The Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss update of Sherlock returned for a second short run on BBC1, joining in the relentless effort to update the classics. In this we have Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a consulting detective (are there any?) in the Internet age, with biographer Watson (Martin Freeman) now a compulsive blogger.
Irene Adler is recast as a ‘high-class’ dominatrix providing “recreational scolding”. With a soft-porn website “The Woman” and Twitter handle @thewhiphand, no amount of updating can disguise the boys downgrading of the character to prostitute, but in case you missed it, she also greets Holmes starkers. Very racy. Very sexist. Shame on you boys. Lara Pulver does her best with an exploitation role, but there’s never any doubt who has the moral superiority.
I suspect the Moffat/Gatiss partnership brings out the best and worst in them both. Moffat wrote Coupling and continues to produce the best stories (and gags) for Doctor Who; Gatiss co-wrote the queasy and unsettling League of Gentlemen comedy show for BBC2.
Between them, they write excellent comedy banter for all the lead characters, witty, sniping, competitive, scene-stealing dialogue that zips along. However, in a departure from Conan Doyle’s source material, a large measure of Sherlock is caught up in plot points for which ‘too clever by half’ understates things, full of convoluted Mission Impossible loops and twists. The rest is concerned with ‘relationships’ which are thumpingly overdrawn.
The pair expend much screen-time creating ridiculous challenges, painting themselves into corners they then take more time to write their way out – such as Irene Adler’s ridiculously booby-trapped camera phone; the essential plot McGuffin à la James Bond. Incidentally, the Bond-Air references are heavily underlined, just so you know where to position the show, OK?
Benedict Cumberbatch is the ideal Holmes (sorry); ethereal, dislocated, obsessive-compulsive and socially maladjusted for an observant man; in this series it seems he is to be more of a man of action, with a ruthless streak and a willingness to match the violence of the bad guys. Unfortunately he’s unmatched by a rather dull Freeman as Watson, whose main job is to look puzzled and ask dumb questions for Holmes to answer. Deadpan or dead bored? So much for the update.
Best moment by common consensus in our house, the moment in which Sherlock rings the police about the captured CIA ‘burglar’ who has tortured Mrs Hudson, reeling off a long list of injuries the man hasn’t suffered. The cause? He fell out of a window. Cut to Watson and Mrs Hudson downstairs, as something heavy falls into the yard from above. Later, Lestrade (lovely Rupert Graves) enquires how many times he fell out of the window. “I don’t know. I lost count.”
To its’ credit, Sherlock is very, very dense, superfluous sub-plots notwithstanding. Even as it runs out of steam into silly spy stuff (Gatiss as dreadful as ever as brother Mycroft Holmes from the Home Office), your brain will be spinning trying to keep up with the galloping pace and the excellent one-liners; enough to ignore the lapses in tone and plot? We’ll see. Hound of the Baskervilles is next up. SC