Tag Archives: Television

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.

Battlestar Galactica, or, Who’d You Rather?

We’re behind the times with television. We have one, but gave up cable three years ago because it isn’t worth the expense.

Battlestar Galactica was on from 2004 to 2009. We rented the discs and watched it all at once. Between the cliffhangers, the commercials, and the long waits between seasons, it’s the best way. I’m also a big fan of captions and the ability to rewind.

We became addicted immediately. As far as who I’d rather, well, any of them except Baltar or Tigh. The dialogue is lean, the people real. The Cylons, a race of machines who develop human form, destroy the human planet Caprica and its colonies just as Battlestar Galactica is about to be shelved as a museum. The people on Galactica, a few survivors that managed to flee onto ships, and some civilian ships were spared because they were in already space.

The 50,000 humans left alive are now at war with the Cylons and face extinction. As each key character’s personality is revealed, you begin to respect them as soldiers and officers, especially the ubersexy Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos), whose word is law.

BSG was gritty and raw, unlike any other science fiction show such as Star Trek. I expected a show about spaceships, but got a show about people facing death on a daily basis who happen to be on spaceships. It captured the best and worst of humanity. They smoked, drank, and swore constantly (“frak” was their substitute for “fuck”). They were unwashed, had meltdowns, made mistakes, but above all they were soldiers with hearts. As more humans were wiped out, the pressure to train new pilots and other personnel was critical, and those were my favorite seasons. Each episode brought gutsy drama, sex, death, murder, executions, suicides, and destruction.

Their mission was to find Earth, revealed to them in “prophecies” as their future new home, while dealing with infighting, shortages, and traitors. The suspense was delicious, and key personalities stayed in character.

As the show progressed it began to lose focus. Toward the last few seasons, it got too surreal and confusing. Just because a drama is sci-fi doesn’t mean it should become unbelievable. It became a jumble of visions, flashbacks, and unanswered mysteries. There was much evangelical talk of god among the Cylons in an inexplicable way that I still do not understand.

The ending of the series caused controversy among many fans. I did not like it, and watched the final episode with disappointment. I don’t like loose ends. They do find a habitable planet, but we didn’t need to see them arrive there, destroy their own remaining ships, decide not to build a new city, and become hunters and gatherers in what appeared to be early Africa. The mystery of Kara Thrace was never explained, she simply disappeared. The final scene is 150,000 years later as Baltar and his Cylon lover walk through the streets of a thriving city, mumbling disapproval of what it had become. It never explained who Baltar and his lover really were.

I think the series should have ended when they knew they’d found a new home, and everybody’s cheering. There was no need to add the superfluous final episode. But as a whole it was damn good.