It’s tough to get too excited about the year’s best films when you compare them to the year’s best television shows. With rare exception (read: “Inception“), the boob tube kicked the big screen’s arse left and right in terms of quality all year long, with work like “Mad Men,” “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad.”
Add “Sherlock” to that list, a BBC series which is like watching three excellent movies back-to-back. While the Robert Downey Jr. blockbuster from one Christmas season ago brought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective back to top-of-mind pop-culture consciousness, this version springs him solidly into the 21st century, in tiptop shape and perfect form that makes you think, “Why didn’t somebody do this sooner?”
Martin Freeman’s Dr. John Watson returns from fighting in Afghanistan with a psychosomatic limp and a need to find a place to live. He gets it when he’s introduced to the brilliant Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch “ how’s that for a British name?), a sociopath who gets off on wicked crimes that he helps Scotland Yard solve “ not for pay, just for the excitement of the chase.
In this trio of 90-minute episodes, our duo delves into a string of unexplained suicides, a locked-room mystery in the form of an office break-in, and a string of puzzles left by a mad bomber. It all leads to a cliffhanger that could be considered downright cruel since we have to wait a year for the second season. (The Blu-ray’s extras include the original pilot, which is a shorter version of what would become the first episode, but shot in different locales and not quite as polished.)
The episodes are based loosely “ very loosely “ on stories from the Conan Doyle canon, but Holmes and Watson are now dependent on modern technology to crack cases, using Internet searches, blog entries, texting and GPS-equipped smartphones. No worries, however: Holmes’ razor-sharp skills of deduction by quick observation remain intact; we even see what he’s thinking via pop-up words “ a novel touch that’s not overdone to a point of gimmickry.
While each of the episodes stand on their own, you’ll find yourself wanting to watch the brief lot of them in as close proximity as your schedule allows. The scripts are that fine-tuned; the characters, that rich; the performances, that delightful; the hours invested, that rewarding. “Rod Lott