Anne Harris investigates the modern obsession with Baker Street.

The game must be afoot: Sherlock Holmes is everywhere these days. And by ‘everywhere’, I mean that the hero of deduction has appeared in two international blockbuster films and a six-part BBC miniseries in the past two years. Not bad for someone who’s been dead for at least fifty years.

The films are from director Guy Ritchie, who took his post-Madonna downtime and created a lush turn of the century London, with Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes seeming almost bemused about the idiots that surround him when not plotting his next moves in the boxing ring and sidekick Watson (Jude Law) generally standing aloof and looking straight out of an 1894 edition of GQ. Steven Moffat’s miniseries, simply called Sherlock, is set in the modern day; a risky premise, maybe, but the man responsible for sticking Doctor Who firmly back in his Tardis (and back on top of the ratings) was never going to let us down. His incarnation of the detective is manic in his deductions, sharply tailored, and given an almost Aspbergian charm that has earned him quite the fan following (self-titled, after star Benedict Cumberbatch, Cumberbitches).

So why are these tales suddenly so popular? It could be the underlying theme of boredom: Sherlock’s lighting-speed deduction means no intellectual challenge can hold him for long, and so he’s always searching for the next big thrill. Nowadays, we may not have the killer intellect, but we’ve certainly got the hardware: what question can’t be answered with, at most, ten minutes with a search engine? We all end up thrill-seekers of some order too. Maybe it’s Holmes’ choice of employment: being a ‘consulting detective’ that gets to work when he likes, how he likes, and with whom he likes, and no one can tell him otherwise, since everybody knows that their puny minds look like bowls of room-temperature lard next to his potent SuperBrain. It certainly beats the pants off some management-y desk job, anyway.

Or perhaps it’s the gay. Although Holmes and Watson’s brotherly relations have been a staple since the first Conan Doyle short stories, both Ritchie and Moffat’s respective takes leave far less ‘are they?’ and far more ‘of COURSE they are’ to the imagination. It’s a recurring joke in Sherlock (the utterly unconvincing Irene Adler as the love interest really doesn’t help matters), but the lack of acknowledgement of homoerotic tension between two gorgeous men in the Ritchie films makes it somehow even more glaringly obvious. Take the wedding scene in the second film. With the shots alternating between a confused Watson and a heartbroken Holmes, the future Mrs Watson may as well have not bothered showing up. Whether or not either series intended to depict the bromance without the ‘B’, the fact that the gay element can be freely embraced and played with adds new depths to the story (plus plenty of fuel for the fanfiction writers).

And so we come to the next chapter in Sherlock’s growth. This time, rumours have recently been confirmed that US network CBS has purchased the rights to their own Holmes series. It will be called ‘Elementary’, and has a remarkably similar premise to Sherlock – the detective and his cases gussied up for modern times. The only discernable difference thus far is the setting – since a terrifyingly high number of my countrymen are not able to find Europe on a world map, much less locate the beloved Baker Street, the producers have decided to transplant Holmes to New York City. An American Sherlock is more than a bit questionable. The USA has a mixed track record importing shows: some become hits in their own right, taking the original British premise and modifying it with new characters and storylines (The Office, Shameless), some neglect the original story and subsequently never find their footing (Prime Suspect) and a few just crash and burn (Skins).

Putting aside what category Elementary could fall into (and ignoring the none-too-subtle ‘screw you’ to Moffat if he doesn’t receive any inspiration credit), I just can’t help feeling I’ve seen an American Sherlock Holmes tale before. It was definitely set in the modern day and had complex, high-stakes cases. I’m thinking it centered around a brilliant man who, despite crippled by boredom and addiction, managed to tap his astonishing bank of knowledge and razor-sharp deduction to solve the case just in time. There was even a sidekick involved. Maybe it took place in a hospital?

CBS, check the Fox network for that one.

Or at least in your Sherlock rip-off bring back the cocaine from the books.


Anne Harris

Image Credit – Mike Quinn