It took Sherlock less than ten minutes to become my favourite TV show. It was, at once, an un-relenting and frantic drama; so intelligent that sometimes it hurt. It was confident, it carried itself impeccably well and, most importantly, it didn’t pander to its audience. It was, in many ways, a tough nut to crack and made for absolutely essential viewing.
The best part about Sherlock, though, is that the quality of its output has never dipped – not once. It’s been consistently great TV and season-on-season has built on its own success to reach even bigger heights. For a TV drama that isn’t Game of Thrones, that’s a big achievement indeed, especially considering it only has three feature-length episodes every few years or so to grip the cultural zeitgeist.
For its fourth season – which wrapped up this weekend with ‘The Final Problem’ – Sherlock and its writer/creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss swaggered forward with more confidence than ever. The three episodes of Sherlock released this year could never be accused of resting on their laurels; a main character was killed off, established relationships were taken apart and splintered bit by agonising bit and the show resisted more than ever the urge to pander to its ever-demanding and delirious fandom (thank God). But, watching ‘The Final Problem,’ there was something that became abundantly clear. Yes, Sherlock is still the best show on TV – how could it not be – but now more than ever, it is acutely aware of it. This means its not afraid to take risks with its narrative and characters, but there’s also a heavy dose of self-indignation to swallow as well. Sherlock takes risks, but only because it knows it can get away with it. It kills its most relatable character and completely changes the dynamic of its most central relationship not out of a sense of innovation, but just because Moffat and Gatiss know they can do whatever the fuck they want and people will lap it up. And we have, we’ve lapped it up like dogs.
I mean, bloody hell, this weekend we didn’t even watch an episode of Sherlock; we watched a James Bond film. We saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman literally leap out of the windows of a second-floor flat in Central London amidst a massive explosion and actually survive. We met Sherlock’s batshit-crazy evil little sister, who after a very effective reveal at the end of last week’s second episode amidst a bevy of disguises, returned to us this week styled as a mix between Linda Blair in the Exorcist and a patient in Casualty. There’s jumping the shark and then there’s moving the main locale of an episode inside a secret island base designed to trap people who are basically super-villains. We had an episode set inside Arkham bloody Asylum and, let’s be honest here, you didn’t bat an eyelid, either at that or the thirty minute tribute to Saw, just without less chopping off of limbs.
I don’t quite know why we’re putting up with all this madness, but we are. Maybe it’s because, at its very heart, Sherlock was and still remains and immaculately written, shot and acted piece of inherently British drama. Something that only the BBC could make; you could never see America creating something like Sherlock (they’re one attempt, Elementary, starring Sick Boy from Trainspotting is quite literally just alright) without compromising it in some way. Maybe it’s the golden pairing of Cumberbatch and Freeman that manages to keep Sherlock intact as its set-pieces get more and more elaborate and more and more deranged. It’s also surprising given the involvement of Steven Moffat; a man, who taking over the reigns of Doctor Who from Russell T Davies – the man who almost single handedly brought back your mad uncle’s favourite sci-fi and turned it into the biggest show on British television – and managed to turn it into one massive self-congratulatory wank entirely funded by the license fee. But something about Sherlock remains sacred, even now.
Every time Sherlock returns, I tune in mostly because of my quite substantial love and affection for it as a piece of TV, but also to see whether this episode will truly be the time it manages to fuck it. And every time so far, I’ve been proved wrong. ‘The Final Problem’ was ludicrously over the top but it was also brilliant; genuinely brilliant, evoking moments of real emotion as well as moments of pure shock (who knew Redbeard wasn’t a dog?!). It was acutely plotted, acted with honesty and passion and, honestly, I bloody loved every second of it. And from start to finish, Sherlock knew this too, and well and truly made the most out of it.
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Words by George Griffiths