SHERLOCK HOLMES An Air of the Mediocre


I saw most of the first season of SHERLOCK! on BBC America-- and by first season I mean THREE episodes.  The Brit's don't do TV like we do.

SHERLOCK is a modern take on the Arthur Conan Doyle character who is second only to DRACULA in film and television appearances and remains one of the most popular and enduring creations of 19th Century literature.

I am one of those Baker Street Regulars who believes Holmes is a contemporary man-- meaning that you can pull him out of 1899 and put him in 1942 and it still works--this new version puts him in modern day London.   Universal did it when they took over the Basil Rathbone series from 20th  Century Fox in the 40s after two very successful period pieces by the earlier studio-- THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939).  The first was adapted from the William Gillette Stage Play and the second from one of the most popular of Conan Doyle's books.

I enjoy both of them very much, and continued to enjoy the series when it was set in WWII London, which to me is an extremely interesting time and proof positive that the Brit's have an iron will and are a people whom I respect greatly because of it.

Holmes has had some lousy versions over the years-- the series in the 1950s with Ronald Howard was virtually unwatchable, but he's had some real knock 'em out of the park adaptions as well.

NO ONE has come close to capturing Holmes the way Jeremy Bret did in a series of episodes in the 1980s in various Granada television series shown in the US under the Mystery title-- they were virtual adaptions of the classic Holmes stories and Bret captured the charm and the eccentricities of the great detective in a way unseen since.

Basil Rathbone would be my second pick, and I enjoy the character as played by Christopher Plummer in 1979 and Peter Cushing in 1959 who would both tie for third.

Now the new series;
Benny Cumberbatch is Holmes, and he almost gets it.  He's nearly unlikeable but he knows he's unlikeable and thats where he looses Holmes for me.  The 'real' Sherlock doesn't understand why his unrelenting personality drives away all but Watson, Inspector Lestrade and Mrs Hudson from his close circle of friends.  They're playing the pity card on Holmes here, in the episode which 'adapted' Hound of the Baskervilles complete with bad CGI hound Holmes nearly broke into tears when he explained why he had no friends.  Maybe that plays to the generation raised on Richard Crenna as tough cop turned male rape victim in a host of LIFETIME movies but not here for me.

The show also features art direction and cinematography obviously derived from video games where messages a character is thinking might appear above their heads or other such distracting nonsense.  It's the age old style over substance problem and I say again any film maker who puts his chips in the CGI Basket is going to go down in history with the film makers of the 50s who banked on 3D as the new technology for film.

The chemistry between Cumbie's Holmes and Martin (The British Office) Freeman's John Watson is realistic and on target-- gone is the bumbling depiction of Watson many people know from the Rathbone films which was never the case with the books.  Watson on his own would have been considered a brilliant capable man-- indeed probably on the level of an Indiana Jones, but next to the nearly super powered Holmes he seems average at best.

And Average at Best is the biggest disappointment to this series.  I fear we've become so accustomed to BAD being the norm for entertainment that when something mediocre comes along, like SHERLOCK or THE DESCENDANTS we throw ourselves on the ground and worship it as a gift from above.  As a show, it's on par with DOCTOR WHO-- and if you dig that then you'll dig this (same producers), but if you're looking for the real Sherlock Holmes-- this ain't it (and neither is Robert Downey Jr).

Sorry Benny.