Review: Sherlock (no spoilers)


Last night I watched the first episode of season 4 of the Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It seems to me that as the series progresses, the writers are becoming too clever by half, to the point where one can imagine them chuckling as they add one more improbable twist to the plot, saying gleefully, “This will blow people’s minds!”

This is not to say that the episode was bad. I was engrossed throughout the entire ninety minutes, especially since I am somewhat of a purist about the world Arthur Conan Doyle created and prefer the Holmes stories being set in the gothic period rather than in modern times. I think the best way I can describe my reaction is to say that it was highly entertaining but not satisfying. I would not blame audiences for feeling that they have been manipulated.

Its strengths are in the dialogue. There are plenty of funny lines, especially self-referential ones where the characters talk about their portrayal as characters in the stories Watson writes for the public. Its weakness is that no one seems to have stepped back at any point and asked the question: Does the overall story make any sense? For example, what was the point of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft’s strange portrayal back in the 19th century?

Another problem is that the episode does not stand alone. Although they have a rapid run through of clips of the previous episodes right at the beginning, I suspect that it would not be enough for those who haven’t seen the earlier stories to catch the allusions and figure out what was going on.

So my recommendation would be to watch it but just go with the flow and not try to make too much sense out of it. It will be re-broadcast on Sunday, January 10th on public television channels in the US. Here’s the trailer.

Comments

  1. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    It seems to me that as the series progresses, the writers are becoming too clever by half, to the point where one can imagine them chuckling as they add one more improbable twist to the plot, saying gleefully, “This will blow people’s minds!”

    That’s true. You’re absolutely correct. When writers break the fourth wall to demonstrate the brilliance of their writing to readers (or viewers) they fail.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    First off, congrats on making it through. I was put off early by 21st century colloquialisms and smartarse comments coming from a 19th century character.

    too clever by half

    Yes. When you’re constantly aware of the little writing tricks, it detracts somewhat from the story. It’s even more annoying than the reincarnated Doctor Who, which Gatiss and Moffat both worked on. Smart patter and contrived crises seem to trump coherence these days. It seems that many writers have contempt for their audiences.

    /Old fart

  3. moarscienceplz says

    Yeah, I was mildly entertained, but I think they shouldn’t have tried to tie this one into the 21st century storyline. Basil Rathbone somehow time-travelled from Victorian times in The Hound of the Baskervilles to the London Blitz with nary a hint of justfication and no one complained. Gatiss and Moffat should have done likewise.

  4. John Morales says

    According to Wikipedia, it is not the first episode of season 4 of the Sherlock series:

    On 2 July 2014, it was announced there would be a special episode broadcast between the third and fourth series. On 1 August 2014, it was confirmed that the special would air around Christmas 2015. Filming began on 5 January 2015 and wrapped on 10 February 2015. Moffat confirmed the episode is set in Victorian London saying, “The special is its own thing. We wouldn’t have done the story we’re doing, and the way we’re doing it, if we didn’t have this special. It’s not part of the run of three episodes. So we had this to do it… It’s kind of in its own little bubble.”

    [citations removed for legibility]

  5. Nick Gotts says

    Rob Grigjanis@2,

    I won’t give away how, but that was “explained” toward the end. As my wife said at the end: “That was a load of nonsense, but it was entertaining.” They obviously had a lot of fun making it.

    what was the point of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft’s strange portrayal back in the 19th century? – Mano

    Well in physical terms, he was more accurate than the modern Mycroft. Mycroft is described as “absolutely corpulent” when he first appears in Conan Doyle, and very seldom leaves the Diogenes Club – the modern slim gadabout is the clearer deviation from canon!

  6. Mano Singham says

    Nick,

    I was aware that Mycroft was quite sedentary and rotund in the books but this level of gluttony and the way he grabbed at the plum puddings was over the top and somewhat grotesque. This Mycroft seemed like the guy in the restaurant in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, not displaying the restrained behavior that would be expected of a member of the Diogenes Club.

  7. Bob Becker says

    Yes There’s a difference between a plot’s being complex and it’s being convoluted This one crossed from the forner to the latter about halfway through.

  8. EigenSprocketUK says

    I wondered if the overweight Mycroft with no self-respect and no decorum was also because the 21st century Sherlock would have given himself latitude to imagine his brother as fantastically overweight, and to be extra competitive about excelling at eating himself to death.
    I rather wished it had not brought any feminist issue into it because the result was toe-cringingly embarrassing. Perhaps the writers would justify that by saying it’s just reflecting the world of Sherlock’s own imagining.
    You’re right – it was too clever and too convoluted. The writers must have had lots of fun writing it (I hope), whereas I just felt I’d watched a long but inconsequential Christmas special. I would not have been surprised if Doctor Who and Graham Norton had made an appearance.

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