Sherlock: Buttercup Cucumbersnatch Review
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
"Sentiment is a chemical defect found on the losing side"
I am finally forced to write a review for Sherlock. The reason I’ve put it off isn’t simple procrastination. The reason I’ve put it off is that every time I contemplate the notion of sitting down and writing about it, I am overcome with a dread that anything I write will reduce it to something smaller and boring and less than the utterly fantastic thing that it is.
I love these three movie-length episodes to a degree that’s sort of terrifying. I never tire of rewatching them. Every time I’ve imagined that this was the moment in which I would finally write about them, I used that as an excuse to watch them again, so it’s been like four or five go-rounds at least so far. The cleverness of the writing, the charm of Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, the wit of the visuals, the sheer all-encompassing magnificence of it — it all leads me to conclude that this is one of the most perfect TV series.
It is always a bit uncertain and tricky when a 19th-century series or film is modernized and most of the time it doesn't work, especially if it is well known and liked but wow, I was very very impressed with Sherlock. Benedict does a brilliant job portraying the famous sleuth and made a 19th-century character and modern-day London merge beautifully. Freeman was phenomenal as Dr. Watson. Rupert Graves made a brilliant Lestrade. It was sharp, quick, and kept you on your toes and you just couldn't wait to see what happened next, this was of course completed by a brilliant storyline. The writing is still incredibly crisp, witty, and never boring, and the deeper focus on relatable emotion, particularly in the definition of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, could even bring in new fans to this international phenomenon. Cumberbatch excels at playing period types. When one thinks of the London-born actor’s standout roles – in Atonement, Small Island, in the new screen version of Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy and on stage last winter in London in Frankenstein – they are all set in the past. So to see the 44-year-old star playing Sherlock Holmes as a current-day Londoner who always considers himself the smartest and most standoffish guy in the room is almost a shock. And yet he does it with style and substance. The TV show truly hits the mark thanks both to Cumberbatch’s savvy and textured performance and for the series itself (created by Doctor Who veteran scribes Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat). It cleverly updates and tweaks the Baker Street-dwelling detective, making him new again even as it keeps reminding you exactly where he comes from.
We tend to forget that when Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes in 1887, the world’s first consulting detective was a wholly modern man on the cutting edge, often beyond. He used technology with gusto; he advocated methods of forensics and criminal psychology that wouldn’t come to fruition in the real world until a century later. But now we live in a world of FBI profilers such as Fox Mulder and Clarice Starling, and we live in a world in which sending telegrams seems ridiculously old-fashioned. Conan Doyle’s Holmes, no matter his allure, feels like something of a relic to us today. His quaintness is probably a big part of his appeal. But quaint he is, along with being progressive— surely this is how Holmes felt to Victorian readers, too. How Moffat and Gatiss updated Holmes is even funny, and yet not in the least bit campy.
I mean, of course, Holmes loves texting: it’s today’s equivalent of telegrams, down to how we abbreviate to save characters. Of course, a blog is how Watson would tell the tales of his adventures with Holmes; of course, a Web site is how Holmes would monograph his theories of crime detection. And taxis now have internal combustion engines instead of horses, but they’re still a good way to get around London. It’s all funny because it’s not funny because it shows off how little the world has changed, in some ways: we still want to communicate quickly, to move around quickly; the city is still full of bustling mystery, still full of diverse people doing strange and dangerous things. The things that feel secretive and enigmatic — diplomacy; banking; even the anonymity of city life — still feel that way, and that environment can be effectively created around them.
But there’s authentic humor bubbling up from Moffat’s and Gatiss’s awareness of the tropes of Sherlock Holmes, and their awareness of our awareness. They know we know all the bits (“Come at once if convenient, if not convenient come all the same”) and all the clichés. A 21st-century Holmes may be unable to maintain a smoking habit in health-conscious London, so he slaps on some replacement nicotine to solve a “three-patch problem.”
So clever, the suspense inherent in not telling us, at first, which character Gatiss himself is portraying in the first episode, “A Study in Pink”: the writers know we’re guessing that he must be either Moriarty or Mycroft… and the fact that one actor speaking only a few sinister lines might be either Holmes’s archnemesis or his own smarter, well-connected, and hugely useful brother underscores the intrigue of Holmes’s world, and why we love it so very much.
"Sherlock" is the rare classic drama that not only survives being dressed up with a new suit but looks darn good in it.