When source material has been adapted as often as Sherlock Holmes has, a fresh take is hard to come by. We’ve had a modern iteration, faithful film reproductions and comedy takes. A supernatural teen drama with Sherlock as a mere side character is certainly something new. The occult and the supernatural are prevalent in Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle was pretty obsessed with the paranormal, yet these themes have been noticeably absent from modern adaptations. The Gothic feel is in-keeping with Sherlock Holmes canon and is more fitting that Netflix’s other Sherlock spin-off Enola Holmes (which caused Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate to sue Netflix over the ‘warm’ depiction).
Written by Tresca Mallon
In episode one, we get a quick introduction to the four ‘street urchins’; the feisty protagonist Bea (Thaddea Graham), her troubled sister Jessie (Darci Shaw), the hot-headed Billy (Jojo Macari) and the charming Spike (McKell David). On the other side of town is the sickly and sheltered Prince of England Leopold (Harrison Osterfield). Their worlds collide after a carriage accident and they are all recruited by the surly Dr Watson (Royce Pierreson) to help him and his elusive partner track down a mysterious figure who has been stealing babies. The ensuing episodes introduce villainous characters and new facets of the mystery as the characters' lives become increasingly entwined.
My advice for enjoying this series is to discard all sense of time and reality. Anachronisms abound, and it is clear early on that any attempts at historical accuracy are merely cursory. The period setting is a convenient backdrop and little focus is given to its reproduction beyond vaguely Victorian costumes and set design. The dialogue, especially for the teenagers, could easily be from a modern day teen drama. Using a modern soundtrack is a device that is often used for contrast, however, in this instance it was often jarringly inappropriate (although I enjoyed the use of Billie Eilish in the final episode).
The show struggled with finding its tone in the pilot episode but by Episode two the momentum picked up with arguably the most satisfyingly horrific side story. The Tooth Fairy played by Sheila Atim is stunningly scary and provides one of the only genuine jump scares. However, the series does suffer a few lags along the way, a couple episodes are less attention-grabbing than others and some segues felt unnecessary. Episode five saw the show go slightly off the rails for a while but it was brought back to the narrative by the finale.
The series utilises, to varying degrees of success, a lot of horror tropes such as possessed nuns, sacrifices, haunted children and even a few zombies. The dialogue is often clunky and cliched with some clinkers such as “It’s not magic that makes a person powerful - its kindness and decency.” I may have drowned in the cheese if it weren’t for the actors earnest deliveries. Some of the show's highlights come from supporting characters such as a devilishly brilliant turn from Clarke Peters as The Linen Man, and complex and haunting performances from Rory McCann and Anna Maxwell Martin.
Thaddea Graham does a great job as the badass protagonist and emotional centre of the series. She connects all of the characters and provides them with convincing reasons for getting involved with the mayhem. However, the core love triangle was pretty uninteresting with very little chemistry. All of the misfits are endearing in their own way, but a stand-out was McKell David who offered comic relief as the cheeky chappy Spike. Self-described as “the fricking skeleton” of the group, he provides some of the show’s most enjoyable moments, while also performing the narrative function of joining what was becoming two quite disparate stories mid-way through the season.
Dr John Watson is ever-present and angsty. Queerbaiting has become a staple of Sherlock Holmes adaptations and the Irregulars follows suit. While “Johnlock” stans will not be overly satisfied with this depiction, it is perhaps the most explicit confirmation of a romantic connection between Watson and Sherlock (although unrequited).
We don’t meet the character of Sherlock Holmes until episode four and the reveal is distinctly disappointing. We are introduced to a less polished, almost pirate-like, Sherlock than we are used to. While Sherlock is meant to be an un-relatable character we are supposed to still like and root for him. This rather pathetic iteration is almost impossible to sympathise with and unfortunately Henry Lloyd-Hughes does not have the presence of Cumberbatch or Downey Junior or even Cavill.
There is an audience for The Irregulars and Netflix have obviously realised it is a profitable one. Fans of Netflix’s other original series Shadowhunters or the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will find this right up their street. As a teenager I would have eaten it up. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it watchable? Definitely. There’s a demand in television viewership for mediocre teen drama and The Irregulars does as solid job of fulfilling it.