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Three iconic Sherlock Holmes tales receive the 21st century treatment

BBC’s brilliant first season of “Sherlock” must have seemed a hard act to follow. But with some of the most iconic Sherlock material planned for the second season, and no shortage of ideas on how to translate it all to their 21st century setting, the best was yet to come.

The fame of the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson team is growing. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels John Watson recorded their adventures in his memoirs, here he does so through a blog. A media frenzy ensues with all the good and bad that goes with it, attracting more high-profile cases to 221B Baker Street but also hounding the two friends in very 21st century manner.

Like its predecessor, series 2 kicks off with a brilliant first episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” receiving massive critical acclaim and accolades for its writing and performances. Sherlock Holmes is the one you’d least expect to get involved in any sort of love story, yet that is exactly what seems to be occurring as he encounters the mysterious Irene Adler, and Lara Pulver’s performance makes it clear why this character is able to cause even the great sleuth to lose his usual iron focus. The intricate, witty writing plays it out perfectly in the bemused reactions of John Watson to his friends uncharacteristic behaviour and the development of a relationship befitting the eccentric nature of the central character. 

“The Hounds of Baskerville,” like the second episode of the first series, feels the odd one out. Its not up to the quality of the rest of the second series, but they couldn’t do a modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation without adapting the most famous Sherlock Holmes story. The performances, character development and writing are all still great, but the plot feels pedestrian compared to the other two episodes. That said, the modern take on the Hound is clever, with Sherlock and Watson’s reactions to the supernatural nature of the mystery and the strain it places on their friendship well-developed.

And much like the final episode of series 1, “The Reichenbach Fall” takes it from small mystery to epic thriller as Sherlock’s arch-nemesis Moriarty makes his return. This particular take on the character drew mixed reactions in the first season, but Andrew Scott’s great performance will win most people over this time around. There’s a bit of Heath Ledger’s Joker to his maniacal genius as he makes the system and the people in it dance like puppets on a string, turning the media against Sherlock and planting the idea that his genius was nothing more then an elaborate hoax. He seeks to hit his foe where it hurts the most, and to do so in decidedly 21st century fashion.

Martin Freeman has the audience on the verge of tears in some scenes, showing how well actors known for comedic work can make the transition to dramatic performance. Fans of the books will have an idea of where the story goes, but this modern version of Sherlock manages to one-up his Victorian counterpart, and audiences are eager to find out how.

Sherlock’s second series raises the bar significantly, delivering a love story, a ghost story and a thriller all in definitive Sherlock Holmes style with a modern twist. Series 3 will have a hard act to follow, but with writing and performances of the quality evident so far, it’s in the best possible hands.