Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review of Sherlock

The second season (each one has been only three episodes long, so they’re more like autumn in Lapland than any of the four seasons most of us are used to) of the BBC series Sherlock has just ended, with the show getting generally good reviews, bordering on the rave in some quarters.

Starring the man with the most unlikely name in acting since Arnie burst onto the scene in Conan the Destroyer, Benedict Cumberbatch (no prizes for guessing what he was called when he was at prep school), and Bilbo Baggins, AKA Mr. Everyman, AKA Martin Freeman, real name Tim From The Office, Sherlock proved to be very much a curate’s egg.

It was best in Series I: Episode 1, good in Series 1: Episode 3 and Series II: Episode 1, average in the weekend’s finale, poor in Series II: Episode 2 (“The Hounds of Baskerville”) and dire in Series 1: Episode 2. This 90-minute offering had a ridiculous plot involving a Chinese beauty from the impoverished hinterland who for some strange reason spoke Cantonese - “Daaih lou! Cheng lei!” ("Brother! Please!”) - and had become involved in crime because she had no prospects. And this show was supposed to be set in the modern day – when bright, not to mention, beautiful kids like her go to university and feast themselves on the fruits of the world’s fastest growing economy – not in the nineteenth century!

One of the problems with any adaptation of a Conan Doyle tale to the screen is that the stories themselves, in common with Poe’s seminal detective stories, depend to a large extent on atmosphere. Things happens, of course, but not at the breakneck speed at which they tumble over each other in, say, a Robert Ludlum blockbuster, written with one eye on the silver screen.

To make up for the intrinsic lack of action, the team responsible for Sherlock decided to fall back on two tried and trusted remedies: the “bromance” (complete with jokes about “confirmed bachelor John Watson” – nudge, nudge, wink, wink, SAY NO MORE!) and the manic edit. The latter, featuring our hero doing a supersonic mental filing of all the tidbits he’s somehow stored up over his short lifetime on his way to coming up trumps yet again, is a convenient way of papering over holes in the plot but can misfire if the viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief shifts to apathy.    

Verging dangerously close to albino, with eyes the colour of a husky’s, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is angel-like, not in terms of his character – his impatient arrogance leads to some good dialogue, such as “I can’t just turn it on and off like a tap” in response to his sidekick’s “Don’t get clever!” – but in respect of his ability to perceive things intuitively by direct apprehension. Who needs brilliant powers of deduction or superior reasoning skills, if you can just see the truth?             

Verdict: unlikely to pass the test of time as well as Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.


M said...

Have Rathbone and Bruce really stood the test of time or are they merely the best of a bad lot? Does anyone watch them now? Hardly atop my list and defo not 'watch again' stuff. And as for the R Downey Jnr bunk....

These are 90 minute 'mini-movies' with tight scripts and up to date castings - and they hold one's attention far, far better than much of the average hollywood schlock that we get week in week out. I should know, having just endured cowboys and aliens.

And therein lies the problem - we are comparing telly - albeit beautifully produced telly to movies - with comparably miniscule timelines and budgets. It should be compared to the best of what's on TV now - House, Breaking Bad, Homeland - and on that score they (imho) certainly do. You can pick holes in any of the above but it won't stop you watching it, and thoroughly enjoying it. It's not The Wire, I agree.

My verdict? A triumph showing the Brits can do it and fill 270 minutes a year with world-class original programming that is inventive AND popular.

ulaca said...

My essential point is that the BBC's Sherlock could have been so much better. The decision to shoot on loaction, for example, should always set alarm bells ringing in the TV producer's head, as it so often saying, "We haven't got enough story!" (viz. The Black Adder, i.e. Series One).

I'm fascinated. What cowboys and aliens have you been enduring?

M said...

'Cowboys and aliens' - its a film ai should have been in inverted commas. It's kack.

ewaffle said...

M--if you didn't like "Cowboys and Aliens" you might want to skip "Strippers vs. Werewolves".

ulaca said...

As film titles go, that's going some, Edward. Nonetheless, my favourite remains Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus.

Anonymous said...

So what was he called at school? Nothing stands out.

ulaca said...

Well, you may be wrong there. Bendydick Cucumberpatch, since you ask.