Sherlock | The beloved investigative loner
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous fictional investigators of all time. The influences that his author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had on future writers have been massive, and not only that: he even influenced reality, and the way real detectives often did their work.
Although the detective’s adventures have been the subject of countless adaptations, Sherlock, for its part, shows them from a totally new point of view.
Winning numerous Emmys, it aired from 2010 to 2017 on the BBC and was created by Stevan Moffat and Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who and Dracula). The latter was also an actor in Game of Thrones, Good Omens, and Sherlock itself.
Victorians in 2010s
John Watson is a former military doctor who’s looking for a new apartment. When he agrees to go and move in with the detective Sherlock Holmes, the real adventures begin. Starting from the logline, the show differs from Doyle’s work both in terms of world setting and – although maintaining a background coherence – characters. Sherlock is a modern reinterpretation of a literary classic. The detective is a brilliant deductor, but he also uses technology to proceed with his investigation.
However, Holmes’ origins are not forgotten. In 2015, producers released a special episode, The Abominable Bride, detached from the rest and set in the Victorian age. This episode won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie.
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is there with his deductive skills and John Watson (Martin Freeman) as his colleague. Then Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), and Moriarty (Andrew Scott, also seen in Fleabag). What Sherlock attempted, however, was to give space to female characters. In the novels, they’re marginal and functional to the protagonists’ trajectory.
For example, Mary (Amanda Abbington), goes from being “Watson’s wife” in the novel to becoming a spy in the show. As for Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), the process is even trickier. Doyle presented her as a very intelligent woman, who eventually outsmarts even Holmes himself, so much so that he does not regret the defeat. In the writing process for the show, the authors kept her intelligence and a love/hate relationship with Holmes, describing her as a dominatrix (in every sense). But they also ignored other sides – such as the ability of selfless love and kindness towards those less fortunate than herself. A legitimate shift in the character’s rejuvenation that spread mixed opinions in the audience, as well.
Sherlock was particularly successful for the way in which it transposed characters’ traits on-screen. Holmes is extremely intelligent, but he’s also a drug addict who limps through social relationships. He’s unable to express emotions, to the point that he seems to exploit others for his own interests. Basically, a genius sociopath that recalls other TV protagonists like Dexter and the Agent Ford of Mindhunter. The show managed to keep these traits in a 360-degree coherent evolution within Sherlock‘s modern version.
The most important factor in this show, in fact, is the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. They’re two completely opposite personalities who, at the same time, complement each other. Both learn to know and love each other despite differences, and that connection makes them better people. All the while solving investigations, of course. But Sherlock‘s focus is precisely on their change and maturing.
Audiences accused Gatiss and Moffat of creating ambiguous situations between them on purpose. Certainly, even in the novels, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are very close. And in making good use of Cumberbatch and Freeman’s popularity, authors may have seemed to imply there was something more than as a marketing strategy.
It’s the so-called queerbaiting, a studied and perennial homosexual URST (UnResolved Sexual Tension) that is never satisfied, but only used to attract the public. And it’s an issue that has affected other several TV shows in the past.
Moffat and Gatiss, in an interview with the With An Accent blog, had discussed the subject even before the release of the last season.
The whole notion, the idea of them possibly being a couple is inspired by the joke in the Billy Wilder film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, our favorite version. And we thought that was a good idea to run with that. In the 21st century it wouldn’t be an issue.
In any case, the public response at the end of the last season consisted of a series of protests over an unappreciated final episode (which still ends a rather subdued season) and a request to continue the show to remedy this.
Although for different reasons, it is somewhat reminiscent of what happened in 1893 when Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes because he simply had enough of him. Threatened by his readers, he had to resurrect him and continue to write, developing a consecutive and constant hatred towards his own creation. As for this restored version of a Sherlock, it didn’t seem worth it.