“A Study in Pink”
Aired: July 25th, 2010 (BBC)
[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]
In making my various lists, it was difficult to determine just exactly what Sherlock is. I decided at a certain point that TV Movies/Miniseries wouldn’t be included in my lists, which means that Temple Grandin and The Pacific will just have to settle for their respective Emmy Awards, and yet what do we call Sherlock? Sold as part of Masterpiece Theater in the United States, and yet very much sold more as a series in Britain (and Canada as well, more or less), its weekly format suggest a short-run series while its running times relate more to Prime Suspect or, to use an American example, Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone movies.
However, whatever term we end up using to define Sherlock, I’m comfortable considering “A Study in Pink” as a 90-minute pilot for a television series, and thus comfortable with considering “A Study in Pink” one of the 10 best episodes of the year. It’s the one installment in the series which feels as if it needs its running time, using the additional room to great effect in drawing its two lead characters, finding its point of view, and creating a charming yet haunting world in which Sherlock Holmes can enter the twenty-first century.
I was sort of legitimately upset when they announced that Sherlock would be returning with another set of 90-minute movies. I understand the decision from a business perspective, as the American co-producer only really operates within that form, but I thought both “The Blind Banker” (which was awful) and “The Great Game” (which was super exciting, but has some pacing issues) might have benefited from being considerable tighter. Much like sitcoms which make hour-long episodes, sometimes all more time forced a show to do is to add more story (which can become a burden) or stretch out the existing story to the ends of logic (which can ruin the story in the process).
Whereas “A Study in Pink” feels as if it needs its 90 minutes. We need to see Watson before Sherlock, and we need to see Sherlock go through the paces of a case to understand his unique point of view (presented through a visualization process I found quite effective). Sure, one could argue that the “Moriarty/Mycroft” fakeout was slightly unnecessary, but Mark Gatiss got to have a lot of fun with the role, and I think the introduction of elements of danger are key to the series’ overall success. Taken as a pilot, the ninety minutes are used incredibly effectively: we see the arc of Watson’s rehabilitation through his time with Sherlock, we get a compelling test of Sherlock’s intense curiosity – and the danger it presents to himself and others – once he realizes the game being played with the victims’ lives, and we get glimpses of a more complex world than we might realize (with both Moriarty and the ambiguity of Holmes’ personal life).
And while I was disappointed that the show wasn’t getting perhaps a six one-hour episode order as opposed to the continued feature-length strategy, I think that disappointment shows how effective this pilot was. While many great premise pilots (like the other contender from 2010, Lone Star) are about dropping us into the heat of the moment, “A Study in Pink” is gradual. This isn’t Sherlock’s greatest case, but rather simply the first in which he teamed with dear Watson, and while this is clearly a turning point for Watson’s post-traumatic experience I love the sort of darkness we see after he fires the gun at episode’s end. It’s a sign of depth and detail, the kind of depth which made Sherlock‘s presence a key part of this television year and yet which also made its quick exit that much more frustrating.
As a series, Sherlock was let down by the fact that 33% of it was a poorly plotted mess – as a pilot, and as a start of what will hopefully be a long-running “Whatchamacallit,” “A Study in Pink” was one of the year’s highlights.