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PBS' new 'Sherlock' is brilliant
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Masterpiece Mystery!" brings us Sherlock Holmes as you've never seen him. And yet the character is almost exactly the same as he was when A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887.

"Sherlock" takes the character of the world's greatest consulting detective and transports him to 2010. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a 21st-century genius who's as brilliant and bizarre as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 19th-century creation.

And "Sherlock" is itself utterly brilliant. It's full of suspense, action, adventure and wit — as oddly charming as the character of Holmes himself.

Writers/executive producers Steve Moffat and Mark Gattis ("Doctor Who") didn't want to reinvent the detective, they just wanted to bring him into the modern era.

"We were absolutely convinced that this was the right thing to do because we're huge, huge fans of Sherlock Holmes," Moffat said. "We're fanboys. We're true zealots."

But they recognized that they're living in a post-"CSI" world where all sorts of crime-solving science that the original Sherlock Holmes never even dreamed of is in play.

"What we worked out is that, obviously, the police do go around now doing fingerprints and footprint castings and all those sorts of things," Gattis said. "But Sherlock Holmes is still the cleverest man in the room. And that's key. He's the only one who can make that sort of leap" and put all the evidence together.

The show doesn't shy away from modern forensic science; the new Holmes texts, and the new Watson blogs.

The producers admit they were concerned about the reaction they'd get from Sherlock Holmes purists in the U.K., but the three TV movies were huge hits when they aired there last fall. "Sherlock" even received the blessing of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.

"We tried to be very, very true to the original characters, and there's so much in there for real die-hard fans to like," Gattis said. "But for us, it's about getting back to the characters as written, rather than about the trappings of [the Victorian era]."

Cumberbatch admitted it was a bit "daunting" to re-create the most-played fictional character in history (according to the Guinness World Records).

"I follow in the footsteps of about 230-odd people, in many different languages and different times as well," he said. "So it was quite nerve-racking, but there is an element of a blank canvas because of this brilliant reinvention and reinvigoration of him being a 21st-century hero."

Well, more reinvigoration than reinvention. The first of three "Sherlock" TV movies echoes the character's literary beginning. It's "A Study in Pink" instead of "A Study in Scarlet." And — as was the case 123 years ago — Holmes meets Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), a retired army physician recovering from wounds suffered in Afghanistan.

"Sherlock" centers on the relationship between the two.

"The story of Sherlock Holmes, on the surface, is about detection," Moffat said. "But in reality, it's about the best of two men who save each other — a lost, washed-up war hero, and man who could end up committing murders instead of solving them. … They become the best friendship ever, and they become heroes. That's what we fall in love with, not Sherlock Holmes on his own."

spierce@sltrib.com

'Masterpiece Mystery!'

The BBC-produced "Sherlock" debuts Sunday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. on KUED-Ch. 7. The second and third installments air Oct. 31 and Nov. 7.

Master detective • This time, Holmes is a 21st-century genius.
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