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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sherlock: "A Study in Pink"

There’s something absolutely ridiculous about the idea of placing Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century. First and foremost, setting was such an integral part of the Conan Doyle stories, and a big part of that had to do with the time period. Holmes, despite being a fictional character, is perhaps the single person most associated with Victorian England outside Queen Victoria herself.

Sherlock Holmes can’t have the same impact in our times because we live in a world where so much of our fictional characters have been influenced by him. A 21st century Holmes has to get in line behind (to keep this to television) House, Bones, Monk, Castle, Psych, The Mentalist, and countless others. The novelty of Sherlock Holmes was that he used groundbreaking science and rational deduction to solve crimes, which of course everyone knows about today.

That “Sherlock” works at all is a testament to the talents of all involved. That it is, in fact, a supremely entertaining production is nothing short of astonishing. The producers of “Sherlock” incorporated modern life in a way that, while not seamless, didn’t detract from the strength of the characters.

Some of this is due to an interesting coincidence. In the Conan Doyle stories, the first thing Sherlock deduces about Dr. Watson is that he had served in Afghanistan. That’s transposed to the present easily enough, although Holmes admittedly can’t decide whether he was in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The deductions, the way Sherlock can tell so much about a person by observation, which were always my favorite part of any Holmes story, and here they are cleverly written and brilliantly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch delivers a fine Holmes, staying true to the character both as written by Conan Doyle and conceived of for this series. He nails the inconsiderate, arrogant, tortured by boredom nature of the great detective. Cumberbatch also injects some welcome enthusiasm into the part, he is overjoyed to have a problem to solve.

I’ve gone far too long in this review without mentioning the case! A bizarre string of inexplicable suicides appear to be connected despite all being incontrovertibly self-administered. Sherlock is called in by a desperate Inspector Lestrade, despite the loud protests of the rest of his police force, who see Holmes as a perennial potential suspect, mistaking him for a psychopath when, as Holmes himself points out, he’s really more of a sociopath.

I’ve also neglected the performance of Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. It’s a great blend of frustration at his new flatmate’s eccentricities and admiration for his talents. There is also a subtle, playful humor about the character, as witnessed in his increasing objections to the assumption that he and Sherlock are lovers. That bit was a tad off, for the 21st-century, I felt. Clumsy gay jokes just aren’t my thing, though.

The conclusion to the mystery was not some fascinating twist, but it was compelling drama. This is actually more in line with the stories than many people may think. Conan Doyle’s stories were less about puzzling out a mystery than about the adventure inherent in detecting. A Study in Pink is thrilling, inventive and captivating. It’s everything you think of when you think of the character, minus the pipe and cap.

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