One thing that Netflix has gotten very, very right is its television show selection. While it may not always be easy to find solid movies on the service, finding great TV shows is incredibly easy.
This ease of discovery and a bit of word of mouth is what led me to Sherlock, one of the most recent incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. It is also one of the best television shows currently in production.
Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whose star is rising rapidly after roles in the films Atonement, War Horse and a big, villainous and secretive role in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek sequel. Cumberbatch is fantastic as the “consulting” detective in this modern retelling of the classic tale.
Martin Freeman plays Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ ever-present side kick. Freeman is a face most will recognize, whether it is as Tim from the British version of The Office or as Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit trilogy.
Other cast members include co-creator Mark Gatiss as Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft, Rupert Graves as Detective Inspector Lestrade and Andrew Scott as Holmes’ arch-nemesis Jim Moriarty.
But the truth is that none of them are really all that important. One of the great things about this version of the Holmes tales is its basis in the complex relationship shared between Holmes and Watson.
Cumberbatch plays Holmes as a brilliant child trapped in a man’s body. None of the other characters can keep up with his intellect, and the show does not break from its fast pace to let the audience catch up either. Holmes is a puzzle solver more than anything else; he does not care about the people he is helping, but only about winning the game.
Freeman plays Watson like an every man who has to deal with having an overgrown child who thinks he is always right (and always is) as his roommate and work partner. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Watson is not the same somewhat-dull character he has been before. Freeman’s Watson is not as smart as Holmes, but the show makes him much smarter and capable than the average man.
As the show progresses, we see more and more of why this relationship is necessary for both parties. Watson needs a way to move on after his tour of duty in the war, while Holmes desperately needs a moral compass. Both serve each other’s purposes.
This show is smart, and there will be many who do not like it because it refuses to explain everything to you. Holmes talks and thinks very fast, and graphics are often used to show us what he is thinking, typing or reading.
Much like the “deductions” Holmes makes, all the information one needs is there, but it will not always be simply pointed out to the viewer.
Having Holmes in the modern world lends itself to all sorts of possibilities, which the show uses to its advantage. GPS, cell phones and the internet are all commonly used by the pair, but in the end it is always Holmes’ brilliance that uncovers the answer.
The show does follow somewhat of a formula, and if you like this type of crime-solving show you will likely love Sherlock. However, it does buck convention regularly, and it is certainly not the type of crime show that is easy (or even possible, most of the time) to guess the ending of.
Unfortunately, only six episodes have been produced so far. The episodes are an hour and a half long each though, so it is unlikely anyone will feel too shortchanged.
The show finished its second series earlier this year, and it will begin production on its third season in March 2013.