You know what always bugged me about the original Sherlock Holmes stories? Watson.
I understood why he was in the story, of course–we normal humans needed a narrator to whom we could relate, not to mention someone who would ask all the stupid questions we wanted to ask. But I never found him very believable as a character. Specifically, I didn’t understand why he was friends with Sherlock Holmes. Seriously, what kind of person would put up with Holmes’ constant put-downs, dreadful untidiness, and tendency to put everyone around him in danger? In the original stories, you can count on one hand the number of times Holmes actually shows affection for his best friend (and it’s usually when one of them is seriously hurt and/or in mortal peril). Most of the time, it seems like he keeps Dr. Watson around solely to make himself appear more brilliant by contrast. And Watson’s not an idiot–he’s a great doctor, and he’s not entirely useless at a crime scene, even if he doesn’t quite match Holmes’ deductive powers. He also seems to have absolutely nothing in common with Holmes. So why does he constantly abandon his successful medical practice–and his wife!–to run around playing bodyguard to this arrogant jerk?
BBC’s Sherlock provides an answer. Granted, it’s an answer that could be found in the subtext of the original stories, but only by a very perceptive eye. In Sherlock it’s brought to the fore in the very first episode, and expanded on from there. BBC’s John Watson is, despite his love for cuddly sweaters, an adrenaline junkie. He doesn’t know what to do with himself after coming home from Afghanistan, because he misses the danger of combat so much. Solving crimes with Sherlock is the only thing that can give him a similar thrill–that is, short of a life of crime, which John is far too decent a man to consider. This love of danger and adventure also gives him something in common with Sherlock. That’s why they’re friends. Well, that and the fact that John actually does admire Sherlock’s gifts, rather than thinking he’s a freak.
When I first discovered the show, this is what endeared me to it immediately. Everything about John Watson now makes sense. And Martin Freeman’s portrayal of him is just spot-on. “Army doctor,” “compassionate hero,” and, of course, “sarcastic snarker” are written in his every movement and facial expression. Martin Freeman’s gift of saying volumes without opening his mouth make his version of Dr. Watson a more-than-perfect narrator. Sherlock is brilliant, but Watson is the heart of this show. There’s no way it would work without him.