Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Stream a multi-Emmy winner: the SHERLOCK series' slick and shallow "His Last Vow"

After a couple of seasons of lots of Emmy nominations but no wins, the British television series Sherlock -- which nicely updates Sherlock Holmes into the 21st Century -- cleaned up at the year's awards night for the episode titled His Last Vow: seven wins, the most of any program, including four at the so-called Creative Emmys last week (as though acting, writing and directing aren't "creative" enough) and three at the big ceremony (Benedict Cumberbatch, below, for lead actor, Martin Freeman for supporting actor and Steven Moffat for writing chores). You can view all three seasons now via Netflix streaming, including nine roughly 90-minute episodes, plus three of those Behind-the-Scenes studies that give fans who can't get enough their second helping.

TrustMovies gave up on this series in the middle of its second season -- not because it was bad but rather because it was good-but-too-much-the-same and thus a tad repetitive. All those sudden screen blasts of words, purporting to show us how Sherlock's mind works but instead showing us how clever were the moviemakers in reducing their Mr. Holmes to manageable, TV-friendly proportions.

To its credit, the series moves very fast. It will not bore (not right away, at least). And it is acted as well as you could want from those two Emmy-winners and just about everybody else on view. It is written by its "re-creator," Mr Moffat, with precision and style, and each episode is directed (His Last Vow by Nick Hurran) with class and as much finesse as can be filtered into 80-odd minutes of plot-heavy development.

What brought me back to another Sherlock viewing was the recent Emmy win and my wondering just what might have changed. Not much, but this third-season, third-episode installment was perfectly watchable fun: clever, slick and shallow. Shallow? How dare I! Well, it is.

As usual with the mystery genre, so much time and energy are spent on plot devices (and being as clever as possible in offering them up) that character -- real character, as opposed to the shorthand version shown us here -- is shorted rather badly. (That's the wonderful Lindsay Duncan, below, who starts the episode out in fine fashion.)

Terrible things happen in this particular installment (as in most of them) -- blackmail as nasty as any you might find, lies and betrayal, suicide and more -- and it is all treated as fodder for the plot surprises. Mystery fans will love that the writer does not dwell on things but touches them only fleetingly, then on to the next. But dwelling a bit is sometimes the best way to communicate depth of feeling. When everything passes by in similar fleeting flashes, everything carries the same light weight.

Also, things are tied up a tad too speedily and neatly once again. Moriarty makes an appearance; Mary, the love of John Watson's life (below), is given a few new shadings(!); and we're introduced to a fascinating character named Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen -- yes, Mads' brother -- shown in photo at top) only to be relieved of him too easily and well before his character has nearly paid the expected dividends.

While Sherlock pays homage to its original, with sources and allusions in copious array, the whole series seems to have been written (acted, too) in shorthand. That may be the real reason why it delights many audiences with its brevity, while leaving others of us less enthused and feeling just a little bit empty.

Remarkable for its speed and style (it won Emmys for visual and sound editing, as well as for cinematography and music), Sherlock, via PBS and BBC, is certainly worth a watch. But begin at the beginning of Season One for the fullest understanding. You can stream it all now via Netflix and elsewhere.

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