It's Technology, My Dear Watson: Sherlock for the 21st Century

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson

The famous detective now texts and surfs the net while Watson writes a blog. This is not your mother's Sherlock Holmes.


Airtime: Wednesday, 9PM
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Subtitle: A Study in Pink
Network: BBC One, PBS
Air date: 2010-10-24
Original Air Date: 2010-07-25

Forget the clothes and the present day London sets, the sign that BBC One's new series Sherlock, is not your mother’s Holmes is the mobile. More precisely, it’s the texts that the famous detective sends in the opening scenes of the first episode.

Faced with a series of suicides that appear related, the police are holding a press conference. While Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) discusses theories on the case, the journalists’ phones begin to buzz and the word “wrong” appears several times across the screen as a sort of floating subtitle. Sherlock doesn’t like what he’s hearing and he’s embarrassing the cops, sms style.

The use of subtitles—they appear whenever Sherlock is texting or searching the Internet on his phone—is gimmicky but it’s also a fun (if not obvious) way to update the Holmes’ stories. Another way the series makes the detective current is casting Benedict Cumberbatch whose energetic performance takes Sherlock from gentleman sleuth to self-admitted “high functioning sociopath”. When this Sherlock is bored, he grabs a gun and uses his living room wall for target practice. When he’s not, he conducts experiments on corpses. Nicotine patches have replaced the pipe and 221B Baker Street is more shabby than chic.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be the same without his diary-writing companion Dr. Watson. In the updated version, John Watson (Martin Freeman) is now a blog-writing ex-Army doctor recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He meets Sherlock through a mutual acquaintance and, in need of a roommate and some distraction in his life, joins the manic detective on his cases. Watson is alternatively amazed by Sherlock’s insights, delivered by Cumberbatch with both speed and arrogance, and frustrated by his roommate’s lack of empathy. Responding to the suicides in episode one, Holmes gleefully remarks: “Four serial suicides and now a note? It’s Christmas!”

While the suicides in the first episode are an interesting plot device, the solution to the mystery feels like the writers dropped the action into an episode of Fringe. Still, Sherlock is fast-paced and the chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch works to keep this darkly amusing version of Holmes from becoming unlikeable. By the third episode, the last of the 90-minute episodes of season one, Moriarty (Andrew Scott) enters the picture. Again, the plot feels like something else, this time it’s Die Hard 3, but the promise of more clashes between the consulting detective and Moriarty’s “consulting criminal” is more than enough to keep me interested in season two. Maybe by then, Sherlock will be Tweeting.

For viewers in the United States, Sherlock will be shown on Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS, 24 and 31 October and 7 November, at 9PM EST.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.