New on DVD/Blu-ray: Sherlock Season One

Everyone knows Hollywood is obsessed with youth, what with all the constant rebooting and remaking and re-imagining of old characters, but apparently the BBC is trying to catch up. After striking gold with modern twists on two familiar characters, Robin Hood and Merlin, the BBC is back at it again, this time bringing Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic sleuth Sherlock Holmes into the present with none other than “Doctor Who” mastermind Steven Moffat at the helm. Called simply “Sherlock”, the first season of the hit BBC series now arrives on DVD and Blu-ray from BBC Warner.

A contemporary take on the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock is a thrilling, funny, fast-paced adventure series set in present-day London. Co-created by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling) and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock stars BAFTA-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Hawking, Amazing Grace) as the new Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Office, Love Actually), as his loyal friend, Doctor John Watson. Rupert Graves plays Inspector Lestrade. The iconic details from Conan Doyle’s original books remain — they live at the same address, have the same names and, somewhere out there, Moriarty is waiting for them. And so across three thrilling, scary, action-packed and highly modern-day adventures, Sherlock and John navigate a maze of cryptic clues and lethal killers to get at the truth.

Season One Review:

The first thing you notice about “Sherlock” is that it’s not about a smartass teenager running around solving crimes that adults are clueless to figure out, which you would be forgiven for expecting given the BBC’s reworkings of Robin Hood and Merlin. Instead, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock Holmes as a man in his ’30s, and Martin Freeman, no virgin chicken himself, is Doctor Watson. Holmes’ greatest nemesis, Moriarty (what, you didn’t expect him to show up or something? Perish the thought) is hinted at in the first two episodes, but not actually seen by way of a formal introduction until the third episode, and even then, only in the final 10 minutes.

There are three episodes in the first season of “Sherlock”, each running about 90 minutes apiece. If you added in broadcast commercials, they are essentially two-hour movies each. The first episode is “A Study in Pink”, which opens with Watson (Freeman) having flashbacks to his time in Afghanistan. Yes, Watson has been re-envisioned as a veteran of the War on Terror. How’s that for contemporary? Meanwhile, the first time we see Holmes (Cumberbatch — honestly, that’s just an awesome last name), he’s in the city morgue whipping a corpse with a riding crop. This is not your father’s Sherlock Holmes and Watson, in case you didn’t “get” it yet. The two meet when a mutual acquaintance introduces them, believing that since either men can find a suitable flatmate who can stand them, they might actually be perfect for each other.

The plot for “A Study in Pink” revolves around a rash of suicides by seemingly happy people that have left the police, of course, baffled. With no answers forthcoming, the coppers turn to Holmes, who has self-appointed himself a “consultant Detective”. With Watson hobbling beside him (the former soldier was injured during his time in Afghanistan, though Holmes insists he’s just imagining the pain), the duo sets about solving the case, butting heads with the local coppers who are none too fond of Holmes. Okay, they pretty much hate his guts, and only turns to him when there is no other place to go, and even then they still hate his guts.

Written by Steven Moffat and directed by Paul McGuigan (“Push”, “Lucky Number Slevin”), “Sherlock” is a well-conceived, well-written, and well-acted show. Cumberbatch is fantastic as the brilliant Holmes, who can deduce your life from just a glance, though not always perfectly. There are a couple of nifty sequences where Moffat literally walks you through Holmes’ trains of thought, with superimposed captions popping up like word balloons to illustrate what it is that Holmes is “seeing” that we aren’t. Slickly directed and expertly paced, “A Study in Pink” easily and effortlessly demonstrates the appeal of Holmes despite whatever personality traits he may be missing (like basic civilized behavior, or a total lack of pop culture, among other things).

The second episode is “The Blind Banker”, which opens with Holmes hired to investigate some vandalism at a bank, a minor enough job that eventually leads to two dead bodies, including a journalist and some unsavory Chinese types. Meanwhile, Watson struggles with his finances, not helped by the fact that Holmes seems more interested in solving puzzles rather than getting paid for it. To offset his light wallet, Watson looks for a job, where he meets a potential love interest (Zoe Telford). The mysterious Moriarty is spoken off in “Banker”, but not seen.

And of course, we come to “The Great Game”, which finally gives us that proper introduction to Holmes’ arch nemesis Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott) that we’ve all been waiting for since the first episode. Essentially the criminal version of Holmes (or more aptly, a “consultant criminal”), Moriarty finally surfaces in spectacular fashion, orchestrating a series of crimes across the city, including a bombing that almost takes Holmes’ head off. Meanwhile, Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, also returns to hire Holmes for a job investigating the suspicious death of a Government employee who may have absconded with the blueprints for a secret government missile defense system. What’s it all got to do with Moriarty? Answers await, my dear Watson! But of course, I won’t spoil it for you.

Mystery lovers will certainly dig Moffat’s new version of Sherlock Holmes. How does it compare to, say, Guy Ritchie’s movie version of the character? Very well, actually, though Cumberbatch’s Holmes isn’t nearly the action junkie that Robert Downey Jr.’s version seems to be, though he’s plenty tough in a scrape. The ubiquitous existence of technology (Holmes makes extensive use of his smart phone) gives the show a nice, modern touch, and you’re not really surprised Holmes knows how to master them being that, well, when he puts his mind to something there’s really no way to stop him.

I will admit, the idea of bringing Sherlock Holmes and Watson into today’s world seems a bit farfetched, if not downright ridiculous. But Moffat and company have definitely made it work, spectacularly. Heck, it’s almost elementary, isn’t it?

Blu-ray Special Features:

The Blu-ray set includes two discs containing all three episodes and special features. There are also two full-length commentary tracks for “A Study in Pink” and “The Great Game”. Producer Sue Vertue and writers/executive producers Mark Gattis (who also plays Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother on the show) and Steven Moffat do the honors for “Pink”, while Gattis joins stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman for “Game”.

There is a bonus “Unlocking Sherlock” featurette on the second disc, along with a shorter, 55-minute alternate version of “Pink” that, while using much of the same dialogue from the 90-minute version, looks and feels nothing like it. Plus, Holmes in jeans! The horror, the horror.

Buy “Sherlock: Season One” on DVD or Blu-ray from BBC Warner.