Day One Hundred & Thirty

09 May

Happy Wednesday! Today I want to talk about Sherlock Holmes.

Over the weekend, the BBC finally blessed us poor Yanks with the first installment of the second season of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

At this point I’m going to assume you’ve seen the three episodes of the first season, or that you don’t mind being spoiled to those episodes. I won’t give spoilers for the latest episodes without clearly marking them, but to talk about them at all requires having seen the first series.

The first episode of the second season, “A Scandal in Belgravia”, begins exactly where the third episode of the first season left off: Holmes locked in a modern version of a quick-draw duel with his arch-nemesis Moriarty. Holmes has a gun trained on a bomb (that he has just removed from Dr. Watson) that lays at Moriarty’s feet; Moriarty has sharp-shooters with their guns trained on Holmes and Watson. If Holmes shoots, half of the building and anyone in close proximity will be blown to bits. If the bomb blast doesn’t kill them, the sharp-shooters will. The tension mounts. The pace of the music quickens, the dissonant chords twisting the anxiety higher and higher as we look deep into Holmes’s then Moriarty’s eyes, neither flinching, neither blinking, until… Someone’s phone rings in the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gee’s.

There is so much to love about this series, it’s hard to know where to start. It is obvious from the start that co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss understand and respect the original stories as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them. They acknowledge the origins with a tip of the hat and a unique flare of weaving elements of the original mysteries into the updated versions.

In the stories, Dr. Watson narrates Holmes’s adventures after the fact. In the show, he keeps a blog. Case names become blog titles; “The Greek Interpreter” becomes “The Geek Interpreter”.

In the stories, Watson is wounded (in either the leg or the shoulder. Doyle himself couldn’t keep track of which) in Afghanistan. How sad that circumstances allow for that little detail to remain the same.

Even common myth about this amazing character is included. In “A Scandal in Belgravia” Moffat gives a wink to the so-called Sherlock Hat, otherwise known as a Deerstalker, a traveling cap that Holmes wore exactly twice in the more than fifty stories about his adventures.

The dialogue is quick and witty, as we’ve come to expect from Moffat. He makes it obvious that Watson and Holmes are close friends, using quips and in-jokes rather than more overt gestures. Some of my favorite lines are from Watson or between Watson and Holmes:

Watson walks into an opulently decorated room, finds Holmes sitting on a couch dressed only in a sheet.
Watson: “Are you wearing any pants?”
Holmes: No.
Watson: Okay.
And they both giggle like school-girls.

(That scene is funnier for the Brits and the Americans that know that Brits call underwear “pants”.)

Holmes asks Watson to punch him in the face. Watson obliges, which begins a scuffle.
Holmes: “Okay. I think we’re done now, John.”
Watson: “You want to remember, Sherlock, I was a soldier. I killed people.”
Holmes: “You were a doctor!”
Watson: “I had bad days!”

Watson, to kill a moment of tension: “Hamish. John Hamish Watson, just if you were looking for baby names.”

I cannot recommend this show enough. It is some of the best television I’ve seen in years. It’s the best adaptation of classic text I’ve seen since Peter Jackson got hold of Lord of the Rings. I admit I wasn’t as excited as some to see this second season, but now I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Americans, you can catch Sherlock on you local Public Broadcasting Station. Look carefully, as it might be listed as Masterpiece Mystery.

{Beware! What follows are the spoilery bits! You’ve been warned!}

Raise your hand if you figured out the passcode before Sherlock. I knew it when she was in their apartment, right about the same time as the “Hamish” line.

Easily my favorite scene is the one in Buckingham Palace, and not for the obvious reason. (Although, mostly naked Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t terrible to look at. Love me some pale, skinny, British boys.) Holmes goes from acting like a petulant child to his normal brilliant detective self in the space of minutes.

The acting in this scene by both Cumberbatch and Freeman is amazing. They fully commit to their characters; they aren’t just saying lines. Freeman’s posture changes – if he’s only acting opposite Cumberbatch, he’s relaxed, casual, his movements are loose and easy; if he’s acting opposite Cumberbatch and another, his movements are sharper, his posture straighter. This is a choice he’s made for the character. With Holmes, Watson doesn’t have to keep up appearances or put on airs. Holmes is his best friend, and can see through any affectation he attempts.

Cumberbatch is no different. Watch the scene in Buckingham Palace again. When Watson comes in and finds him sitting there in only his bedsheet, he’s tapping his toes on the carpet. It’s a move that makes perfect sense for the character – he’s bored, he’s been taken from a case, and he doesn’t know what’s going on.

Confession time. Normally, I’m pretty good about picking up the differences between American English and British English. I’ve watched enough BBC America to know most of the slang, idioms, what have you. But one thing threw me in this episode, and I didn’t “get it” until I watched it again with the captions on.

About thirty minutes in there’s a scene with Holmes, Watson, Holmes’s brother Mycroft, and Mrs. Hudson. It’s the scene when Watson hears Irene Adler’s text alert tone for the first time. As Mycroft is leaving, he tells Sherlock that he has to go apologize to an old friend. Sherlock answers: “Do give her my love” and pick up his violin. The tune he plays is “God Save The Queen”, which is to let you know who Mycroft is apologizing to. Except to Americans, the tune is “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”. I had no idea what that tune had to do with Mycroft’s apology. I figured they were talking about the Queen, but the song reference was lost on me. Shameful. Please don’t judge me.

{End of the spoilery bits! You may proceed!}

What do you think of this adaptation? Love it? Hate it? What’s your favorite moment so far? Let me know in the comments. Please use spoiler warnings! And as always, don’t forget to be awesome.

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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Reviews


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