Friday, 13 January 2012

Sherlock (BBC) (Review)

Way back in 2002 I came to Japan for the first time. Before popping over I had become acquainted with the excellent Nero Wolf detective series by Rex Stout. These wonderful stories distinguish themselves from the crowd with superior, economic, well wrought writing. Nero Wolf somehow led to the wonderfully incompetent, immoral Jewish Texan cowboy detective, Kinky Freidman. Two very different takes on America grounded in skilful takes on the genre. After quickly exhausting my stock of books and a brief dalliance with Anne Rice (kisses to you, New Orleans, go and crush those west coast hippies this weekend, will ya?) I found myself in front of a void. I was still hungry for crime but living in a country with limited access to English language books. And so one day, quite by accident I turned to the past. A massive tome of Sherlock Holmes (part one of two) practically fell off the bookshelf as I squirmed through the crowded aisle of the foreign language section in Mei-eki’s Sanseido. Ravenous for mystery I tore open the paper bag and started drinking it in on the train ride back home.

Of course it was all over far too soon and I had to go back and buy the second volume. By the end of it I was sad to leave behind Holmes and Watson but uplifted by the fact that I had actually read every single story. This latter fact allowed me to enjoy television and film adaptations much more thoroughly and critically. Then in 2010 I had the opportunity of seeing the BBC’s modernised take on Conan’s canon. This first series, part reboot, part interpretation, part remix simultaneously played with and respected the content and feel of the original stories. It felt both new and familiar. Holmes and Watson still made sense in present day London’s Baker Street yet still retained an air of fantastic other-worldness. Some of the visual innovations, such as onscreen text, ran close to being overdone but the quality of the stories, the wit of script and the very British vibe of the acting was enough to counter-balance any concerns.

This New Year’s just like my original bookstore accident I was greeted with a surprise: a second series! And what a series it is. The first episode takes what made the first series so compelling, amps up the wit, humour and style, tones down some of the visual excess (but thankfully retains enough of it) and injects enough twists, turns and convolutions to make even the most jaded mystery critic happy. There are a number of questionable plot holes or inconsistencies but the pace of the show and the charisma of the leads is enough to pull one back into the realm of suspended disbelief. Well done. The producers have chosen to play with Holmes and Watson’s relationship making explicit what has always been implicit yet not being sensational. It is an elegant exposition and frames male friendship in an interesting and innovative fashion.
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