Today's post is a pretty lengthy one, but I just had to share this paper that I wrote, because its topic is one of my favorite television shows: BBC's Sherlock! Yup, I'm a fangirl. Seriously though, it's fantastic show. Perhaps my essay will inspire you to watch it...
Deducing the Success of Sherlock
If any nation’s television shows could be considered fresh and artful, surely the prize would go to Britain. Shows such as Doctor Who and Downton Abbey, as seen on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), have become immensely popular because of their originality and cleverness and have attracted millions of viewers. A newer BBC series is no exception. To say it has enjoyed enormous success would be, as its main character would say, “elementary.” From the creators of Doctor Who has come a modernized version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved mystery stories known simply as Sherlock.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, writers for Doctor Who, were on a train en route to a Doctor production set when they began discussing Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes mystery A Study in Scarlet. It was then that they decided to create a modern adaptation of Conan Doyle’s tales. Both men being aficionados of the original Holmes books, Moffat and Gatiss desired to remain true to the character of Sherlock Holmes while imagining how Holmes would operate in modern day Britain. They base their episodes on classic Conan Doyle stories—some lesser known than others—but add twenty-first-century twists such as modern technology. Their Sherlock can be found using his cell phone to cross-reference information, updating his website from his laptop, or studying a piece of evidence with a microscope. They believe this is consistent with the original character, since Conan Doyle’s Holmes was known to use any tool he could in order to gather information. In their version, Holmes’s partner, Dr. John Watson, also makes use of popular technology, keeping a blog in which he recounts the cases they solve together for the general public to read.
Some of the iconic elements from the original stories have been implemented in the new show, including the famed address 221B Baker Street. Holmes’s archenemy, James Moriarty, also makes several appearances throughout the series. Conan Doyle wrote that Watson was a veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War; Moffat and Gatiss portray him as having served during the present war in Afghanistan. Even Holmes’s implied lover, Irene Adler, is featured in one episode. Other characteristic features include the particular styles of clothing worn by the actors (the iconic “Sherlock Holmes” look consisting of a deerstalker hat and inverness coat) and the landlady of 221B Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson.
When casting the character of Holmes, the creators could imagine only one man portraying him: Benedict Cumberbatch. Though he is not considered an extremely attractive man by popular standards, Cumberbatch’s appearance is strangely intriguing, much like his character, whom Conan Doyle described as being very tall and having eyes that pierced. His charisma lends itself to his role even further. Cumberbatch portrays a very eccentric Holmes who spends much time lying on his couch or composing music on his violin, but can often solve cases without even leaving his flat. As Conan Doyle described, Holmes was a man who could not let his mind be still, and Cumberbatch depicts this quite accurately. With his quick speech and even faster mind, the audience can hardly keep up—sometimes cannot keep up at all—leaving them in awe at the situations he untangles. Cumberbatch makes a very believable Holmes and has even been called the greatest Holmes actor yet.
Finding a suitable Dr. John Watson for Cumberbatch’s Holmes proved to be slightly more of a challenge. Many actors vied for the role, but with Cumberbatch playing Holmes, there needed to be excellent chemistry between him and the man who would play Watson; not just anyone would do. Martin Freeman eventually received the role of Watson, and for good reason. He provides a brilliant foil for Cumberbatch’s character, and vice versa—the two actors have obvious chemistry and work very well together, bouncing off one another effortlessly. Freeman’s Watson is an ordinary yet smart man next to Holmes, making him relatable to the audience while simultaneously showing Sherlock that perhaps not all people are the complete oafs he thinks they are. Freeman portrays a level-headed Watson who sometimes acts as Holmes’s moral compass, as Holmes is somewhat of a sociopath and does not always think about the effects his actions have on others. But Freeman’s Watson is by no means static. His character grows and deepens throughout the series as their adventures transpire, endearing him more to the audience as well as to the great Holmes himself.
Gatiss and Moffat’s interpretation of the great Victorian detective has delighted television viewers the world over, and the superb acting and chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman only adds to the integrity and likeability of the show. Even purist Conan Doyle fans can enjoy this modern take on the classic cases of Sherlock Holmes since the creators and actors stay so true to the stories and the characters themselves. Hardly a negative word can be said about the series, which has received almost totally positive critical acclaim as well as several distinguished awards. Conan Doyle once wrote a line in which Holmes says, “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.” Although it may be true that BBC’s adaptation of the classic mysteries is not the first, it can definitely be said that it is a fresh way of looking at those stories, and perhaps even the best interpretation of the characters yet.
...and there you have it! Have you ever seen Sherlock? What do you think of it?