If you are a fan of British TV, chances are good that you’ve already seen Steven Moffat’s and Mark Gatiss’s Sherlock reboot, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. If you haven’t, well, what do you have to say for yourself?
I fall in the latter camp; I have watched the first three series and the 2015 Christmas special, but I was underwhelmed by the first episode of the fourth season and decided to watch it at a future date. That’s all more than you need to know; mainly I was annoyed that the writers clearly felt they needed to make Sherlock some kind of action hero (which is just so wrong; in my opinion, the cells that Sherlock should be exercising are only the “little grey ones” of his brain, much like Agatha Christie’s Poirot), and I kind of wanted the whole Mary (Mrs. John Watson) subplot to develop and resolve differently. But I am not here to lament the series going off the rails (in my opinion); I am here to give you your viewers’ guide, luv.
Set in modern London, this Sherlock series features a more clearly and self-identified sociopathic Sherlock Holmes, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The series is based, of course, on the literary creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many of the episodes are remakes of various Holmes stories (“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “A Scandal in Belgravia,” etc.) Sherlock’s sidekick here is, of course, John Watson, but this Doctor Watson, at the beginning of the series, is suffering from flashbacks to his military service in Afghanistan. After the two are introduced and begin to share quarters at 221B Baker Street, it quickly becomes clear that they each fulfill very important roles for one another: Sherlock gives Watson something to do, in the form of helping solve crimes and then blogging about them afterwards; Watson gives Sherlock someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to insult when he’s feeling peckish, which is very nearly all the time. It’s a bromance for the ages.
The supporting players in this program are also strong. Rupert Graves is an absolute treat as the long-suffering police DI Greg Lestrade, as is the incomparable Una Stubbs as a feisty Mrs. Hudson, who often complains that Watson only portrays her as serving the tea (woman power, thy name is Mrs. Hudson).
I also have a soft spot for Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper, a “specialist registrar” in the morgue who pops up periodically to help with pathology, corpses, and Sherlock’s and John’s various schemes (you know, like the small matter of Sherlock leaping off a tall building…).
The pace of the show is fast and it has a unique visual feel and pulsing energy, particularly in the early seasons. Latter seasons were more about character development, as we learn more about the relationship between Sherlock and his brother Mycroft (played by co-creator and writer Mark Gatiss), and a new character–with her own secrets–appears in the form of Watson’s girlfriend and eventual wife, Mary Morstan.
A special shout-out for the villain throughout most of the series’ run (through 2017): James Moriarty, as played with delicious and absolute malevolence by Andrew Scott. When he’s not looking like evil personified, he’s stealing the Crown Jewels in almost balletic fashion. Of course I love the hijinks between Sherlock and John as much as anyone, but I’ll admit much of my enjoyment of this show came from the fun of watching Jim Moriarty being Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. (Well, being his arch-nemesis until another–spoiler alert–even scarier character came on the scene.)
Years aired: 2010-2017
Episodes and seasons: 13 90-minute episodes over four seasons.
Christmas episodes? Yes, the 90-minute (Victorian set piece) “The Abominable Bride.”
Primary Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock; Martin Freeman as John Watson; Andrew Scott as Moriarty; Rupert Graves as Lestrade; Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper; Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson; Amanda Abbington as Mary Watson; Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes; Sian Brooke as Eurus Holmes.
Creator and primary writers: Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss; written by Moffat, Gatiss, and Stephen Thompson.
Setting: London (Urban)
First aired on: BBC1
Streams on: A ton of services, including iTunes, Amazon, and Google.
Fun trivia: In episode 2 of series 3 (“The Empty Hearse”), the Holmes parents are played in cameo roles by Benedict Cumberbatch’s actual parents, Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton.
This trivia is not so fun: Partners of 16 years and parents to two children, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington (who also play John Watson and his secret-life-having girlfriend/wife Mary Morstan Watson) announced their separation after the airing of series four in 2017.
And, here’s 20 more things you may (or may not) know about Sherlock.
All out of Sherlock Episodes? Watch these next, luv:
Two series are of particular note for their similar focus on bromances:
Grantchester. The mysteries are more workaday, and the setting the 1950s, but the bromance between Sidney Chambers (James Norton), the vicar suffering from a case of bad war memories and unrequited (well, somewhat) love, and the hardened DI Geordie Keating (Robson Green), offers a dynamic similar to the one between Sherlock and Watson. Keating isn’t quite as caustic as Watson, Chambers is definitely better at human relationships than Sherlock, but their work together is a beautiful thing to behold. Although set in the 1950s, this series is also beautifully filmed and includes a lot of great, very distinctive music (particularly jazz). This series is also a literary adaptation, based on novels by James Runcie.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Considerably more stately in tone than either Sherlock or Grantchester, the adaptations of Christie’s mystery novels featuring David Suchet as Poirot also feature a great male friendship between Poirot and the charming and agreeable (if somewhat dopey) Captain Arthur Hastings. The murders aren’t as grisly and the villains not quite as dastardly as on Sherlock, but good old Dame Agatha still knew her way around the dark side of human natures. Besides, once you start this series, you won’t need to find other viewing for a while; there’s thirteen series of this classic, consisting of a total of 70 episodes.
One series seems similar due to its reliance on historical stories and themes:
Whitechapel. A great and not widely enough known crime drama, starring Rupert Penry-Jones as DI Joseph Chandler and Phil Davis as DS Ray Miles (who, interestingly enough, starred in the first episode of season 1 of Sherlock). The idea here is that a detective fighting crimes in modern-day Whitechapel is startled to find there are often historical precedents in crime that can help him untangle modern mysteries. He even goes so far as to hire a consultant and “Ripperologist” (Steve Pemberton) to get his department’s historical records in order, so parallels between crimes can be discovered and used. It sounds like it makes no sense. Penry-Jones as Chandler provides a nice parallel to Sherlock; supremely confident in his own way but also tortured, particularly by OCD, and his own ambitions. It’s a truly great series, and let’s not forget: Rupert Penry-Jones is dreamy.
Another slickly produced and high-energy series that might appeal follows modern-day spy themes rather than mysteries:
MI-5, or Spooks (as it was known in the UK). When I first saw the spy series MI-5, which focused on the activities of members in the domestic intelligence service of the UK, I was blown away by the production values and the sheer amount of storyline and action the producers managed to pack into each 60-minute episode. One of their most often-used techniques is to use split-screen filming to portray concurrent storyline action, which sounds cheesy as hell but is super-intense to watch. All of the starring members of this show, and there were a lot of them, certainly held up their ends of their roles, and they all had their own problems and conflicts with their work, making for a lot of volatile personal relationships. Main characters were played by a variety of heavy-hitters in Brit TV, including Matthew McFadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo, Jenny Agutter, Rupert Penry-Jones, Nicola Walker, Peter Firth, Richard Armitage, and Hermione Norris.
For the sheer fun of watching Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in very different roles:
The Office (UK version). Oh, how I love the British The Office. I could never really get myself to watch the American version because, frankly, once you’ve seen Ricky Gervais and Co. hit it out of the park you’re kind of spoiled forever. In this mockumentary series, Gervais starred as the awful but still generally harmless boss David Brent, one of whose biggest sins was thinking he was a lot funnier than he really was. Martin Freeman, meanwhile, won women’s hearts everywhere by being half of the cutest couple ever put together on TV: Tim and Dawn (played by Lucy Davis). And they all made Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook), the uptight office toadie, completely nuts. This is the perfect antidote if you’ve been starting to feel that Sherlock is getting to be a bit too heavy–there’s serious moments in The Office, and a lot of pathos, but mainly it’s just so, so funny.
The Hollow Crown. Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in this historical drama. Okay, it’s an adaptation of Shakespeare, so it’s not quite as snappy as Sherlock. Or, I should say, it’s snappy, but it’s more like 15-century snappy. Either way if you’ve got a jones to see more Cumberbatch you could do a lot worse than this. Plus, check out everyone in this trailer: Tom Hiddleston, Patrick Stewart, Jeremy Irons, David Morrissey, holy cow.
For purists everywhere, don’t forget:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. This program aired in the mid-80s, and is for many fans still the definitive TV adaptation of the Holmes stories.
And now for something completely different:
You could also of course check out modern series of Doctor Who, many of which have been written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. But if you’re really curious about Steven Moffat’s range, consider watching his early 2000s comedy Coupling. Oh, it was so great. Six single people in London, in one of the truly funniest ensemble groupings anywhere. The game is on, all right, but this game is mainly about trying (and largely failing, but always trying) to understand the mystery that is coupling up.
Still not satisfied? Here’s a list of 5 More Mystery Shows to Watch Now that Sherlock is Done; and here’s 20 shows to watch while you wait for Sherlock to return.
What would YOU suggest as a watch-alike for “Sherlock”?