I can sense skepticism. Another rendition of Sherlock Holmes? The prototypical detective character, with no benefit of noir styling, gritty realism or clever legal proceedings? No special hooks? No magic, or outer space battles? Yes. That Sherlock. Guy Ritchie's sherlock movies were both fun, but Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's take on the character blows them out of the water. The writing is funny, the cases have been cured of their more outlandish and obvious solutions, without losing the crucial element of all detective fiction; a presentation that keeps you guessing along with the detective and puzzles that are just on the edge of solvable.
Again, Downy Jr and Jude Law are lots of fun, but Bennedict Cummerbach (quite possibly the most British name of anyone or anything ever) and Martin Freeman deliver peerless, nuanced performances of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Freeman provides the heart of the show, as a good-intentioned romantic with boyish enthusiasm and a saint's patience for Holmes' sociopathic tendencies. Cummerbatch distills Holme's other-wordly qualities into an alien, yet enigmatic mystique, in addition to displaying a surprising range. Holmes frequently disguises himself in plain sight by adopting different personalities, and Cummerbatch does a great job of pulling them off. He also routinely acts like a complete bastard.
Consequently, I suspect this incarnation of Sherlock has learned a few tricks from House, which was itself, a modernization of Conan Doyle's character married to a doctor drama. Not the newer version of House; the mercurial jerk who takes ludicrous risks and needlessly abuses people just to get a rise out of the audience. No, this Holmes is like the earlier version of House; a man who is not actively malicious so much as he is devoid of empathy and completely motivated by the boredom of a brilliant mind. This Holmes fires pistols, plays a frenzied violin and doses up on nicotine patches (instead of coke, which is admittedly a tiny bit of a cop-out) to keep away the boredom.
The music in the series, from the opening credits, to Holmes'
whimsical, recurring theme is also spectacular.
The single smartest invention of the show may be the introduction of Molly; a forensic pathologist who is head-over-heals for Holmes, but routinely ignored, belittled and otherwise marginalized by him. This is not in lieu of Addler (who makes a brilliant appearance in the second season) but in addition to her. It allows the writers to explore the various ways in which a traditional romance simply wouldn't work for Holmes, the man with a machine for a mind.
The show also tackles the undertones of implicit homosexuality between the original Watson and Holmes with wit and winks at the inevitable shipping fanficking community. Watson, as I mentioned, is a romantic, and while he does love Sherlock, it is like a brother (a "bro" even), and not sexually or romantically driven. Watson is constantly correcting peoples assumptions, and self-conscious about the appearance of their relationship without being straying into the waters of homophobia. Holmes, meanwhile, just doesn't give a damn about how people perceive him. He is truly asexual, like I suspect Conan Doyle's original character was intended to be. Somehow, that is a creative decision that is more refreshing now than it was in the Edwardian Era, seeing as we need to "hook up" everybody with everyone else like they're goddamn constructicons.
To come completely clean, I actually haven't read much of the original Holmes mysteries. But my wife has, and she assures me that each modernized case is faithful to the spirit of a holmes classic. The point? Even if you know nothing of Sherlock Holmes, this series will stun, amaze, and utterly entertain. And if you do have fond memories of Conan Doyle's mysteries, there is even more to love about it.