NPR logo

A Bit Of Sherlock Holmes In Every TV Detective

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Bit Of Sherlock Holmes In Every TV Detective


A Bit Of Sherlock Holmes In Every TV Detective

A Bit Of Sherlock Holmes In Every TV Detective

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

American television is crammed with super-observational, socially-maladjusted detectives who solve crimes with the help of a more normal partner. They are all clones of Sherlock Holmes — who is coming back to American TV on Sunday.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Sherlock Holmes is back on TV. Starting Sunday, PBS is airing new episodes of the BBC's "Sherlock." TV critic Eric Deggans loves this new show. At the same time, he says if you look hard enough, you can find a Sherlock Holmes imitator on American TV almost every night.

ERIC DEGGANS: There is nothing quite like that moment when Sherlock Holmes lets you know that he is the smartest person in the room.


BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Tray napkin used to mop up the spilled coffee stain. This stain shows that you didn't taint your milk with traces of ketchup on it, and on you lips and on your sleeve...

DEGGANS: His first clue was a dirty napkin. And from that tiny detail, Holmes uncovers a young man's possible romantic involvement, his craving for nicotine and the timing of the crisis that led to his visit.


CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) The first train from Exeter to London leaves at 5:46 a.m. You got the first one possible, so something important must have happened last night. Am I wrong?

DEGGANS: Of course, Sherlock Holmes is never wrong, especially on the BBC's "Sherlock," an amazing update of the Holmes legend. It places the classic character in a modern world of laptops, smartphones and blogs. But it also offers more than a nod to the original novels, including lots of violin playing and Holmes' unique bond with sidekick John Watson.


MARTIN FREEMAN: (as Dr. John Watson) It's not important...

CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Punched-out holes where your ticket has been changed.

FREEMAN: (as Dr. John Watson) Not now, Sherlock.

CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Oh, please, I've been cooped up in here for ages.

FREEMAN: (as Dr. John Watson) You're just showing off.

CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Of course, I am a showoff. That's what we do.

DEGGANS: Wait a minute. A special partnership, prodigious powers of observation and an utter lack of social skills? Sounds like a lot of detectives already solving crimes on U.S. television.


POPPY MONTGOMERY: (as Carrie Wells) March 27, 1998 was a Tuesday.

DEGGANS: That's Poppy Montgomery as cop Carrie Wells.


MONTGOMERY: (as Carrie Wells) The Knicks beat the Grizzlies 97-89 for their 40th win, and most important of all around here, the FDA approved Viagra.

DEGGANS: Her photographic memory allows Holmes-ian observations on CBS's "Unforgettable." Add in USA Network's "Monk" and "Psych," CBS's "The Mentalist" and NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," you soon find TV's cop shows are littered with Sherlock knockoffs. But the best Holmes clone isn't even a crime fighter. He's Hugh Laurie's Dr. Gregory House, a misanthropic genius with humanizing pal Dr. James Wilson, who puts his smarts to work solving medical mysteries.


HUGH LAURIE: (as Dr. Gregory House) Your occipital lobe is acting up, giving you a migraine.

MICHAEL NOURI: (as Thad Barton) But I don't have a headache.

LAURIE: (as Dr. Gregory House) Not all migraines present that way. It's called "Alice in Wonderland" syndrome.

ALEXIE GILMORE: (as Ainsley Barton) Seriously?

LAURIE: (as Dr. Gregory House) I never joke.

DEGGANS: These types of characters let the audience play along too, giving viewers a chance to solve the crime themselves. And since modern TV mysteries are designed to be complex and keep viewers guessing, they need a super sleuth to explain it all at the end. This form is so successful, in fact, that CBS is reportedly developing its own Holmes update with "Charlie's Angels" alum Lucy Liu cast as Watson. I just hope they don't forget the lesson of the BBC's "Sherlock."

No cheeky plot twists or stunt casting can surpass the drama of two singular characters developing a unique bond while tackling some of the coolest mysteries in literature. Without that, you've just got a guy in a funny hat shouting catchphrases at the villain of the week. And don't we already have enough of that on TV already?

CORNISH: That's Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.