Sherlock Holmes Goes Digital


Friday, May 04, 2012

If you're a fan of the reboot of British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is the patron saint of nerd cool. He's the visionary show runner and writer behind some of the series’ most creepy and popular episodes: last season's closer was BBC America's highest-rated primetime program. Moffat recently reinvented another classic British superhero, who’s similarly drawn to mystery, danger, and intrigue — Sherlock Holmes. This Sherlock is set in present-day London, with re-imagined villains, high tech crimes, and lightening-fast dialogue. 

The new Sherlock has “cleared away the dust. It stopped being a heritage drama, set in the 19th century where everyone wears a nice frock," Moffat explains to Kurt Andersen. "It was never about that. It got it back to being fast-paced, sometimes quite silly, thrillers."

The detective’s iconic calabash pipe is replaced by a new essential accessory: an iPhone. And we watch the data he dissects flash across the screen as text messages and blog entries. "You actually see a part of his thought process appear on screen," Moffat describes. "It's how Sherlock sees the world. He actually sees deductions floating in the air in front of him. And that's become sort of our signature I suppose, visually."

In the first episode of the new season, Sherlock meets his match in Irene Adler, Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character recast as a high-class dominatrix. We also see a reinvented James Moriarty, Sherlock’s archenemy who leans toward the criminally insane. "The original Moriarty is suave, accomplished, a relatively typical super-villain,” Moffat explains. “Over a century later, that kind of villain seems rather cozy. In the suicide bomber age, we're frightened of people who don't prioritize their own survival."

Since Doyle’s time, critics have argued that Sherlock shares the same inability to experience human empathy. But Moffat resists that diagnosis: “He’s a man who chooses to be the way he is because he thinks it makes him better. It’s a monastic decision. He takes himself out of touch with his sexuality, out of touch with any of his emotions, in order to make himself better... And the reason he's unapologetic and shameless is he’s happy in his own skin. He's actually having quite a good time.”

The second season of Sherlock debuts on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday, May 6.


Bonus Track: Kurt’s extended conversation with Steven Moffat

Some highlights:

  • 10:20 — Subtle Anti-Americanism? Kurt notes that one of the baddies in the new season’s first episodes in derided as being an American.  “Surely that’s just natural, isn’t it,” Moffat laughs. “Maybe it’s my personal revenge for the fact that every Hollywood film, when they want someone really evil and villainous, and in particular, a Nazi, gets an English actor to play it. Every single time! There have been times I’ve been wanting to write to you lot and say, ‘you realize the Nazis weren’t actually British.’” (Kurt later concedes that God also has a British accent.)
  • 11:10 — Style: Moffat explains the process behind creating the steampunk-infused design of Sherlock.
  • 13:15 — Technical difficulties: We try playing a clip, but something sounds funky... “It’s the smurfs!” Moffat exclaims. Sped up, Cumberbatch sounds “like Tony Blair.”
  • 21:30 — Doctor Who: Will the Doctor be reunited with River Song? Will there ever be a female Doctor? Moffat takes your questions.
  • 25:00 — Coupling: Moffat explains to Kurt why his acclaimed sitcom fell flat (lasting only 3 episodes) when it was adapted for American television: “network interference. I saw one of the early cuts of their version of Episode 3 and it was first rate. Then I saw it after the network had given notes and it was terrible.”  He explains why The Office made the transition right.
  • 26:40 — Another Sherlock: CBS is making a contemporary Sherlock Holmes as well — fishy?  Perhaps. Moffat explains (while monitoring the reaction of his wife, Sherlock producer Sue Vertue).

Video: Sherlock

    Music Playlist
  • Back to Work
    Artist: David Arnold and Michael Price
    Album: Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack Music from Series One
    Label: SIlva America
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton


Rebecca Lee Douglas

Comments [7]

Greg Lyon from Seattle

I don't care for the new Sherlock Holmes series at all. The series that starred Jeremy Brett is absolutely the best.

May. 14 2012 03:33 PM
Jacob Lee

I don't think there's subtle anti-Americanism in the new Sherlock series. It's pretty obvious. And, from what Moffat says in his conversation with Kurt - he clearly has issues. What's worse though... is that this series is terrible (it's produced like a Silence of the Lambs film). I'd much prefer the classics.

May. 13 2012 10:26 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Hey Daniel -- Though I don't think it's inaccurate to call Steven Moffat the "show runner" (or "showrunner," I've seen it both ways), you're right: it isn't the official title for Steven Moffat's role(s) in the shows. Thanks for clarifying.

You raise an interesting question: what counts as a "reboot"? How many elements or qualities need to be different? I'd say that given the 15-year hiatus of Doctor Who, the 2005- series is at least a solid relaunch... perhaps there's a proper Whovian who can weigh in here?

EB -- Andrew Scott is ace. And I, too, wish for more than three episodes. But as Moffat said, they cram all the resources of a longer season into three dynamite movies. My vote is it's worth the wait.

Thanks, both, for listening -- and for writing!

May. 08 2012 02:51 PM
EB from Near 84

(Dan S. : The reboot is for Sherlock, not Doctor Who.) to Studio 360 Team, thanks for the extended interview, I appreciate that! What a wonderful show. Many thanks! While I enjoy this version of Sherlock very much, this Moriarty is not really my cup of tea, but the actor is fantastic, Andrew Scott (sp?) . This production is a labor of love and I'm so glad Moffat and Gatiss took that train together to Manchester and dreamed this idea up and then followed through with such a marvel. Each season is only 3 episodes, which is a shame, but I'm grateful we get 3 !

May. 08 2012 10:03 AM
Daniel S. from 26°12′59″N 98°14′11″W / 26.21639°N 98.23639°W

in the most civilized and calm manner I can...
the show in not a reboot, Doctor Who(2005-_____)is at best a revival series, a continuation if you will... loved your article but every time I see the word reboot used to describe the show I die a little on the inside.

As for Moffat being "Showrunner" is one of these umbrella terms that needs to blow away in the wind. his official titles are Executive Producer and Head Writer

May. 07 2012 02:02 AM
Nina from Boston

Wonderful podcast! I am so excited for the new season starting tonight! This is my favorite show ever!!!

May. 06 2012 03:14 PM
JonFrum from Boston

Every evil movie character was British? Try reading British literature - every American is a buffoon. You might want to start with Agatha Chrisite, as there are plenty of examples. Loud, ignorant, and dim-witted is the standard. This extends right up to the Inspector Morse series - the lead character spits out the word American.

May. 05 2012 02:22 PM

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