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A Thoroughly Modern Sherlock

By Bert Ehrmann
May 4, 2012

Sherlock

The Sherlock TV Series

It's almost impossible to successfully update a beloved character/story to modern times and not end up upsetting someone. If those doing the updating go to far in changing things then the character/story will be practically unrecognizable, so why not just do something new rather than the update something old? But if they don't go far enough and leave the character/story mostly as-is then why update in the first place?

The characters of the Sherlock Holmes series of stories have been updated a couple of different ways the last few years. The first update to this character came with the 2009 feature film Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. Here, while certain elements of the Sherlock character were updated from before, Sherlock is a brawler and the movie is much more action oriented than in any other version of the character to date, almost everything else is just the same as previous incarnations of the character from the time-period to the sitting rooms.

Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock

But there is another version of Sherlock Holmes that I find much more interesting than the feature film version. The creators of this version of the character took many more risks in changing/updating Sherlock Holmes than any other version I'm aware of. And these changes were all surprisingly successful in presenting a interpretation of Sherlock Holmes that is true to the roots of the character but also different and new than before. This version of Sherlock Holmes is the BBC TV version of Sherlock set in present day that originally premiered in the UK in 2010 and here on PBS last year.

Sherlock, played so well by Benedict Cumberbatch that I'm sure he's become a base version of Sherlock Holmes all future versions of the character will be judged, is a super-genius at solving crimes and is so successful that he's employed as a "consulting detective" by the police department. Gone are the trappings of the old stories like the setting, deerstalker hats and pipes which have been replaced with things like text messaging, video surveillance and modern fashions.

The Avengers

The cast of the film The Avengers

With Sherlock, the character might really be a prodigy at solving crimes but he's a very demanding prodigy who can be very difficult to deal with.

Sherlock senses everything and finds the easiest way to solve crimes is by noticing the details. And woe is the person to deal with Sherlock who misses said details. It's work for him to not bring people to tears by just pointing out what's obvious to him, like someone wearing makeup to impress a particular member of the opposite sex, even if it causes embarrassment or hard feelings to others.

Sherlock

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson

The one person who can keep Sherlock somewhat in line is Dr. John Watson, played by Martin Freeman who with this along with his lead role in The Hobbit films has successfully transitioned himself from being "that guy from the UK The Office" to an overall actor of note. Like the original version of the character, this Watson plays documentarian to he and Sherlock's adventures. But here that documentation is done via an online blog and not a written journal. Watson is one of the only people Sherlock trusts to and will at least try to act civil around others if Watson is around.

What I like most about this version of Sherlock Holmes is that it's less about action like the recent films and more about detective work and mysteries, and how Holmes unravels these mysteries one clue at a time.

But even a guy like Sherlock gets bored to the point where he'll refuse to take cases that don't interest him on a very high level. So, enter James Moriarty, a "consulting criminal" who's just as smart as Sherlock but works on the other side of the law. Moriarty gets a kick out of trying to outsmart Holmes, and one of his greatest crimes involved a series of people wired to bombs, one of which was Watson that ended the first season of the series last year.

The second season of Sherlock is set to premiere on Sunday, May 6 on PBS Masterpiece Mystery. The first season of the show is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download.