The best scene in Sherlock, a modern update of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, occurs in the first episode. Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) have just spotted a potential serial killer driving away in a taxi. Although they are on foot, Sherlock thinks he can outrun the cab and he sprints after it, yelling for John to follow him. They madly cut through buildings, jump over rooftops, and basically leap through a teeming, jumbled, crazy, ancient and modern, 2010 London.
This is the genius of the show. Sherlock doesn't just bring Holmes and Watson into the 21st Century, it makes 21st Century London more like the Victorian version. Instead of the cold and gleaming metropolis most current British movies and tv shows depict - this is a London with adventure, murder, and intrigue around every corner. A city with nooks and crannies and detritus piled on from centuries of use. Rough and tumble, this London contains everything and everyone: international bankers, talk show personalities, circus performers, art smugglers, amateur astronomers, graffiti artists, and, of course, murderers and master criminals.
There is so much to love in this adaptation. First, the performances. Benedict Cumberbatch lives up to his terrific name and is a perfect Sherlock. He's similar to Hugh Laurie's House (who, of course, is based on Holmes) - moody, arrogant, cold, and rude. He's miserable at making friends, and in fact, when we first see him he has none. Then he meets Dr. John Watson, a military doctor recently home from Afganistan, who needs a flatmate.
Martin Freeman's John Watson is rather brilliant as well. He has the more difficult, less showy part, and he quietly anchors the show in reality. His Watson, like everyone else, finds Sherlock Holmes irritating, but he also is attracted to Sherlock's genius and the life of adventure he leads. John is at loose ends, so with nothing better to do, he becomes Sherlock's colleague and they have a ball dashing around London together, solving impossible crimes.
The writing and direction are very snappy and the production and costume design are stunning. Every item of clothing and nearly every set and location, while 2010-ish, also conveys a distinct whiff of Victoriana. 221b Baker Street is beautiful and looks musty, crowded, and cozy - just like an 1880s house should.
But it's the idea of modern London as a glossier and slightly cleaner continuation of Victorian London that truly makes the series great. All good detectives need a fascinating city surrounding them - a place that they fit into and sometimes bite against. And this Sherlock Holmes definitely has his.
Sherlock's first series is just three 90-minute episodes which already aired in the UK and will be on PBS in October.