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.