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'Sherlock' Returns: Benedict Cumberbatch is the Smartest Man on Television

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'Sherlock' Returns: Benedict Cumberbatch is the Smartest Man on Television
Image Credit: AP

Fall in the United States means the return of popular television shows, but some viewers are sticking it out until winter for the return of the beloved British series, Sherlock, the reboot of the classic Conan Doyle stories starring Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit). Fans don't have to wait much longer: on January 19, viewers will finally get the long-awaited resolution to one of the most gripping cliffhangers in recent television history. But Sherlock is only one of a couple popular crime dramas. With its counterpart, Luther, being pulled from the air, it's worth exploring what makes Sherlock so great.

From where fans sit, BBC producers seem to enjoy torturing fans by either cancelling their hit shows or making them wait inordinate amounts of time between installments. For the last two years, Luther, a show about a troubled detective who solicits the help of a serial killer to catch criminals, was a substantial counterweight to Sherlock, with parallels to the dark American crime drama, The Wire. Yet despite high ratings and a loyal following, Luther was not renewed for a fourth season (though there is talk of a movie in the works). Though both Luther and Sherlock are excellent, Sherlock emerges the clear winner in this face-off, partially because Luther fans are no match for the Tumblr army of Cumberbitches who have contributed to both Freeman and Cumberbatch's rise to superstardom. But Sherlock is a remarkable show even without its fan community. Not only was Sherlock's pulse-pounding season 2 finale in a class by itself, but also the new season is rumored to be well worth the wait. Even though Luther mesmerizes its audience with its slow-burning plots that mushroom into unexpected climaxes, it pales in comparison to the perfect pacing, crackling dialogue, and masterful character development that Sherlock exhibits. 

Sherlock follows the adventures of the world's only consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his roommate-turned-partner John Watson, an Afghanistan veteran who aches for the high-octane environment of the battlefield. Luther, played by a sulky, smoldering Idris Elba, is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The first season opens with a rattled Luther returning to the job after recovering from a nervous breakdown, only to learn his wife is leaving him for another man. Haunted by his demons, Luther wanders around London like a restless ghost, until he meets the enigmatic Alice Morgan. Luther suspects Alice of slaying her parents, but, unable to prove it, enters into a reluctant alliance with her to use her insight and methodology to capture other murderers.

If there is any major difference between the two shows — both have exceptionally talented leading men who are met with formidable opponents — it's that Luther trusts his gut while Sherlock relies on his brain, or "mind palace," as he puts it. John Luther is a police officer to the very core. He uses his years of experience and trusts his instincts when questioning a suspect in custody or guessing a criminal's next move. His genius is merely the icing on the cake, the final piece of the puzzle that ties the plot together. Sherlock, on the other hand, leads with his crushingly superior intellect, a starting point from which the rest of the show follows. Sherlock cracks the toughest of cases within the blink of an eye, rattling off his deductions at breakneck speed. It's addicting to watch. While Luther's vulnerability is depressingly familiar and pedestrian, Sherlock's foibles are buried deep within him like jewels in a vault. His humanity rises to the surface a little more with each subsequent episode, making the climactic scene at the end of last season equally heartbreaking and riveting as Sherlock confronts his archenemy. Fans around the world are breathless with anticipation to see how Watson will receive Sherlock's return.

Luther will be greatly missed, but it is a comfort to know that Sherlock will be on the airwaves soon. It won't be much longer now.

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