Funny how the world's most famous consulting detective has been everywhere of late, and looking sexier than ever. And even funnier how all of the interpretations, while distinctive, seem to influence each other. The Robert Downey, Jr. film franchise, the recently defunct medical drama House, M.D., and the BBC series Sherlock (little word yet on CBS' fall drama Elementary) all work against the Victorian-era conception of Holmes with a winking emphasis on the bromance between Holmes and his live-in companion Dr. Watson, some fleshy heterosexual innuendo for balance, and adrenalized visual schemes. But Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss can claim the classiest post-millennial take on Arthur Conan Doyle's enduring hero: thus far, their conceit has thoughtfully brought Holmes up to date using Doyle's tales as narrative stepladders.
Moffat and Gatiss (both alums of Doctor Who) begin their second series of three telefilms by dispatching with the previous series' cliffhanger involving Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott). As Moffat puts it in the behind-the-scenes documentary "Sherlock Uncovered," Series Two busts out with "the three biggest stories in the canon...it's love, horror, and thriller." "Love" is "A Scandal in Belgravia," Moffat's take on the original Doyle story "A Scandal in Bohemia." The story introduces Irene Adler, "the woman" with an intellect and ruthlessness allowing her to go toe-to-toe with Holmes. As reconceived for Sherlock, Adler (Lara Pulver) works as a dominatrix with a highly exclusive clientele and the goods to shame them all. Secret-agent brother Mycroft Holmes (Gatiss) recruits his brother to get Adler's camera phone, which holds incriminating photos of a royal. The meeting of Sherlock and Adler immediately becomes a seductive dance, prompting Adler's assessment "Brainy's the new sexy." In customary Sherlock fashion, the case proves far more complicated than it first appears, escalating to a whole new level of life-and-death stakes. Simultaneously, Sherlock must deal with celebrity, after the blogs penned by Watson (Martin Freeman) make the detective "an internet phenomenon" (by chance, a deerstalker cap becomes, again, Holmes' iconic headgear).
"Horror" is The Hound of the Baskervilles, reimagined here by Gatiss as "The Hounds of Baskerville." Sherlock borrows Russell Tovey from Being Human (where he plays a werewolf) to play Henry Knight, who hires Holmes to investigate the larger-than-life hound Knight believes to be roaming Dartmoor. Henry remembers the infamous hound from his childhood, and in his dreams he relives the beastly death of his father. Holmes and Watson look for answers in Dewer's Hollow, a hamlet in the shadow of top secret Ministry of Defence testing site Baskerville. Holmes finds himself curiously rattled, but eventually unearths all of the secrets needed to solve the case. "Thriller" recalls "The Final Problem," in which Holmes famously tumbled to his apparent death at Reichenbach Falls. Sherlock's "The Reichenbach Fall" finds "consulting criminal" Moriarty back in action, audaciously plundering Buckingham Palace and walking away scot-free. His endgame: systematically to demoralize and thus destroy Sherlock Holmes.
The series' good-natured irreverence excuses those occasional liberties that may send eyeballs rolling. For the most part, it's devilishly clever and stylishly directed by feature helmer Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1, Push) and lauded small-screen director Toby Haynes (Doctor Who). Cutting a striking figure, Benedict Cumberbatch makes the most of his newfound star status: the self-satisfaction of his fiercely focused Holmes finds balance in relatable vulnerability, his well-earned ego humbled by Moriarty, Adler and Watson (who labors to keep his friend's head on straight). The always funny Freeman remains a delightful presence, both warm and acerbic, as Watson struggles for his own happiness even as he knows his support of Holmes is his higher calling (Una Stubbs and Rupert Graves provide welcome additional support as Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade). Audiences will no doubt continue to enjoy being chastened along with Watson, Holmes telling us all, "As ever, you see, but do not observe."
BBC provides 1080i transfers of Sherlock, and they're up to the snuff of the Season One imagery: clean and tight picture quality with strong marks all around for detail and texture, subtly rich color and solid black level. All three films come with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes, but they are well-calibrated for prioritized dialogue and enough ambience and musical potency—occasionally punctuated with pulse-raising action—to convince listeners they're getting their money's worth.
Bonus features add significant value to the set, beginning with two audio commentaries, for "A Scandal in Bohemia" with co-creators/executive producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue, and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" with Moffat, Gatiss, Vertue and actor Russell Tovey. It's a bit odd that the third film doesn't get its own commentary, but there you are; fans will very much enjoy these relaxed and informative chats.
Not unlike the Doctor Who Confidential featurettes, "Sherlock Uncovered" (19:06, HD) provides behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Moffat, Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Vertue, Andrew Scott, Gatiss, director Paul McGuigan, Pulver, special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves, and production designer Arwel Wyn Jones.
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