Sherlock TV Review: ‘Tis The Season To Be Merry (And Make Really Complicated Holiday Specials)

Warning: spoilers below.

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New Year’s Day saw the continuation of the BBC’s Overcomplicated Holiday Specials Series, with the return of the much-loved Sherlock.

Now, I should admit straight away that I spent much of yesterday in a horribly hungover state, watching Wreck It Ralph and Tangled on the sofa bed in my front room (Wreck It Ralph was an unexpected delight, I have to say). It is therefore entirely possible that I’d have been left bewildered by anything with more depth than a Money Supermarket advert*.

Maybe that’s why I found this episode to be one of the most unnecessarily-complicated, occasionally-patronising, often-boring messes I’ve seen in a few weeks.

At the time of writing, it’s 14 hours since the episode finished, and I still can’t wrap my head around what the hell I saw.

(Another warning, spoilers below…)

So the episode was set in Victorian times, which should have been great fun. Sherlock was trying to solve the crime of a murderous ghost-bride, who people saw commit suicide then returned to start killing people. It turned out it was the work of a Feminist cult, who were trying to scare men in to not mistreating their partners by making them think a ghost would find out and kill them or something. It was as patronising as it was ham-fisted, and the “it’s a war we must lose” stuff made me want to throw up. Well, it was either that or the alcohol.

BUT! Sherlock was in fact dreaming this scenario, and was really just in a drugged-stupor in 2016, but was thinking of an actual unsolved crime from the time, in his sleep, whilst also imagining Moriaty, and oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed.

In fact, the whole thing was so complicated that it has made me think that I have missed some previous episode that would help explain it, even though I know for a fact I haven’t.

The problem is, it didn’t need to be this way. Like how Luther is basically a bad-ass version of CSI, Sherlock is essentially a cooler version of Jonathan Creek. That’s no slight on any of those shows (well, maybe CSI) but instead a statement on how ridiculous this episode was.  At its best, Sherlock is a twist on an incredibly well known set of series, played by a charismatic and incredibly talented cast, where a super-smart detective solves unsolvable crimes. It doesn’t need drug-influenced time travel.

Given the time that both Sherlock and Luther were away from our screens, I wonder if Steven Moffat and Neil Cross became too insulated in their thought patterns, worrying that people might find the return episodes boring if they didn’t have a set of implausible twists and turns, and dives in to backstories we didn’t even know we wanted. Mainly because we didn’t.

The sad thing about this is that the BBC aired a mystery set in “olden times” over the holidays that got the whole thing absolutely spot on.

And Then There Were None was so well crafted and executed it makes Sherlock look stupid for trying to be so clever. It took a relatively simple premise, gave you just enough backstory to be intrigued, and rolled the story out in such a way that you kind of had to sit through it all to find out the resolution, and felt satisfied (if a little morbid) when it finished.

What’s even sadder still about this is that And Then There Were one worked so well because it was (apparently) true to the source material: one of Agatha Christie’s most popular and successful mysteries. Sherlock too has such a wide range of material to draw from, that the potential for a fun, light-hearted mystery romp with intrigue, suspense and rewarding resolution was at their finger tips.

Instead, they went for… actually, I still don’t actually know what they were going for.

Sherlock Rating: My brain hurts.

*Is there anything more awkward than watching an embarrassingly unfunny advert and spotting a hashtag at the bottom? It’s the televised equivalent of asking someone if they told anyone else about that cross-dressing routine you did at the office Christmas party.

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