TV review: Sherlock
Conan Doyle's modern-day update just gets better and better.
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 1 August 2010 23.21 BST
Remember when Life on Mars started? It wasn't merely set in the 1970s, it was set in a boiled-down super-concentrate of the 1970s. It was laid on so thick – the wallpaper, the hair, the music, the cars – that not for one second were you allowed to forget which decade you were in.
Sherlock (BBC1, Sunday) is a bit like that, only with the present. Mobile phones, blogging, chip and pin, Freakonomics, unexpected item in the bagging area . . . Sometimes I feel it's jabbing me in the chest and shouting in my face. "This isn't the late 19th century! It's the beginning of the 21st! Look, no hansom cabs!" (Oh, and by the way, to the people who got in touch last week suggesting that when I wrote "handsome" cab I meant "hansom", you're quite wrong. I was talking about handsome cabs, as opposed to the shabby ones that were also plying the streets of the capital back then. Duh, as if I'd make a mistake like that.)
Back to the point. Which is that maybe Sherlock doesn't need to remind us so hard and so often that this is now, and not then. In fact, Conan Doyle's great detective makes the journey from past to present very smoothly and successfully, with little fuss or effort required from the viewer, or upset caused (apart from to a few grumbling diehards). I think it all works very well: Holmes's methods of deduction, the relationship with the police force, modern London, even the reincarnation of one of the Victorian street urchins who sometimes helped Holmes out in the stories into a thoroughly 21st-century urban graffiti artist (is this The Blind Banker, or The Blind Banksy?).
Anyway, minor quibble aside, it's great. Last week's opener was good; this one, written by Steve Thompson, is better. Crucially, it's scarier – with some proper creepy moments in a dark museum, and the ominous threat of ruthless Chinese gang culture hanging over the whole thing. The plot is more satisfying – clearer and more self-contained. The Holmes-Watson relationship has bedded down into one that I think Conan Doyle would recognise, a mixture of admiration, infuriation and genuine affection. It's pacy, exciting and it looks brilliant.
Did anyone else notice the look on the face of a bloke in the crowd in the Trafalgar Square scene, a look that I think said "Bloody hell, it's Tim from The Office"? Well, Martin Freeman's not going to be Tim from The Office for much longer; he's going to be Watson – sorry, John – from Sherlock. And he and Benedict Cumberbatch, who are rapidly turning into The Fabulous Baker Street Boys, won't be able to walk through Trafalgar Square unmolested.
Only one problem: there's just one of these Sunday evening treats to go. Quick, get going on more, while the iron is hot. At least let's have a Christmas special to look forward to.