Reportedly, the BBC’s new Sherlock series is what nearly kept Martin Freeman from appearing in The Hobbit, due to scheduling conflicts.  I’m so happy that it all worked out, but if it hadn’t, it still might have been worth it.

I actually feel legitimately lucky that I tuned in to Sherlock last Sunday, when it aired on PBS under the Masterpiece Mysteries banner.  I hadn’t planned on doing it, but somehow it happened.  I feel like I stumbled into something pretty wonderful.

I’m not a long-time Sherlock Holmes fan – I read a couple of the novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when I was younger, and I really liked them, particularly The Hound Of The Baskervilles.  But that’s about the extent of it:  I didn’t even see the Robert Downey Jr. movie last year.  I’m also not a fan of the British television series Doctor Who, the series that Sherlock masterminds Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are best known for working on.  Nothing against that show – I just plain haven’t found the time.

Sherlock makes me want to go back and study up on all of the above.

In my opinion, this first episode was just that good.  A Study In Pink” is apparently based upon the first-ever Sherlock Holmes mystery, “A Study In Scarlet.”  In addition to the main mystery, about a series of unexplainable serial suicides, the episode serves as kind of a Year One introducing the famous pair of crime-solvers, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, in their modern incarnations. 

Sherlock is a thirty-something loner and “sociopath” with a possible addiction to substances and a definite addiction to danger who is often called in by the police, despite his lack of employment by them, to help advise on crime scenes that have no clear solutions.  He’s played perfectly by Benedict Cumberbatch as an unknowable, frustrating, but strangely endearing motormouth who is certainly charismatic but isn’t actually the protagonist of the story.

That would be Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who has returned to London with a severe limp and a world-weary outlook.  The first episode of Sherlock really is told from Watson’s point of view, as he first crosses paths with the famous detective and ends up as his flatmate at Baker Street and his partner in sleuthing.  You really couldn’t hang a series on a more compelling and likable actor.  Martin Freeman (still best known for The Office) is such a fluid and technically-specific actor – he can turn expository lines of dialogue into punchlines with the arch of an eyebrow – that it’s a great pleasure to watch him at work.  (The dialogue and banter on this show are impeccable and joy-inducing, by the way.)  As Dr. Watson, Freeman layers a convincing sheen of action-hero onto both his own comedic persona and the character of Watson, who is often portrayed as a pudgy or fussy character.  The Dr. Watson of Sherlock suggests reservoirs of lethal competence and also real darkness, but that’s not to say that he’s not also dry, wry, and very funny.  It’s a great character done with great characterization.

The entire production is equally well-done – bringing cinematic production quality and a modern-day setting to a Victorian-era character could have led to a misfire, but up-to-the-minute touches such as Sherlock running a website and using nicotine patches only add to the character and story in a considered and convincing way.  Text-messaging is also smoothly incorporated into the story better than I’ve ever seen before in TV or films.  The musical score is far better than you usually hear in TV, the cinematography is sterling and crisp, and every role on the show, large and small, is well-played.   A couple times, the modern editing and graphics do get a little too conspicuous, but I have no doubts that those tiny kinks will be ironed out in future episodes.

There are two more ninety-minute episodes in this first series of Sherlock, which I’m told will run on PBS on the next two Sunday nights (October 31st and November 7th).  I’ll be watching, and I happily recommend that you do the same.