The PBS/BBC Masterpiece Mystery this month is “Sherlock” which has Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson—along with supporting characters Inspector Lestrade and landlady Mrs. Hudson—operating in modern day London.
The show is simply ingenious– true enough to the character for purists and modern enough to attract a new younger audience—from the team that did much the same for geek cult favorite, Dr. Who.
But most surprisingly from something that is brought to you from both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the notoriously left-wing BBC, “Sherlock” takes a completely un-PC view of our current war and gun control laws—mainly from the point of view of Martin (BBC’s “The Office”) Freeman’s Dr. Watson.
In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original, Dr. Watson is Holmes’s gun-toting assistant, a battle-hardened veteran of campaigns in India. The very first scene of the “Sherlock pilot,” A Study in Pink, showed Watson restlessly dreaming of battle. The audience is invited to assume the limping and wounded vet has PTSD.
But as Holmes quickly deduces in his first meeting with Watson, as Lestrade comes to the apartment to enlist Holmes’s help in a mysterious series of “suicides,” Watson is haunted by his time in Afghanistan, but not in the way the media usually portrays (but one very common to actual professional combat soldiers.)
Holmes: You’re a doctor, an army doctor. Any good?
Watson: Very good.
Holmes: Seen a lot of injuries then. Violent deaths. A bit of trouble too, I’d bet.
Watson: Yes. Enough to last a lifetime. Far too much.
Holmes: Want to see some more?
Watson: Oh, God yes!
Watson also takes a dim view of London’s gun control laws, but this is far too pivotal a point in A Study in Pink to reveal here, spoiler alert or not.
Not that “Sherlock” doesn’t bow to some modern realities. Holmes no longer smokes a pipe to concentrate, he piles on the nicotine patches. (The problem in A Study in Pink is a three patcher.) ”It’s impossible to maintain a smoking habit in today’s London,” he grouses.
As Tim in “The Office,” reacting to Ricky Gervais’ David Blaine (American audiences should think, Jim to Michael Scott), Martin Freeman perfected the reaction shots to the social misfit. His Watson shows amazement—both complimentary and not so– at the whirlwind of social indifference and deductive brilliance that is Sherlock Holmes, played wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Holmes: Mrs. Hudson the landlady is giving me a special deal. She owes me a favor. A few years back her husband got himself sentenced to death in Florida. I was able to help out.
Watson: So, you stopped her husband from being executed.
Holmes: Oh, no. I ensured it.
“Sherlock” is a simply brilliant update on a classic. This has been tried many times before, and rarely, if ever, as successfully. This blows the overstuffed Robert Downey/Jude Law “Sherlock Holmes” out of the water. And with dialog like the above, and a willingness to turn PC convention it its head, it should be a huge hit with viewers.
It’s almost enough to forgive the CPB for Juan Williams… almost.