Sherlock, on BBC One (UK) / PBS (USA)
Amazon; A.V. Club; Baker Street Wiki; BBC; BBC America; IMDb; PBS; Planet Claire; Shop.PBS; TV.com; TV Tropes; TWoP; WGBH; Wikipedia
This began airing in 2010 in both the U.K. and the U.S. I'm sure that when I was younger, I must have read some Sherlock Holmes stories, though I'm afraid I don't remember them well, now. So usually when I see the character portrayed on TV or in movies, I won't really know if it's an adaptation of one of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories or not. And certainly there have been many adaptations as well as new stories that use the character, who has been interpreted in various ways over the years. This series is surely not the first to be set in modern times rather than the era in which the stories were originally set; I remember once seeing a TV movie in which Holmes had been like cryogenically frozen and revived in our time. There've probably been time travel stories and such, but I can't really remember. Anyway, this isn't like that. Here, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a modern-day person, and seems to fit as naturally into the present as... well, I should say he's a bit Aspergian, perhaps, and he refers to himself at one point as a "high-functioning sociopath." So saying he "fits in" doesn't really apply, but then it never quite applied to the character, in any era. He's different, superior, and rather antisocial, and that's just a fundamental aspect of Sherlock Holmes. But at least he uses modern technology and techniques, as much as the familiar methods of Holmesian observation and deduction.
Anyway, this series was cocreated and cowritten by Steven Moffat, whose work on other shows I quite liked, so I was eager to check out this incarnation of the world's greatest detective. And of course, it turned out to be interesting, clever, and amusing, with well-written and acted characters. And I should say that each series has just three episodes, though they're long enough (about an hour and a half) that you might consider them "TV movies," rather than episodes.
In the first episode, A Study in Pink, Sherlock investigates a series of murders which appear to be suicides. He also meets Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), a soldier who served in Afghanistan. John becomes flatmates with Sherlock, and helps investigate the case. They sort of become friends, but not really; Sherlock doesn't exactly have "friends." Oh, I wanted to mention that we sometimes see words floating in the air when Sherlock is thinking, which is odd, and I'm not sure it actually gives any particular insight into how his mind works or how he arrives at his conclusions. But whatever. At least it doesn't happen all the time, which would get far too distracting and annoying, I think. In any event, he finds lots of things obvious that aren't obvious to those around him, which is perhaps a bit hard for him to deal with. (Btw, "obvious" seems to be his catchword, replacing the more traditional Holmesian "elementary"; this is just one of several subtle modernizations of the characters, such as Sherlock and John calling each other by first names, and John maintaining a blog, on the advice of his therapist.) I do think, however, that there are things which are obvious to others that completely escape Sherlock's notice, so it's rather lucky he does have a more normal partner. I should also mention that most people don't like Sherlock; certainly the folks at Scotland Yard only grudgingly accept his help. John is often annoyed by Sherlock, himself, though he does seem to like him better than most people do. Anyway, in the first episode, we also meet a shady character who wants John to spy on Sherlock, and throughout the episode I rather assumed (probably by design) that the man was Moriarty, who is well known in other adaptations as Holmes's archnemesis. By the end of the episode, we've learned that he's actually someone less sinister, and while the revelation surprised me, his true identity also made sense. So I quite liked that. (Spoiler: it's Sherlock's older brother, Mycroft, who works in the British government.) Though we also learn that Moriarty does have a hand in the events of this series, behind the scenes.
In the second episode, The Blind Banker, Sherlock and John investigate a series of murders which involve a Chinese smuggling ring. I can't really think what else to say about the episode, but I should say that I didn't think it was quite as good as the first one. In the third episode, The Great Game, someone is sending messages to Sherlock via cellphone, including pictures and calls from people strapped with bombs who are forced to dictate the bomber's words. The messages are clues to crimes he must solve before the bombs would go off, killing the messengers. Finally Sherlock finds out that the one behind all this is, in fact, Jim Moriarty, who eventually meets Sherlock and John in person. Sherlock, I should say, is described as the world's only "consulting detective." I don't really know if that's true, because I've seen plenty of such detectives on various TV shows, and it never occurred to me that it might be unrealistic. But in any event, it seems Moriarty is a "consulting criminal," and wants Sherlock to back off and let him do his work in peace, as he's the only one who has a chance of really interfering with Moriarty's business. The episode ends on something of a cliffhanger, to be resolved in series two.
The second season was good, though I'm not sure what to say about any of the episodes specifically. (I really should have said something when I watched them, but it seems I neglected to do so, and now my memory fails. But of course you can read details of every episode of the series on the sites to which I've provided links above. The eps are called A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hounds of Baskerville, and The Reichenbach Fall. Someday I'll probably rewatch them and say a bit about them.) And again, the series ends on a cliffhanger.
There's a minisode prequel to series three called Many Happy Returns, which is well worth the seven minutes it takes to watch.
I don't think I liked season 3 quite as much as the first two, but it was still good. The first episode is The Empty Hearse, which picks up two years after the second series. It has a case for Sherlock and John to solve, but it feels kind of tacked on. The main plot of the episode is resolving the cliffhanger from the end of series 2. It also introduces Mary Morstan, a woman John began dating between series. She's clever and amusing and a good addition to the cast. The second episode, The Sign of Three, is mainly about John and Mary's wedding, but there's a case that ties into that. The third episode, which I thought was the best part of series 3, is His Last Vow. This is the first time in series 3 that I felt the case was actually the main point of the episode, which was refreshing. Sherlock investigated a man named Charles Augustus Magnussen, who was a fairly dangerous and challenging villain, even if he's not actually a killer. The story involves a nice bit of misdirection. I don't want to spoil it, but though I did kind of suspect the truth, it was still neat. The episode also involves a surprising revelation about one of the show's main characters, but I don't want to spoil that, either. And yet again, the series ends on a cliffhanger, so I look forward to series 4.
But between series 3 and 4, there was a special episode, The Abominable Bride.
Well, season 3 ended with a viral video that apparently signaled the return of Moriarty, who had died at the end of season 2. Shortly before that video appeared, however, Sherlock had murdered Charles Magnussen, as it was seemingly the only way to stop him from... doing whatever evil things he was planning to do. Anyway, season 4 begins with Mycroft covering up Sherlock's actions, before moving on to a new case, in The Six Thatchers. However, Sherlock becomes obsessed with figuring out what Moriarty's plan for revenge is. (There seems no doubt that Moriarty is, in fact, dead, so his revenge would be posthumous.) This obsession distracts Sherlock from the real case, somewhat, or at least seems to make him misinterpret things. Meanwhile, John and Mary now have a baby girl, Rosamund Mary Watson. And... the case ties in to something from Mary's past, which I don't want to spoil. And I especially don't want to spoil what happens near the end of the episode, but I fear I must: Mary is killed. This leads John to start seeing a new therapist, while also ending his friendship with Sherlock, whom he blames for failing to protect Mary.
In The Lying Detective, Sherlock attempts to prove that a prominent businessman and philanthropist named Culverton Smith (Toby Jones) is actually a serial killer. However, Sherlock has also taken up an old habit of drug use, which makes it difficult to tell how much he's right about, and how much his grip on reality may be slipping. But all this is part of Sherlock's plan to fulfill the final wish of Mary, that he should "save John Watson." And ultimately, Sherlock and John's friendship is at least partially restored. The episode ends with a startling revelation, which leads into the season (possibly series) finale, The Final Problem. Sherlock had a younger sister, Eurus, whom he doesn't remember at all. (The way Mycroft described her started out reminding me very much of Simon describing River in Firefly, but soon took a very disturbing turn.) She's been locked away since early childhood in a place called Sherrinford, which is an asylum/fortress on a restricted island. But now she seems to have escaped, a fact which Mycroft believes is impossible. So Sherlock, Mycroft, and John go to Sherrinford to seek the truth. And... I don't want to spoil any details of what goes on, there, or how it all ends. I'll just say that on the whole, I thought season four was kind of trippy, in a mostly good way. And it's unclear whether there'll be another season; there is a vague sense of finality about the episode's ending, or I should say a sense of "closure." But it's an open-ended sort of closure, so, we'll see....