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Sunday, May 20,2012

There’s excellent TV around if you know where to look

By Dennis Powell

This is an outrage, and it must not stand.

It's always a little dangerous for a writer to go up against his editor, but sometimes it must be done, and it looks as if I must be the one to do it.

I am speaking, of course, of the normally careful and measured Terry Smith and his abbreviated column last Thursday. It was about television programs. I read it eagerly.

Hmmm. "Game of Thrones," "Girls," "Survivor," "True Blood." "Mad Men." Time Warner.

OK, so far, I guess, though I've never seen a single episode of any of those programs and I do not deal with that company (though the satellite TV out in my neck of the woods provides no Columbus stations, either).

Well, I take that back – a couple of years ago during one of the "free weekend" things the television distributors sometimes provide in hope of hooking new customers (in which they invariably show many movies that were also on cable back in the Betamax days of 1981), I think I saw part of an episode of "True Blood." It was the one with a young, naked woman having sex while blood dripped all over the place. Remember that episode?

While I do not watch these programs, I can understand how someone, even a respected newspaper editor, might. But there is an omission so glaring, so tragic, that it must not pass without comment.

One might be excused for not watching the British "Top Gear" (though, conversely, there is no excuse for actually watching the sorry American version of the program). It is sad but understandable that someone might not find "Doctor Who" to his liking (especially with the new Doctor – no one could really replace David Tennant).

But some things are unforgiveable. Where, Terry, is mention of "Sherlock"?

A surprisingly faithful retelling (I am assured by my friend Randy, an expert on the subject) of the Sherlock Holmes stories, "Sherlock" is in my estimation the best television program since "Northern Exposure" got canceled and the best program to make public television since "All Creatures Great and Small." I do not know anyone who was not hooked after seeing a single episode.

The title character is played by the perfectly cast Benedict Cumberbatch, who stands proof that stage names are no longer required. Dr. John Watson is played by Martin Freeman, who many will see in "The Hobbit" – he's Bilbo Baggins – and many will remember from the good, British version of "The Office." There are running jokes, such as the assumption that Sherlock and Watson are a homosexual couple. There are interesting coincidences: in the original Holmes stories, Watson was an army physician who had been wounded in the war in Afghanistan. In the current series, Watson is an army physician who was wounded in the war in Afghanistan.

The casting is perfect. So is the acting. So is the writing. (Holmes, addressing a police investigator: "I'm not a psychopath. I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.")

I would not know about "Sherlock" but for my nephew Michael, who is a lawyer and stand-up comic (though not, presumably, at the same time), and his lovely teacher wife Rachel, who gave me the DVDs of last year's first season for Christmas. From the first minutes of the first episode I was delighted, only a short time later to face agonizing disappointment: there were only three 90-minute episodes in the first season.

There are only three 90-minute episodes in the second season, too (all the episodes are available online if you poke around a little; maybe on iTunes, too), and it is stunning. No, you don't have to have seen the earlier episodes in order to enjoy it – but you'll go back and watch the earlier ones, anyway, probably more than once. It is that good. It is like "Harry Potter" for grownups.

There comes now news that CBS, which is surprisingly still in business, has plans for its own version of "Sherlock," with – I'm not making this up – Lucy Liu as Watson. CBS could screw up a one-car funeral.

The real outrage is that there will be a third season ("series," the British say) of "Sherlock." That is a good thing. The crime against humanity is in the fact that it will not even begin filming until next year. They do that kind of thing in England: go merrily along with an excellent program, then inexplicably drop it from production only to pick it back up again in the distant future. (It could be worse: "Doctor Who" had a lapse of 16 years!)

I've loaned the DVDs to colleagues. One is an accomplished juggler while another used to edit a motorcycle magazine. Both are ready now to instantly drop what they're doing to talk about "Sherlock."

I should probably give the DVDs to Terry. They would restore his faith in television. Sort of.

Editor's note: Dennis E. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. His column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at


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