The Game is On: Holmes and Watson in the New Millenium

Sherlock: Season One (BBC)

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson hit the 21st Century in the new revival developed by Stephen Moffat and Mark Gattis for the BBC. Snappy and stylish, it remains remarkably true to the original characters and friendship between the two while accommodating cell phones, text messages, laptops and nicotine patches (in lieu of Holmes’ pipe—all that pesky new age prejudice against smoking in confined quarters).

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Watson and Holmes

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, the “consulting detective” called upon for challenging police cases, is a tetchy, borderline Asperger syndrome genius more interested in a challenge than dispensing justice while Martin Freeman’s Watson, an army surgeon home from Afghanistan, is a warm, loyal and often critical assistant to his eccentric roommate as he slips into his role as assistant. The psychological profiles of Holmes and Watson are a little overplayed in the pilot telefilm, “A Study in Pink” (a reworking of “A Study in Scarlet”) and the running joke that everyone assumes these roommates and partners in detection are a gay couple (is it all that bickering?) gets tired, but technology and 21st Century culture aside, the update is a natural fit. In a landscape of TV detectives full of socially awkward geniuses, Holmes is the original.

This incarnation gives a dignity and competence to Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), so often played as a blowhard or buffoon, and his respect for Holmes is almost protective, as the rest of the department is wary of the cold genius. And perhaps for good reason. This Sherlock is almost contemptuous in his social dealings, not oblivious so much as arrogant, so determined to prove logic superior to emotion that he makes a show of his emotional apathy. His growing friendship with Watson becomes his lifeline to the human race in a show that turns out to be smart, snappy, interesting and thoroughly modern. Even Watson turns to blogging to record Holmes’ cases. “You read Watson’s blog?” an aghast Holmes asks Lestrade. “We all do. Do you really not know that the Earth revolves around the sun?” The details are different but the spirit lives on.

Originally made for the BBC, it played in the U.S. on the public television series Masterpiece Mystery. Three feature-length telefilms on two discs, plus an alternate 60-minute version of the pilot, a half-hour featurette and commentary on two episodes.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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