Insert deerstalker cap joke here.
The first season of Sherlock was a pleasant surprise. Taking Sherlock Holmes and resetting him in the modern day is an idea that should have been a novelty gimmick at best and a ridiculous anachronism at worst. Fortunately, co-creators Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss made it work, with a new millennium Holmes that proved to be equal parts relevant and timeless. Now comes the long-awaited follow-up to the first series, in which Holmes and Watson face new enemies, new mysteries, and a ghostly hound out on the moors…
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch, Atonement) is a genius consulting detective living in London with his friend and assistant Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). They solve mysteries and have all kinds of adventures.
As before, this “season” is really a miniseries, with three feature-length episodes:
• “A Scandal in Belgravia”
After resolving the cliffhanger from the last series, Sherlock is tasked by the English government to retrieve some stolen sensitive documents from a woman, Irene Adler (Lara Pulver, MI-5), who might be too much for the great detective to handle.
• “The Hounds of Baskerville”
When reports come from the countryside about a giant hound terrorizing the locals, Sherlock and John go on a road trip to investigate.
• “The Reichenbach Fall”
James Moriarty (Andrew Scott, John Adams) comes out of hiding in a big way with a series of public crimes designed for one reason—to defeat Sherlock Holmes in the final battle of wits.
After hitting a home run with the critically-acclaimed and fan-beloved first series, the show’s creators aren’t resting on their postmodern laurels. Instead, they’re thinking big, by modernizing what are arguably the three most famous of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes tales—Irene Adler, the hound of the Baskervilles, and Moriarty.
While all three of these episodes are smart, fun, clever, and exciting, “A Scandal in Belgravia” is the standout. Lara Pulver is perfectly cast as Adler, as you can truly believe that this is the woman who brought all of England to its knees (figuratively) and who brought the famous Sherlock Holmes to his knees (figuratively and literally). While the first season put the spotlight on John Watson, allowed viewers to discover or rediscover just who this guy is. This season, and this episode in particular, gets us inside Sherlock’s head more than ever before. His interactions with Adler show that she’s someone he can’t easily “read.” This puts Sherlock outside of his comfort zone, which makes for great drama. At one point, Sherlock and his brother Mycroft have a heart-to-heart—or, at least, as heart-to-heart as these two get—about the nature of emotion, and whether Sherlock’s cold, emotionless ways are right or wrong. Here we have the show’s creators pushing the Sherlock character as far as they can without fundamentally changing what makes him Sherlock. It’s a daring move and a treacherous artistic balancing act, so it’s something of a miracle that they’re able to pull it off so smoothly.
“The Hounds of Baskerville” is the weakest of these three episodes, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad—it just doesn’t have quite as much depth as the other two. At its emotional core is a look at the nature of fear. Can Sherlock Holmes experience true fear? If he does, can he ever trust his detached, logical mind again? At the core of the plot is the nature of superstition. The writers are quick to do away with fears of the supernatural. Instead of ghosts and monsters lurking in the trees just beyond where we can see, the superstition is now focused on genetic experimentation, and government conspiracies. In the modern-day Sherlock, laboratories and military bases are the new haunted houses to be debunked by our deductive hero.
A lot of folks didn’t know what to make of Andrew Scott when he showed up at the end of the first season as Moriarty. He certainly wasn’t like any previous versions of the character, dialing down the calculated evil and cranking up the goofy quirkiness. Still, he maintained just enough menace to leave an impression on Sherlock and John, not to mention the viewers at home. Scott gets his moment in the spotlight in “The Reichenbach Fall,” as he comes out of hiding and goes after Sherlock with aggression. A lot of talk is devoted to Sherlock being easily bored, and only taking on cases that interest him. Moriarty, it seems, is the same way. So bored that he’s devoted his considerable resources to taking apart Sherlock’s life, piece by piece. Why? Because in Sherlock he’s found an adversary who might actually be a challenge for him. With Moriarty quirking it up big time, we get to see a more intense and less eccentric side of Sherlock. He is driven to defeat Moriarty in this deadly game of theirs, but for Sherlock it is more than a game, and despite his unemotional detachment, the lives on the line do matter to him, especially John and others close to him.
Sounds like serious stuff, doesn’t it? It is, at times, but there’s a lot of fun to be had as well. Cumberbatch and Freeman maintain their easygoing chemistry, and their back-and-forth throughout their cases remains a highlight. The show is peppered with a lot of interesting visual touches. We see a return of text carefully placed on the screen to show us what the characters are seeing when they look at their phones or computers. This is also used an efficient shortcut to show us Sherlock’s logic at work, as clues will “pop up” on screen as he examines people he comes across. Also worth noting is Una Stubbs (Til Death Do Us Part) as Sherlock and John’s long-suffering landlady Mrs. Hudson. She gets a few genuine dramatic scenes this time around, in addition to her winning comic relief quips, and she’s a real delight.
For this review, DVD Verdict received an advanced screener copy, which may or may not differ from the ones on store shelves. The 1080i visuals are sharp, making the most of the warm colors inside 221B Baker St., as well as the cold blues and grays of the London streets at night. The audio is a different story. It was so soft that I had to crank the volume all the way up to Mötley Crüe levels just to hear what was happening. The producers, writers, and actors provide two commentaries, which are light and chatty, emphasizing more on production anecdotes, and not so much on the scripts. We also get a short featurette about the making of the series. The subtitles are a huge help for rude n’ crude Americans struggling with so many thick English accents.
A worthy follow up to the first season, Sherlock continues strong, making Doyle proud. Where will they go from here?