Have you ever had that feeling when you’re excited for a TV show, you sit down to watch it and then, when the credits roll, you’re really disappointed? It happens – we can’t like everything (no matter how good we expect a show to be). For me, there’s one show that sums up this feeling perfectly – a show I couldn’t get on with despite the rest of the world telling me that it was amazing. That show is Sherlock.
I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but just in case, Sherlock is a modern-day reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. On paper, I should have loved it. I love Sherlock Holmes – I’ve read all the stories, and watched every adaptation from Basil Rathbone to Jeremy Brett to the Robert Downey Jr. films. It was co-created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, and I’ve always found the shows they’re associated with to be really enjoyable (in 2007, Moffat wrote Jekyll along similar lines, and I’d really recommend it). It also has a strong cast: Martin Freeman is a great everyman, while Una Stubbs and Rupert Graves are strong supporting characters. At the time, I didn’t know Benedict Cumberbatch, but I had high hopes.
It’s serviceable enough TV, but it spends so much time trying to act clever that it forgets it actually has to be clever
In July 2010 I sat down and watched the first episode: ‘A Study in Pink’. I was (to put it charitably) underwhelmed. It’s serviceable enough TV, but it spends so much time trying to act clever that it forgets it actually has to be clever. In case you haven’t seen it, Holmes investigates a series of suicides. It transpires that these people are dying due to a murderous cab driver – he offers his victims a choice of two pills, one fatal and one safe, and lets them choose which one to take. There are no differences between the pills, and yet the person always chooses the wrong one.
What’s the solution you may wonder? Wonder on – it seems this crime show was so preoccupied with being clever, it couldn’t be bothered to answer its central mystery. And, when you dig into it, half the deductions aren’t even that good or accurate. Sherlock thrives on the illusion of cleverness, but that’s all it is – an illusion. A detective show needs decent puzzles and good clues, and Sherlock has neither.
I watched until the end of the series, and I was bored. It was all flash, and very little substance, helmed by a leading man who – let’s be honest here – is wooden as anything. I didn’t know Cumberbatch at the time, but I’ve now seen him in other things – to be fair to him, he’s certainly carved out a niche in the wooden, smug, prick role. There are some good elements – I think Freeman is an effective Watson, for example – but I simply don’t get the love for Sherlock. People were hyping it as the best thing on TV, yet when I watched The Hound of the Baskervilles become a drug trip or Irene Adler turn into a sex symbol, I just didn’t understand.
Poor writing and a dreadful lead combine to produce a show that I think is frequently borderline unwatchable
When I was in France, some of my classmates were obsessed with Sherlock, and so I watched the fourth series in order to speak with them about it. Talk about a let-down. Mary Watson is a secret agent, and then she’s dead, but she’s actually not, because characters don’t die in Moffat-land. Moriarty’s back, but not really, and then we keep getting new villains who are somehow even smarter and more manipulative than the last. It culminates in the surprise reveal that Holmes has a secret sister, this genius who can essentially control people just by speaking to them. What battle of wits defeats someone so incredible? We’ll never know – turns out she just needed a hug.
There’s a sense as the show progresses that the writers were falling more in love with themselves – each series is smugger, more self-congratulatory than the last, to the extent that it insults the intelligence of the viewers. It’s acting clever without being clever, and that’s the worst kind of viewing experience. Poor writing and a dreadful lead combine to produce a show that I think is frequently borderline unwatchable. I know I’m in the minority here, but I just don’t get the love for Sherlock.