TV miniseries review: Sherlock

A highly functioning sociopath. That is how Sherlock Holmes is described—how he describes himself—in this version of the story.

Sherlock is set in modern-day London with the trappings of technology and its social realities. (While the original Holmes was a drug addict—there is at least one passing allusion to the addiction in this series—the modern-day Holmes is only overtly depicted as a recovering smoker.) Although out of its historical context, the dialogue is strewn with quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings.

Holmes and Watson cross paths early on, introduced through a common acquaintance and quickly become flatmates. Although Holmes is a prickly sort, lacking compassion, social graces, and common courtesy, he and Watson develop an affection for one another. This affection rears its head from time to time when one or the other steps in to save the other’s life. But it is only a friendship, they protest again and again. The asexual Holmes and the serial monogamist Watson have to sporadically insist that they are not gay.

Holmes is easily bored, constantly searching for a criminal puzzle that is worthy of his mental skills. When these situations present themselves, he throws himself whole-heartedly into pondering the crime, to the point that he holds conversations with Watson long after Watson has left his presence.

Ironic, considering his often cluelessness about his surroundings, Holmes possesses considerable powers of observation, seeing in a flash details that the normal person does not. The cut of clothes, the presence of dog hair, a neat manicure. All details that give away information about the person and the situation. He correctly pegged Watson at the onset as a doctor who had recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan. As he often points out, people see but do not observe.

The episodes in this series, which were developed by the BBC, run to an hour and a half each. Longer than the typical TV show in the US, but the situations are engaging. The conversation is often witty. Holmes, ever the one to insult others with his brusqueness, often leaves people stunned. After one such time, as Watson leaves with Holmes, Watson comments, “And that’s as modest as he gets.” Holmes has a clear disdain for us mere mortals—referred to as goldfish in a conversation with his equally intelligent and pretentious brother—but seems to tolerate, even love, Watson. One of the goldfish. Or ordinary people.

In one scene, Holmes unexpectedly asks Watson to punch him in the face. Taken aback, Watson is not going to strike a friend. But after Holmes says something insulting—not uncommon—Watson hauls off and hits him. And then cannot seem to stop attacking him. It turns into a fight. To which Holmes exclaims that he just needed a punch in the face. “I was a soldier,” Watson says as he attacks, “I killed people.” Sherlock: “You were a doctor.” Watson: “I had bad days.” Clearly, this had turned into a bad day for Watson.

Thankfully, these are thoroughly delightful days for us. We are invited into their investigation of curious crimes. We watch as Sherlock observes. He is arrogant. Disdainful of others. Lacking in social graces when interacting with others. But intelligent. Aware. Astute. Observant. In short, a highly functioning sociopath. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed crossing paths with the likes of this Sherlock Holmes, but I do thoroughly enjoy crossing paths with this BBC series.


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