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Holmes Sweet Holmes

January 23rd, 2014 apcook15

Hey all! All moved back in here, and fantastic impressions for the three classes I’ve had so far – the fourth one meets for the first time tomorrow. This is, without a shred of doubt, the single greatest schedule I’ve ever assembled for a semester. I’ll refrain from exact details to prevent too much jealousy, but suffice it to say, it’s a good one. Another “fun” post today, before I settle down into the real nitty-gritty coursework, and it was brought on as I sat thinking in my first detective fiction class today. As these blog posts have made clear, I’m obviously a *big* Disney person, I’m a frequent flyer to Middle Earth, Boston sports are a religion and I’m a certifiable running nut. What a lot of people DON’T know about me, though, is that I’m also probably the biggest Sherlock Holmes fan you could talk to! I can’t get enough of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s landmark mystery stories or their derivative works, and don’t get sick of the ones I’ve already been through. In true Holmesian fashion, then, I’m here to report a heinous CRIME to you all, and leave it to you my humble readers to fix it. Just like a client at Baker Street then (if you think I’ve got my Holmes nerd on now, you ain’t seen nothing yet), let me begin my story…


Since their first appearance in the November 1887 edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, Sherlock Holmes and his chronicler-partner Doctor Watson have become the most portrayed characters ever to appear on-screens around the world. More than any character in the body of Shakespeare’s work, more than 19th century London counterpart Ebenezer Scrooge, more than the entirety of the Universal Horror pantheon COMBINED, the residents of 221B Baker St. have never really been absent from public consciousness; some estimations place the adaptation count at around 250, while others score it at over 1100 (!). Bottom line, it’s a lot, and it utterly crushes the number two contender. The wealth of choices to select from allows everyone their own individual preference, but the version most purists agree upon as being the one to watch came in the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films released from 1939 to 1946. While undeniably good, many modern Holmes enthusiasts (myself, perhaps, among them) can find the series a little stuffy, with an overdose of tweed and generally more simplistic plot lines than their literary inspirations.

RathboneHolmesBasil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson

Luckily, to fix this, fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work now have not one but THREE mainstream adaptations to choose from. The first, and perhaps the most well-known to American audiences, comes in the form of the Guy Ritchie films featuring Robert Downey Jr. as the super sleuth and Jude Law as a man’s man Watson. The movies retain the authentic period setting of the original Holmes’ stories in 1890s London, but are known for their “Hollywoodized” interpretation of Sherlock as the world’s most perceptive bare-knuckle boxer and the transformation of the original stories into essentially Victorian buddy-cop films. They’re great popcorn flicks, but offer Holmesian deduction by way of John McClane/Jackie Chan, no doubt about it. The second option is CBS’ Elementary, a modernized telling which transplants Holmes from his traditional English setting across the Atlantic into New York City and gives Watson a gender change (from John to Joan). Although I’ve never personally watched it, it’s generally praised as an above-average-intelligence viewing option for primetime channel surfers. Purists, however, scoff at it as being much too liberal with its source material, eschewing the canon of the original works to fulfill more mainstream tastes.
Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson

 What to do then? Where can audiences find an exciting take on the grandfather of forensic science that simultaneously remains faithful to Conan Doyle’s works? That’s where option three comes in. Hailed unanimously by critics and audiences the world around as possibly the best remake of anything ever done, we have the BBC/PBS show Sherlock. It too brings Holmes and Watson into the present day, expanding their crime solving tool kit from a simple magnifying class to include text alerts and GPS; Watson (U.K. The Office and The Hobbit star Martin Freeman) is an Afghanistan veteran who writes an online blog of the duo’s case files now, and Sherlock himself (Star Trek Into Darkness and Fifth Estate star and quite possibly the first actor to have a name actually stranger than “Sherlock Holmes”, Benedict Cumberbatch) is a high functioning sociopath bordering on Asperger’s, who coldly spews out flawless deductions and verbal insults at a breakneck speed.

SherlockposterBenedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson

While no longer in the foggy times of Conan Doyle’s original periodicals, Sherlock episodes fly down seedy London back alleys and through abandoned warehouses during adventures brimming to burst with references and allusions to Holmes canon, cleverly snuck in by co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, and this reverence to the true essence of the Great Detective is what really sets the show apart. Everything from story titles to the trademark deerstalker hat is snuck in some way or another, yet it all somehow manages to flow seamlessly. As someone who’s read most of the original Strand Magazine mysteries, I can’t stress enough how thorough Gatiss and Moffat have been with their homework. There’s love in this recipe, and by God it shows. With text flashing across the screen and virtual street maps of London springing out of Holmes’ consciousness, it’s also razor-sharp and crystal-clear in its modernity; there’s not a tweed jacket to be seen here, just Sherlock’s now-signature greatcoat.
All the trappings more traditional audiences expect from a Holmes yarn are there too; co-creator Gatiss doubles as Sherlock’s condescending older brother, Mycroft; the exasperated detective force at Scotland Yard still remains under the competent command of Inspector Lestrade, who’s in awe of Holmes’ reasoning capacity; there’s still only one woman in Sherlock’s life, Irene Adler – the woman;  most importantly, every Holmes needs his Moriarty, and this show proves no exception. While different actors (even actresses) have traditionally played the arch-criminal as menacingly calculating, with a businesslike shrewdness, Sherlock’s Napoleon of Crime has the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” as his ring-tone and literally skips in circles around Cumberbatch’s detective with an anarchistic glee on par with Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s a totally brilliant but at the same time downright creepy type of evil.

Andrew Scott as 'Jim' Moriarty and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes
Andrew Scott as ‘Jim’ Moriarty and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes

In fact, the only thing more evil? The show’s notoriously stingy release schedule – fans can expect three 90 minute episodes once about every two years. Downright criminal, I know. The conclusion of last season’s episode, “The Reichenbach Fall,” practically brought down the internet during its airing in January 2012, as fans were bewildered and perplexed by the revelation that Sherlock had inexplicably survived a suicidal leap off a rooftop without a scratch. Watson and the rest of the detective’s friends were left to believe he had died, and fans of the series were left with a two year hiatus before discovering how he ‘dunnit. Entire internet sites and mind-bogglingly complex conspiracy theories claiming they had found the answer sprang up in the interlude, and the public outcry matched, even exceeded, the clamor of 1895 London when Conan Doyle killed off his protagonist in similar circumstances.
American audiences finally have their relief, though, as Sherlock’s third season has FINALLY begun airing on PBS (it aired in the U.K. a few weeks ago), so we can finally get some answers. With Watson getting married, a brand new book-inspired baddie, and more fan adoration than even Holmes himself could process, the show looks to be on even stronger footing than ever, with a fourth series allegedly underway and a fifth series already commissioned. But why am I telling you all this? Mostly, I think the show is tragically ignored by American audiences, and that’s a problem that needs fixing. Critics, social media, even most celebrities have caught on to the show’s sheer brilliance, but it’s still a rarity finding someone on the street in the U.S. who watches it, unfortunately. I know the post is coming a little late for the Netflix binge-watchers during winter break, yes, but I’m telling you, start now before classes really start to pick up! I can’t recommend a show any more whole-heartedly, and by the end of the very first episode you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. As evidenced by the 250 (1100?) incarnations of him, this is CLEARLY a character that resonates with audiences, and I’m saying here and now that Sherlock is the definitive Holmes of our times to be proud of. What are you sitting reading for?? Go! The game is on!


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