’s as much a part of the story as the characters. It’s for this reason I’ve never watched “Clueless,” a modern update of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” The historical English setting of Austen’s novels — and the social customs and contexts that come with it — defines the stories she tells.
But when I was on vacation in London last summer, “Sherlock” happened to be playing on one of the channels, and I caught the end of the first episode. And it wasn’t long before I was hooked.
“Sherlock” succeeds because while it updates the setting from Victorian England to modern times, it gets the portrayals of the characters right. Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Freeman’s Watson behave just as you’d expect Holmes and Watson to behave if they were transported to London in 2010. Holmes’ tools of investigation may be more modern — laptops, cell phones, etc. — but he’s still the same brilliant and eccentric crime-solving mastermind that readers have come to love through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective tales.
The show is clever and witty, and while it perhaps takes a few cues from Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” film, it portrays its own version of the Holmes stories. The cases themselves are interesting — a series of apparent serial suicides that may not be suicides after all; a mysterious Chinese crime ring known as the “Black Lotus”; and, of course, an encounter with Holmes’ most famous opponent, “Moriarty” — but the real draw of the show is the characters. Holmes may be one of the most famous narcissists in literature, but his friendship with Dr. Watson (who in this version of the story is an army doctor recently returned from Afghanistan) is genuine. Cumberbatch and Freeman were perfect choices for their roles, and they interact well together.
The show has a great cliffhanger ending, and I’ve anxiously been awaiting the second season. It’s premiering in Britain in January 2012, and also will air on PBS in May.