Image credit: Hartwood Films 2012
There are so many compelling reasons to watch Sherlock, the BBC brain-twister that returns for a second season tonight as part of PBS’s Masterpiece: Mystery series. There’s the simple fact that it’s best procedural on television (at least, according to a totally unscientific poll of my friends), and that trying to keep up with its whiz-bang pacing actually makes you feel smarter. (Or maybe it’s just the effect of hearing guys with fancy British accents explain things like Suzhou numerals and the Golem myth while they’re solving crimes.)
Also, its two stars, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, and Martin Freeman (Watson), have such amazing chemistry, the writers can’t help but tease them about it within the show: it’s a running joke that everyone always assumes they’re lovers. (Watson is straight. As for Sherlock, well… it’s hard to tell.)
And for all you Arthur Conan Doyle purists out there, Sherlock couldn’t have better creators than Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Both men really understand Victorian literature—Moffat previously adapted The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for 2007′s Jekyll, and Gatiss wrote the Dickens-inspired Doctor Who episode, “The Unquiet Dead”—and they’re always making inside jokes that reference the original stories. (Not to worry if you haven’t read Doyle. You’ll still catch the little nods to the original, like the fact that the famously pipe-smoking Sherlock now wears a nicotine patch.)
But for me, the most exciting thing about Sherlock is how it takes some dusty old mysteries from the 19th century and makes them feel so thoroughly of-the-moment. It’s not just that technology is essential to Sherlock‘s crime-solving process, though that’s part of what makes the show so fun to watch. The season premiere, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” finds Watson blogging about his adventures and using video conferencing to connect Sherlock to the scene of a crime. Meanwhile, much of the plot hinges upon the text messages Sherlock exchanges with a mysterious woman.
But it takes more than a cell phone and a Skype account to make this classic feel so modern. What’s far more interesting is how well Sherlock mirrors the way we solve problems in 2012.
(Warning: there’s a few very minor spoilers ahead.)
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