Making Mystery Interesting: Sherlock (TV Showcase #20)

For the first time in this Schowcase, I’m writing about a show that’s still airing. And what’s more, it’s super-popular. So I hope I do it justice with this humble post. There’s alot to say about it, from the acting talents of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, to the writing of Steven Moffat as compared to “Doctor Who”, its consistency with Sherlock Holmes continuity, or any other number of things. But I’m going to talk basics here, both something I like and something I’m not a big fan of. So, without further ado, this is “Sherlock”.

“Sherlock” began in 2010 and has so far run for ten hour-and-a-half-long episodes over three seasons, still continuing to the time of this writing. The series focuses on Sherlock Holmes and his partner John Watson, who room together at 221B Baker Street. But instead of the nineteenth century, the series takes place in the present day, adding another level of complexity to the series and difficulty to the solving of mysteries. The big recurring villain is the classic Moriarty with a completely modern twist, who appears often in the show to battle Sherlock. So why am I even taking a stab at this hugely popular show? What do I have to offer? Well, though it might have already been said, I want to talk about making a mystery interesting.

I don’t know about you, but I generally can’t stand more than one mystery before becoming completely tuned out. And that’s because of all the details and complexities I’m required to keep track of right along with the detective. And while I’m a big fan of that kind of interaction between performers and audience, I’m a modern-day kid who isn’t used to working that hard mentally in order to be entertained. So really it’s my own fault more than anything else. And I think it’s safe to say that other less popular attempts at Sherlock Holmes updates have encountered this problem. So why has “Sherlock” collected the largest fanbase of Sherlock Holmes since Basil Rathbone’s stuff? And no, it’s not Benedict’s gorgeousness, all you fangirls out there. It’s all about getting creative in making it interesting.

Like mentioned before, Basil Rathbone made a series of Sherlock Holmes stories in the 1940s that took place in the present day, which garnered a huge audience, as this had never been done before. But now we’ve got Robert Downey Jr. and “Elementary” (which is still going somehow) who are doing this kind of modernization often. So what does “Sherlock” bring to the table? Well, cheesy words floating on the screen. And I’m not actually joking. The words and images floating on the screen are what sells the show. And why? Because it offers the audience a look into the mind of Sherlock Holmes, to see how he processes things. When Sherlock looks at something, the images and words running through his mind pop up on the screen, so we can see how he’s thinking through the problem. It’s a brilliant way of advancing the plot without tons of dialogue, and it’s also a real challenge to pull off as well as Moffat and Gatiss do.

The problem I have with “Sherlock” is not so much the show itself as it is a behind-the-scenes factor. The show has been on the air for coming on six years now, and it’s only aired ten episodes. The main excuses we hear for lack of content is that the actors are hard to get to commit, and that the episodes are 90 minutes, not 45. But that’s only four and a half hours of material per season, which is an extremely small amount compared to “Doctor Who” or even “Downton Abbey”, which also puts out too little material per season.

Additionally, the fact that Moriarty has been in every episode since his first appearance totally gives away the probability that the actor signed on to the show, and so he had to be put in every episode. I mean, we’re still talking about Irene Adler, and she was only in one episode. And with the two-year gap (now three), the return of Moriarty is hardly a surprise for anyone who hasn’t been watching Sherlock live from the very beginning (which counts out every American viewer until recently). The show is formatted to incorporate the two years in between, including surprise reveals, like Moriarty’s return. But for anyone who watched the show by means other than live television, that shock factor is completely eliminated, because Moriarty was just there three episodes before. I think this format and release schedule are hard to work with, and in all honestly, it’s probably going to cause the show to end in another season or two.

But as far as the show itself goes, “Sherlock” took a run-down idea and made something as involved as a mystery fun and interesting to watch without sacrificing quality within the episode. What do you think?

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