Brain Pickings

BBC’s Sherlock: Modernization Done Right


If Guy Ritchie’s rendition of Sherlock Holmes let you down — let’s face it, juicy as Robert Downey Jr. may be, the effects-driven blockbusternes of it all robbed the Arthur Conan Doyle classic of some of its original edge — the BBC have your back. Sherlock is a fantastic three-part adaptation by directors Paul McGuigan and co-creator Steven Moffat of Doctor Who fame, recasting the classic detective series in modern-day London, where Sherlock roams as a brilliant yet socially abrasive “high-functioning sociopath” and sidekick Dr. Watson is an introspective injured Afghanistan war veteran. Through a mutual friend, the two become roommates — or, to use the proper Brit-speak, flatmates — at the iconic 221B Baker Street.

Modern Holmes trades in traditional Holmes’ famous deerstalker caps for a fine selection of borderline-hipster scarves and modern Watson tends labors over a blog rather than a journal, but the signature qualities of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic — quick wit, dynamic dialogue, fast-paced adventure — remain intact and come to life in ever more brilliant detail. From McGuigan’s superb visual storytelling to the captivating costumes and cinematography to the keen casting of Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace, Hawking) as Sherlock and Martin Freeman (Love Actually, The Office original) as Dr. Watson, the series is an absolutely treat.

I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.” ~ Sherlock

Each of the three episodes — A Study In Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game — tackles a different mystery, revealing a new facet of Sherlock’s genius.

What makes the modernization all the greater a feat is the difficulty of believably translating the original concept into a contemporary setting, where forensic science and advances in technology necessitate even more superhuman a level of intelligence and logical deduction to make Sherlock the one-man detective show Arthur Conan Doyle designed him to be.

The series airs on PBS in the US and, for a limited time, you can watch it in its entirety online. The DVD, featuring the original pilot and a fascinating making-of featurette, is out this week and we highly recommend it.

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