Season Four of the Beeb’s “Sherlock” disappoints. In Hollywood-speak, they “jumped the shark” — a reference to the episode of Happy Days in which the Fonz literally jumped over a shark. That episode marked the decline and fall of that series, and “jump the shark” has become a metaphor for when the series’ producers and writers go too far and start to lose the audience.

Show creators, Mark Gatiss and Sue Virtue, got too involved in the alternative universe stories they invented for their characters, and lost their way from the essence of Holmes and Watson from Conan Doyle’s canon. Part of the essence, which Doyle lifted from Edgar Allan Poe’s four “C. Auguste Dupin” stories, is that the great detective and his chronicler have the mysteries and problems of a great metropolis brought to them. The introducers may be ongoing characters, like Mycroft, Gregson and Lestrade, but the protagonists of the mysteries are strangers to Holmes and Watson. This formula allows for endless creativity in stories, while retaining the comforting familiarity of the ongoing characters.

Instead, they wind us deeper into invented and convoluted stuff, complicating the relationships of Holmes, Watson, Mycroft, Moriarty and, just to make it really off-the-wall, a newly-invented insane genius sister in a dystopian 21st century Chateau d’If. Each episode begins by trying to patch over the Gale Crater size holes in the previous episode’s plot.

This is sad, because the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson is simply brilliant. They may be the best pair of actors ever to take these storied roles. But this is not Dr. Who, reborn and reinvented every time the lead actor’s contract expires.* These are two of the most beloved characters in literature, invented by Doyle, placed in a formula invented by Poe and used by hundreds of authors to the delight of just about everyone literate in the English language.

If the producers go back to letting interesting strangers bring their mysteries to 221B Baker Street, may the series goes on forever. But nothing more of the path they took in Season 4. Too self-indulgent, too convoluted, too far from what makes the characters compelling after 130 years.

Zero stars. (Though the VDP system has a minimum of one star.)


* – In British television, contracts are normally three years, and actors often do not renew because they want to pursue other projects. By contrast, American television actors sign seven- or even ten-year contracts, with the only standard out being that the series is either not adopted or canceled by the network.

Phil Neches



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