Every so often, the character of Sherlock Holmes receives an update. In recent years, these updates have come in the form of two television series and a feature film franchise with one of the biggest stars in the world in the lead. They each have their own distinct take on the characters made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is, for instance, an odd but brilliant detective (emphasis on the odd), while Jonny Lee Miller’s version is no less brilliant but is also a recovering addict haunted by ghosts of his past. Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock is a Victorian-era superhero, a charming narcissist who comes complete with slow motion powers of deduction and an array of cinematically friendly fighting styles.
With a third Sherlock Holmes film led by Downey and Jude Law presumably on the way, and a comedic version starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly set to hit theaters later this year, a question of Holmes over-saturation begins to creep into one’s mind. It’s a valid question: how many different iterations of the same character can the pre-existing IP-driven popular-culture content machine pump out before audiences have had their fill? With the debut of HBO’s Asia’s charming Miss Sherlock, the answer seems to be…well, a lot.
Delivered to HBO subscribers through HBO Go or HBO Now, Miss Sherlock is on one hand a chance to see a clever re-invention of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as gender-flipped characters in modern-day Tokyo. On the other hand, the show’s availability is evidence of HBO taking a page from Netflix’s everything to everyone playbook. That is: making all the content produced under the HBO shingle available to everyone — whether it originates in the U.S. or not — is good business. As evidenced by Netflix’s recent string of international offerings, like Dark, The Rain, Babylon Berlin, Sacred Games and more, the push for subscribers’ eyeballs means content providers need no longer live in fear of the dreaded subtitle. Audiences are so eager to consume content they’re seemingly more willing than ever to give something like Miss Sherlock a try.
It’s not so much a gamble on HBO’s behalf as it is a necessity. In this case, however, the show in question works in favor of HBO and its subscribers. Miss Sherlock offers a genuinely fun, slightly uneasy take on a familiar concept and character dynamic. It is, at its core, a run-of-the-mill hour-long police procedural. On that level, it has more in common with Elementary than, say, Sherlock, with its feature-length episodes. But in its specifics and its character details, it’s an unapologetically wacky crime show driven to outdo itself (and its fellow Sherlock series) with increasingly outlandish cases for Sherlock (Yuko Takeuchi) and her nascent partner, Wato Tachibana (Shihori Kanjiya), to unravel.
The first episode efficiently introduces Takeuchi’s Sherlock, which, aside from the obvious, is a familiar take on the character, with a few extravagant (almost devilish) touches that help make the detective her own. Kanjiya’s Dr. Wato (or Wato-san, as Sherlock’s brother says in the closing moments of the first episode) is in a similarly familiar position as the audience proxy. It’s through her eyes that Sherlock’s methods begin to seem less like madness and more like genius. A pair of police inspectors, played by Tomoya Nakamura and Kenichi Takito, round out the primary cast and fulfill the necessary character obligations of any Sherlock Holmes story.
The premiere also sets the tone of the series, establishing a fondness for outlandish scenarios and bizarre deaths that no one other than Sherlock can seemingly piece together. For instance, the inciting incident of the series is the gruesome death of Dr. Wato’s mentor, by way of exploding stomach that leaves a gaping hole in his chest. By taking its crimes to a CSI-level of absurdity, Miss Sherlock does away with any pretense of being anything more than an easily consumable police procedural, one with as devilishly dark sensibilities as its title character. There is a mischievous quality to the presentation that carries through in Takeuchi’s performance. Her Sherlock receives everyone with a slightly fiendish glint in her eye, though it’s the manner in which she regards Wato — especially when she learns they’re going to be roommates — that borders on amusingly chilling.
Miss Sherlock wisely emphasizes the interpersonal relationship between Sherlock and her would-be partner. It’s a dynamic that benefits from the audience being there from the very beginning, as the seeds of genuine partnership begin to germinate, so too does the audience's feelings for these characters. As with most interpretations of Holmes and Watson, their relationship with one another is often the most rewarding part of watching their adventures. HBO Asia’s version excels at making that relationship fun and fittingly awkward. It’s a clever and fulfilling way to update and justify the seemingly endless string of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, making Miss Sherlock a satisfying binge-watch for HBO subscribers.
Miss Sherlock is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.