Sherlock is My Drug—Masterpiece Mystery Review

In times of stress, I turn to Sherlock Holmes. When I’m in a book-flinging mood where bestsellers are irritating and classics make me want to slit my wrists, Sherlock Holmes is my morphia. I read the stories over and over, each sentence stands alone as a work of art. A nightly chore is the attempt to distract myself from daily stress before I try to sleep, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories get it done.

I’ve watched most of the Sherlock Holmes movies out there and some series were pretty good, such as the one with Jeremy Brett. Others try to cast Holmes in Jack the Ripper scenarios or other plots not in the original stories, and that’s fine with me, but so many of these productions completely miss the essence of Doyle’s character (see The Terrible Things People Do to Sherlock Holmes). Guy Ritchie’s movie Sherlock Holmes was even pretty good, though an absolute fabrication and in Ritchie’s trademark way, too violent.

But nothing has reached me like Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock, originally presented on BBC, then aired on PBS in 2010 and now available on Netflix. They only made 3 episodes and have promised more in the fall. I have always wondered how Sherlock Holmes would translate to 21st century technology—Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who created these new stories, show us how it’s done.

This version of Holmes is thornier. His retorts are more barbed and impatient, but brilliantly delivered. He’s not a blowhard like in some books and movies. He doesn’t brag, he states facts. Physically, he’s tall and thin and handsome in a wraithlike way. I love the closeups of his strange and beautiful visage and its many expressions. Even the music is perfect for the show—not old, not new, but an ethereal air played off and on throughout the show that underscores the horrors being perpetrated without resorting to melodramatic violins or modern rock remixes. It sticks with you when the show ends.

In this series Holmes and Watson are known as Sherlock and John, the way we would informally address people now. John Watson, like the original, is an ex-army doctor fresh from a modern-day tour in Afghanistan. Sherlock has his own website, and John blogs about the cases they solve. Sherlock is a wizard with smartphones and computers, of course he would be. He finds so much information instantly on his smartphone that I wonder if he subscribes to database sites like Lexus Nexus. The viewer sees what he looks for online, and some of it seems as if it would be unavailable to normal users. Snippets of Doyle’s original stories are superbly intermixed—but not expanded upon—and I wonder if the writers almost had to do that because of modern technology. I’m not a purist, I’m much more interested in good writing and characterization so I love what they’ve done.

As Holmes responds to accusations from a local officer that he’s a “psychopath,” he says, “I am not a psychopath, I’m a highly functioning sociopath. Do your research.” And so he is, and we don’t want him to change. Benedict Cumberbatch pulls it off beautifully, and Watson is played sympathetically by Martin Freeman. This Watson is streetwise, depressed, gets irritated with Holmes, but craves the adventure. In this series Lestrade and Sherlock get along well and Lestrade allows Sherlock a lot of freedom. But the very best scenes are the interactions between Sherlock and John alone. They are often mistaken for gay partners, a modern assumption and something naturally never mentioned in the late-Victorian originals, and it’s amusing to see them fend off well-meaning remarks how it’s perfectly OK to be gay.

I love the way Sherlock redeems his brusque personality at the end of each show. He and Watson walk off, trading quips and laughing. I always put the subtitles on so I don’t miss a word, and I’ve watched these three episodes at least five times each. The third episode ends in a cliffhanger as Holmes clashes with a much more sadistic Moriarty than the original, this one comes with bombs, and they’ve promised more episodes in the fall.

I must take utmost care to never watch or listen to an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t want to know him personally because, as in many characters we love, finding out that they’re simply good actors and not much else is a letdown. Let us have our Sherlock and John then. Let them solve their cases with brilliance, wit, and dark humor. It’s all about the writing anyway. Let it wash over me and give me hope that all is not lost.

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15 responses to “Sherlock is My Drug—Masterpiece Mystery Review

  1. Sounds great; I love Sherlock & Watson, and have re-read Conan Doyle’s books over and over. I haven’t always been happy with the way movies and TV shows have portrayed them, especially Watson has been badly portrayed in too many movies, as a not-to-bright companion. I love the way this series portrays both. Thanks for the review.

    • Yes this one is quite different. If you haven’t yet seen them, be sure to use the captions—you don’t want to miss a word of the delicious dialogue!

      One annoying thing about streaming movies through Netflix is the captions are rarely available. Best to rent the discs, at least the first time…I say this because you’ll want to see these again. And again…

  2. Yes!! I love this version. As a Doyle purist I loved the Jeremy Brett series and at first was skeptical of a modern version but the casting is so perfect and the use of technology just right. I hope they continue the series.

    • Tom, this series rocks and if they don’t continue it there are going to be some really disappointed fans. I just read that Martin Freeman, who plays Watson, will be starring as Bilbo in the big-budget Hobbit movie coming up, so wow he’s busy. Damn, this series is much more important!

  3. Debra: I, too, like the Sherlocks, book or film. And I agree about the classics. I can only read so far. Life is pain, but it also has non-pain moments. Some days they are rarer than other days.

    • Jack, I like all the stories except Hound of the Baskervilles—dog stress. I think life is pain for most of the world except for a few lucky people, so reading novels set in tortured times of history and characterized by cruel people and their victims takes a certain healthy frame of mind.

  4. It’s wonderful that you have an outlet that you can depend on. Although I’ve never been a fan of Sherlock Holmes I can understand the attraction to they mystery. Certainly this type of escape is a remedy for the ills of the real world when we most need it. It was fun to see this side of you. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Bill, yes, a sturdy, dependable escape. It’s a combination of the mystery plus the descriptions of both the beauty and the depravity of the time, along with the dialogue of the characters themselves. Something about the original stories is so therapeutic, like a purring kitten. What an amazing writer ACD was. And these new ones—well they are pure hope in a box.

  5. Why does it bother me?

    The new series is being filmed in London as we speak (ok type). I am beyond excited. Even my TV boffin uncle adored this clever reworking of Sherlock. And BC is just the most handsome man. He even surpassed Dominic West and his faux American accent in The Wire, with his turn as Sherlock. I think you might be able to view the new series early if you aren’t adverse to watching stuff online in a sneaky way… ahem…

    • Hello bit torrent! But no subtitles and I miss words or phrases, especially when there are accents. And actors do mumble sometimes. Well I can always watch them again, and again. That’s great news that they’re keeping their promise to continue it. BC is a ghostly beauty but it’s his mind (as Sherlock of course) that I want to wrap myself around. I tried to watch The Wire but couldn’t get into it. Did I miss a Sherlock production somewhere here? I’ll rent it. Do you have Netflix? I’m pretty poor but it’s well worth the $20 a month, it’s my only refuge. Honestly don’t know what I’d do without it. I can’t afford both TV and Netflix, so I went with just Netflix. Much better. TV here sucks.

  6. Why does it bother me?

    If you have seen the three episodes, then you haven’t missed any. As soon as they get released in the UK they will end up on isohunt. I will keep you posted! 😀

    BC is very dry and clever and funny when he is just gadding about. Swoon….

  7. Very convincing adaptation. Proves once again that Doyle had created a time-defying character. I like the improved Watson.

  8. Hi Dhiraj, it’s very, very good and I can’t wait for the new ones. I don’t know how many more times I can watch the first three. I love the improved Watson too, and the way they tied him in to the modern war in Afghanistan.

  9. Just fabulous! We’ve watched several times and catch nuances each time. So clever. The acting is sublime. Irresistible!

    • Agreed! Do you have a favorite episode? Mine is ‘A Study in Pink.’ It has everything I crave—mystery, evil, black humor, wit—all timed perfectly! And thank goodness for those subtitles!

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