By Zachary Landau | Asst. A&E Editor
What has happened to “Sherlock?” Seven years ago, the show was a breakout hit and immediately garnered praise from both critics and the public. It was slick and stylish, innovative in its effects and absolutely delightful in how it managed to transpose the classic Doyle crime stories into the modern day. Seven years ago, I would have unquestionably recommended “Sherlock” to anyone looking for interesting and provocative television.
Now, in the middle of the show’s fourth season, I find the whole affair rather tedious.
This opinion is not uncommon; the last season saw a dip in ratings from critics from a 91 Metascore to 88. It was confusing, muddled in its presentation and, perhaps worst of all, littered with copious, unflinching fan service. The one-off special released last year was alright by most standards, but only alright is hardly praise for a series that raised the bar for television.
The falling quality of “Sherlock” seems unyielding if these last two episodes are any indication. The season’s opener, “The Six Thatchers,” was a convoluted nightmare of threads and flashbacks that left a sour taste in the mouth. The trappings of the previous season, with all of its nonsensical plot twists and egocentric posturing, were in full-force and by the end of the episode, any meaningful plot development from the last season thrown out the window (not spoiling how, but suffice to say it was done in the most fumbling way possible).
The first two seasons kept a narrow focus, centralizing each episode on one mystery at a time. Hints of broader, overarching plots were dropped occasionally, but the notion that Sherlock Holmes represented an invaluable asset to the British government never crossed anybody’s (both within the show’s world and in ours) minds. He was just some weird genius who happened to like solving crimes.
He was not, as the show and its die-hard fans would want you to believe, the second coming of Jesus Christ himself.
What’s worse, the series affinity for fan service seems to be the primary force behind these changes. Tons of little nods to the audience are sprinkled throughout each episode, but of late, it feels as if the show stops every minute to remind the audience that Sherlock is the best and the whole world loves Sherlock and would it not be fantastic if we were all friends with Sherlock because he is the best boy. Nearly every episode from the last and current season features an impossible bit of Sherlock magic that even the character himself admits was basically a pot shot (such as predicting the exact moment an ambulance will appear two weeks prior).
I guess my problem is a selfish one; “Sherlock” is not made for me anymore. It is made for the obsessive fans, the fans that will buy the physical copies just to have them. While the first two seasons were just flat-out good television, wholly watchable even to the uninitiated, now they feel less like quality entertainment and more like self-congratulations. Whenever Benedict Cumberbatch is maniacally waving a gun around and hollering at an empty room, I do not think, “Wow, Cumberbatch, is a fantastic actor who is able to express extreme emotions.” I think, “Wow, can Cumberbatch just stop making GIF material and move on?”
It would honestly be more subtle if instead of having Sherlock look fantastic by doing something stupidly impossible, every character would just pan to camera and say, “We know you can’t get enough of this, you worms.”
And I’m just not here for that.