Let’s have a group discussion about the highest quality show on television right now. Discussion over. It’s Sherlock. Goodbye.
The very mention of the word Sherlock merits a standing ovation. That it hasn’t won every award imaginable is unconscionable. Even the Tony. I don’t care. It needs one. Or, you know, perhaps an Emmy or a Golden Globe, of which it has a preposterous zero. It’s currently sitting on Threat Level Amy Poehler in the Department of Gayland Security’s pyramid of award travesties.
We have to fix this disaster next time Sherlock is award-eligible because it is not just any old type of good. It’s Meryl Streep reading you a bedtime story every night good. It’s seeing your elementary school nemesis fall down a flight of stairs while carrying a plate of spaghetti good. It’s Benedict Cumberbatch good.
On that note, honorable mention on this list must go to the name Benedict Cumberbatch. I didn’t know I needed it in my life before Sherlock, but now I would be nowhere without it. It’s like the name you would give the magical garden gnome with a monocle who lives behind your tomato plants and dispenses age-old wisdom.
So, if that massive gem didn’t make the list of top qualities. Let’s find out what did.
5. Gay non-panic
I almost hesitate to include this among the top qualities because at this point we should expect characters to be able to state their sexualities without being horrifying, but pop culture experience shows us that’s clearly not the case. So, #5 seems an appropriate level of commendation for Sherlock’s tone.
Sherlock successfully addresses the obvious fact that John and Sherlock are the gayest non-gay characters in history (See: fan fiction, all) while never letting a simple clarification of sexuality descend into the reactions of gross or laughable that define gay panic. There is no panic because there is no implication of weirdness, otherness, inferiority, or insult. Instead, John is characteristically matter-of-fact (“I’m not gay”), while Sherlock is characteristically asexually uninterested (“I consider myself married to my work.”) Neither is alarmed or embarrassed by the notion.
Still, the continuing “everyone thinks they’re gay” thread on Sherlock would be somewhat tiresome were it not woven into actual character development. After Afghanistan, John is isolated, mistrusting, and ambivalent about returning to normal life. In need of action, he becomes addicted to the thrill of being a consulting detective, and his life becomes increasingly intertwined with Sherlock’s. His continual need to clarify to everyone that he’s not gay reflects less an adolescent panic at the notion of seeming gay and more a feeble, far-too-late attempt to separate himself from Sherlock somehow and deny that the has frighteningly (to him, at least) begun to care about and trust someone. In “Baskerville,” when John can’t even muster the energy anymore to correct the pub owner, it’s clear he has given in. He may not be gay, but he does love Sherlock Holmes, which might actually be cause for panic.
4. Thoroughly modern Sherlock
The idea of an updated Sherlock Holmes with 21st century technology seems so obvious, so completely appropriate for the character, that it’s insane it hadn’t already been done a million times before Sherlock came along. Of course Sherlock would be a glutton for every new way of understanding more things faster. Of course he would communicate solely through texts. Of course he would summon John from across the city to bring his computer in from the next room. Every modern choice in the series provokes an “of course” reaction because each one is so well thought out and so seamlessly fitting for the character.
Possibly, modern Sherlock hadn’t been done to death before because the character has become too linked to all of the associated atmospheric trappings, accumulated like barnacles over decades of adaptations: the fog, the Victorian streets, the hat, the pipe. In truth, those things have nothing to do with who Sherlock is, and the show’s great success comes in understanding this. By freeing the story of all those silly appurtenances, Sherlock and John are entirely refreshed and begin to feel like brand new characters even though they are exceptionally well preserved replicas of a different age.
3. Thoroughly equal Watson
It would seem easy to the point of inevitability that when Watson is stripped of the narrator role he occupies in the stories, he would become pale and uninteresting, the afterthought assistant whose job is to look on and be occasionally fretful or awestruck. Perhaps that’s why Watson is made bumbling in some adaptations, instead. At least it’s a trait.
Sherlock’s John Watson, however, is just as memorable as his flashier counterpart because his normalcy never becomes blandness. Watson must always act as a stand-in for the audience, as dumbfounded by Sherlock’s brilliance as we would be, but this John Watson does not simply stand in for us in terms of asking questions like “How could you tell she’s having an affair?” He stands in for us because he appreciates Sherlock just as much as we do. He is Sherlock’s friend, not his sycophantic onlooker or joyless appendage. In spite of his intense and constant frustration, John thinks Sherlock is funny, which is central to establishing the relationship of equals that they have.
Even when John must act the conscience and remind Sherlock that wondering why a mother would be upset over her long-dead daughter is “a bit not good,” he is still amused by and a little appreciative of these social transgressions. Martin Freeman’s mastery of the suppressed smirk + eye roll combination shows that it’s both of them against the world, rather than Sherlock’s brain against all the mundane people.
2. Moriarty’s dulcet tones
That voice. The villainy is in the voice. I struggle even to begin to describe it justly. It’s a sort of constantly sarcastic, amused bubbling shriek with near-pubescent tonal variations. There’s childish, singing naughtiness embedded in the evil, and it’s quite possibly the creepiest thing in my life right now. For that I must thank it. The piercing, clownish pride of “I’m sooooo changeable” will be embedded with perfection in my mind forever.
Andrew Scott’s arch vocal styling effectively turns the character into a manic showboat, one who is clearly, legitimately unhinged and broken to the point of irreparability by the alienating power of his own mind. It gives immediate explanation to the villainy: he is horrifyingly addled. His entire erratic characterization is a cure for the nasty case of “Hello, I’m a ludicrously insane serial killer. Let’s speak rationally and politely now” with which we have become infected over the years and which, in a modern show such as this, would have been the dullest of clichés.
Unfortunately for Andrew Scott, it’s now impossible not to think of Moriarty whenever the actor smiles or laughs or widens his eyes in any context. Interviews with him contain the world’s scariest-sounding pleasant anecdotes, like he definitely has a bomb strapped to an old lady just out of shot.
1. Sherlock being Sherlock
I have long been of the belief that the internet is one big high-functioning sociopath with low blood sugar and manic-depression. That’s why it gets along so very well with Sherlock and the geyser of insults that regularly spews forth from Holmes. Honestly, the entire internet should probably just get together and fund the next series as a thank you for the amount of use it has gotten out of the following:
“Don’t talk out loud. You lower the IQ of the whole street.”
“I dislike being outnumbered. It makes for too much stupid in the room.”
“Look at you lot. You’re all so vacant. Is it nice not being me? It must be so relaxing.”
“Dear God, what must it be like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring.”
“Oh, John, I envy you so much. Your mind, so placid, straightforward, barely used.”
And most of all, “BORED!”
Next page…. The very worst thing about Sherlock.