I was thinking that opening a new Word document would help me generate a blog post. But a better plan would be minimizing all my windows and staring at the faces of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman before sighing deeply and thinking about Sherlock, which I’m doing now, and will be for the next few paragraphs here. So bear with me while I explain to you that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Freeman’s John Watson have quite suddenly usurped every other pair of male friends I’ve ever seen on television. With their strict avoidance of bromance principles and steadfast devotion to each other, despite Sherlock’s volatile personality and John’s general apathy, they’ve eclipsed the Troy and Abeds and Jed and Leos and Cory and Shawns of the world.
And it’s really a beautiful thing.
It’s worth clarifying that I don’t care enough about the Sherlock mythology to have any strong opinions on Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Sure, I can acknowledge that he essentially invented a genre with his stories of crime solving and mystery exploration, but I’ve never sought out film adaptations or modern retellings. Then I was told just enough times that Sherlock, the BBC’s recent take on the classic character, was worth watching. And it is. It most definitely is, and that’s all due to Cumberbatch and Freeman.
Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is unlike any Sherlock before him and, indeed, any other character on TV right now. He’s abrasive and cool and standoffish, someone who self-identifies as a sociopath and seems to glory in it to some extent. Because he possesses undeniably genius intelligence, he’s often called on by Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) to solve the mysteries Scotland Yard cannot. Sherlock’s makeshift agency is not complete till he comes in contact with John Holmes, a former military doctor who plays the part of much needed straight man to Sherlock’s idiosyncratic personality. Together, they tackle cases involving murders and conspiracies and, eventually, very targeted personal attacks meant to destroy Sherlock’s reputation.
All the while, we learn that Sherlock simply does not care about the feelings of others, or forging connections with anyone around him. Despite his apparent closeness to maternal figure Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) and his largely functional working relationship with Lestrade, he’s a solitary figure till he meets John and realizes that there are benefits of friendship. Will he ever be close to anyone else? By the close of episode six, so far the final episode in the series (three more episodes should be released by the end of 2013), the answer is a resounding no. And that’s what makes this friendship so special. As Sherlock says, “I don’t have friends. I’ve just got one.”
Their friendship lacks the kind of camaraderie seen between Jed Bartlett and Leo McGarry on The West Wing, the whimsy of Troy Barnes and Abed Nadir on Community, and the borderline romantic tenderness of Boy Meets World’s Shawn Hunter and Cory Matthews. Rather, it acknowledges that neither man possesses what you’d call a warm personality. They’d do anything for each other, whether it’s a simple favor or a situation of mortal peril, but they wouldn’t hug after they’d succeeded. They’d barely acknowledge that anything had happened and move onto the next potential calamity.
I think what I love most about Sherlock is the writers’ ability to weave mystery with their relationship so beautifully. Though the supporting players are strong—I’m especially fond of villain John Moriarty (Andrew Scott)—this show is about two men figuring out how to avert disaster while retaining their own connection to each other. And they do it every time, no matter how mindboggling the situation, to great success.
If you haven’t seen this show, and if you’re reading this blog I’m sure the thought has at least crossed your mind, do it. Do it for Sherlock and his obsessiveness and do it for John and his understated charm. It’s a fine example of how fiction can be truly effective and reflect the reality of friendship, even when everything around you is falling apart and you’ve no idea what to do next.
Well, Sherlock always knows. But in this world, that feels no more fictional than anything else.