Sherlock Season 2 (BBC Worldwide)

sherlockBBC sqI cannot recommend this series enough. If you have not seen the first season, it is available on Netflix streaming. I promise you will be hooked immediately—and it only gets better from there.

 

sherlockBBC 500

It’s become very popular to criticize the recent Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. by saying that they are not as good as the BBC series Sherlock. It’s a popular opinion because it is true. I enjoyed the first Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film, but I forgot about it approximately ten minutes into the pilot of Sherlock. For those who don’t know, this series places Sherlock Holmes in the modern day. He is still the same character, but he uses cell phones and modern labs in his investigations. Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and Dr. Watson is played by Martin Freeman, both of whom make the iconic roles their own. Each season is made up of three 90-minute episodes, each of which effectively functions as its own film. This makes it very unique in the world of television, and fortunately for me, makes it easy to review.

The first episode of Season 2 is “A Scandal in Belgravia.” The first season ended on a cliffhanger, which is wrapped up here in an amusing, but less than fully satisfying way. It doesn’t matter, because we immediately are on to bigger and brighter things. This episode deals with the character of Irene Adler, who was played by Rachel McAdams in the Guy Ritchie films. I hate to just continue with this point, but I must: Her character in the films was completely wasted. Here, she is played by Lara Pulver, and she lights up the screen. In the books, Adler is famously the only person who could ever go toe to toe with Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch is so commanding in his portrayal that Pulver had quite a task convincing us of this, and yet she pulls it off with ease and grace. Their scenes together are pure gold.

What makes this episode stand out from every other episode of the series thus far is how big it is. Seasons change, and we get the sense that this woman has been a presence in their lives for almost an entire year. It is also the densest episode of the season. The core of the story is that Irene Adler has a phone that contains highly sensitive materials, and Sherlock must figure out how to get to these materials. But there is so much more going on around that; it’s also the most stylish and inventive episode of the season. One scene in particular, in which Holmes and Adler mentally work their way through a crime scene, is just amazing to watch. It’s a fantastic hour and a half of filmmaking.

The second episode is “The Hounds of Baskerville,” based on the most famous of Sherlock Holmes stories. In the first season, the middle episode was not quite as stellar as the ones before and after it; that is true again here, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. The story finds Holmes and Watson traveling to a small town in the English countryside to investigate rumors of a giant monstrous dog, which is allegedly the result of shady government experiments conducted at the Baskerville research facility. It’s a much more straightforward narrative, and you get the sense that the original story is the entire inspiration for Scooby-Doo. After the twists and turns of “A Scandal in Belgravia,” this story can’t help but feel a bit slight, but it makes up for this in different ways.

What I liked about “The Hounds of Baskerville” is that, again, there was a conscious effort to do something different with the show. Up until now, the show has taken place almost exclusively in the heart of London, and the new locale is refreshing. They also use this as an opportunity to play with genre and make what is more or less a horror movie. There is a strong American Werewolf in London vibe, as well as some distrust of the military, which recalls the films of George Romero. I love horror movies, so I was very pleased to see these elements brought in to add a new layer to the show. One suspense scene involving security lights is especially effective in a Spielberg-ian, never-see-the-monster kind of way.

The finale of Season 2 is called “The Reichenbach Fall,” and like the finale of the first season, it is about Sherlock facing off against his arch nemesis, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Scott’s performance is weird, over-the-top, theatrical, and utterly compelling. The episode opens with him pulling off a spectacular crime. I won’t go into details, because this is a bravura sequence which has to be experienced. It lasts about five minutes and is as thrilling as anything I’ve seen in a heist movie.

I mentioned in my review of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows that the filmmakers seemed to be taking cues from The Dark Knight, without much success. How many films since The Dark Knight have included the Heat scene of the hero and villain sitting down and eyeing each other up while engaged in conversation? Sherlock does this scene far better than A Game of Shadows. I was reminded of Christopher Nolan a lot during this episode, and in case you didn’t assume, that’s a good thing. “The Reichenbach Fall” is an exceptional piece of work. It moves with a ferocity that leaves you out of breath by the end. We also see a more human side of Holmes, which is rare, especially for Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the character. There is so much good content crammed into these 90 minutes, I don’t know what else to say about it; I just had to sit back and let it work its magic.

Television shows that have a strong first season often feel the need to top themselves in the second, and season 2 of Sherlock is a resounding success. It knows that the characters and their relationships have been established and it focuses on telling amazing stories amazingly well. If you look at each episode as an individual film, “A Scandal in Belgravia” and “The Reichenbach Fall” are as good as any films I’ve seen so far this year. I cannot recommend this series enough. If you have not seen the first season, it is available on Netflix streaming. I promise you will be hooked immediately—and it only gets better from there. | Sean Lass

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