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A Bit Of Sherlock Holmes In Every TV Detective


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.

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