Home Video Binge Bonus: Sherlock

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

How on Earth have I allowed nearly eight years to elapse before finishing BBC’s Sherlock?

I remember very clearly the first time I ran across Benedict Cumberbatch. I was attending a press screening of Amazing Grace at the Harvard Exit, of all places. As impressive as the movie was, as memorable as Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, and Rufus Sewell were, and as important as the film’s subject was, this was the primary thought on my mind leaving the screening: Who was that guy who played William Pitt? Where did this “Benedict Cumberbatch” come from?

It wasn’t that he stole the show. He simply was. When he was in the room, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. There are some people whom the camera love, and Cumberbatch is one of them.

His charisma alone, however, does not explain Sherlock. The concept of the show—Sherlock Holmes updated for the 21st Century—is arresting in its own right. But the writing, often accomplished by show co-creator Steven Moffatt, is consistently sharp, smart, and witty. Other TV writers must be so, so envious.

It also helps that Moffatt and co-creator Mark Gatiss, who also gets to chew lots of scenery as Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft, conceived the program not as a 60-minute serial but as a string of 90-minute movies. So it feels like TV, but carries narrative weight like cinema. Brilliant.

Sherlock also avoids many of the pitfalls of other police procedurals and detective shows. (I don’t need to enumerate them, as I’m sure you’ve grown bored or jaded with them yourself over time.) Instead, Sherlock is really prime-time TV of the absolutely best sort… other than the fact that it’s far more intelligent and gripping—even jaw-dropping—than anything else you’ll watch between the hours of 8 and 8. So it’s the best of both worlds on that score: it’s relatively wholesome, if dark and thoughtful, late-night TV.

As with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, the primary characters are detective Sherlock Holmes, his aide Dr. John Watson, and his primary nemesis, Moriarty. Martin Freeman sort of made his career with his turn in this program as Watson—justifiably so—while Andrew Scott, like Cumberbatch, was plucked out of a string of TV roles to flesh out the modern “Jim” Moriarty. All superb.

Each episode packs surprise upon surprise, whether it’s the fresh spins that the writers put on Doyle’s stories, the stylistic choices by the director and production team, or simply the way that the show’s various characters grow on one another. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite episode. Every time I figure I’ve found it, another one comes along to top the list.

In its most recent (final?) two seasons, from 2014 and 2017, character development really goes off the charts as Mycroft’s role expands and John finds romance with girlfriend Mary. Those familiar with these two seasons know what I mean when I say that developments are most affecting, and deep.

As Mary, Amanda Abbington is yet another seasoned TV professional who absolutely lights up the screen. The producers of the show certainly knew what they were doing with casting. As good as Cumberbatch consistently is, he overshadows no one in this cast.

The program may be too intense and densely-packed with detail for audiences used to paying attention to their phones (or kids, or pets, or food, or lovers) while they simultaneously absorb entertainment. But if you are after something to binge watch (or slowly consume over months, much as you would savor a fine wine or cheese) and care to pay attention closely and be wholly engrossed, you won’t find better programming than Sherlock.

So how is it, I ask again, that I managed to take nearly eight years to catch up to Sherlock, if it’s that good?

Well, in the first place, the most recent season didn’t air until just last year. So the producers took their sweet time cranking out just four short “seasons” of the program.

But also, as Mary says in the show, “My old life—it was full of consequences.” One of those consequences was that I wasn’t writing as much as I would have liked. So, as Sherlock observes, “Work is the best antidote to sorrow.” And I’m slowly getting back to work.

I visited a friend’s school yesterday and saw the following quote on the wall: “Grief is a gift from God to remind us of the depth of our love.” So to answer Sherlock’s question: The path we walk on never locks around our feet… as long as we keep moving.

Sherlock is now available to stream at Netflix. It is also available to rent on Amazon and YouTube.