Many people entertain the notion that popular opinion is somehow a reasonable indication of merit, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (cough, GWB, cough). If you are one of these people, allow me to direct your attention to IMDb, specifically the ratings shows receive. The only thing revealed in the light of these star counts in that the majority of users of this service are deaf, blind halfwits in the direct employ of film and TV studios. Case in point: Sherlock, voted 9.1/10 by just shy of 73,000 sycophantic doorstops who’ve obviously never seen a genuinely good TV show in their lives. (Apology to actual doorstops, which provide a noble, selfless service every day of our lives, for this unflattering comparison.)
Sherlock is yet another entry in the ledger of fan-boy resurrections of classic literature. The book-keepers of this ledger are being forced to write in increasingly small print in order to fit the swelling number of entries on the pages and it seems to be causing some legibility issues, to stress the metaphor to the point of tears and then beat it over the head with a frying-pan while it’s blowing its nose in grief. Some of these adaptations have been nothing short of brilliant (e.g League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic, obviously)) and some have been poison-yourself-in-rage terrible (e.g League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the movie)). The trend goes back decades (I dimly remember a futuristic Sherlock Holmes cartoon from my childhood where Holmes is somehow transported into the future during his dive from the Reichenbach Falls) but has recently come close to representing a genre in itself. Sherlock is neither a particularly good, nor a particularly bad member of this family but, really, do not let its IMDb rating fool, it is not particularly good.
There have thus far been two seasons, each comprising three feature-length episodes. As a format, I actually quite like it, it allows a detailed story to be told in one sitting, relying on an emotional investment in the characters to bring repeat viewership rather than stringing you along with cheap cliff-hangers like a stripper wearing five sets of underwear. Okay, someone take the metaphor pot away from me, now, this is becoming gratuitous. I’ve recently heard some of Steven Moffat’s other projects coming under fire for trying to be a bit too clever all the time, which surprises me not one bit because it’s a significant problem in Sherlock. I suspect it wouldn’t be so much of an issue if he were a little better at it. In a sense a good Holmes story relies on being smugly clever but it really needs to be done well and Moffat tends to lose the thread to some degree or another leaving the whole thing to come off as about as clever as an insufferable teenager correcting your plurals by adding apostrophes.
Probably the worst thing about the series is the way the mysteries, and subsequent parlour scenes, are put together. There just aren’t enough breadcrumbs scattered through the plots, resulting in unsatisfyingly arbitrary endings. Not the stuff good mystery stories are made of. The series owes more to modern forensic investigation series (all of which should be gathered up in an pile in downtown Los Angeles and used as execution pyre for their creators) than to the classic mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and the like. Also, some of the plots (particularly in the 2nd season) are just dumb. D.U.M.B. (That’s an in-joke for those who’ve seen it. If you haven’t, don’t bother, the joke is not worth the 90 minutes you’ll never get back). Aside from the downhill slope that was the storytelling throughout the series, the greatest disappointment was Moriarty who was reduced to a melodramatic crime-addict with a serious speech impediment. He completely failed as a foil to Holmes, who desperately needs one given the bullish presence of his character.
Holmes himself was very well played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (of whom I am a great fan) was an equally enjoyable Watson. In fact, most of the major supporting characters were really good. With the exception of Moriarty, the ensemble was easily the best thing about Sherlock. The other strong point was the camera work and editing, particularly the panning, freeze-frames, and animations used to illustrate Holmes’ process. There was nothing at all new in the method but it was well executed. If everything else had been as good it would probably deserve its 9.1. Or at least a solid 8.
In the end Sherlock failed the most disappointing of all fails: the great idea, poorly executed. The first season was totally watchable and it did leave me wanting more, but the second season was rubbish and the final episode, which showed enormous promise with its basic premise, was the biggest disappointment of all. 2 deerstalker hats out of 5.