Since debuting in 2010, the BBC's #Sherlock has become not only one of the most popular TV shows in the world, it catapulted the careers of #BenedictCumberbatch and Martin Freeman from British TV staples to Hollywood A-List.
The Steven Moffatt and Mark Gattiss penned adaptation of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle's series of stories, has enjoyed a mercurial run, with 10 feature-length episodes before the recent Season 4 premiere.
However, the show as we know and love it may soon be coming to an end and here's why.
The Point Of No Return
As the show raced through some of Doyle's best plot lines, and the leads' busy movie schedules led to ever-increasing waits between installments, fans have wondered how the show can keep its momentum.
After watching tonight's episode "The Six Thatchers," it is clear that Sherlock is reaching a point of no return. Not in terms of quality, but that it will not be able to sustain momentum.
In the 90-minute run time we were rushed through a lot of plot. We had a perfunctory explanation of how Magnussen's death in Season 3 would be handled officially before seeing several months compressed, and the arrival of baby Rosie in the back of a car. Sherlock was solving cases like gangbusters, while John and Mary settled into the life as new parents.
As usual, however, things were not as they seemed and once again Mary's past as a mercenary came back to haunt them. Additionally, we witnessed a character flaw in John we never saw coming as well as one in Sherlock that he displayed once too often.
There were the usual twists and turns and a tragic ending, yet it was hard to feel sympathy for anyone involved. Indeed there seems to have been a major effort to make both Holmes and Watson unlikable in this episode. The most tragic death was much earlier in the episode and treated with off hand irrelevance by Sherlock, almost foreshadowing how complacent he had become.
While this all is no doubt setting up drama for the rest of the season, it also could be seen as a deliberate tactic by the BBC to evolve the show.
The Hounds Of BBCVille
The BBC is in a very difficult position with Sherlock. It is their flagship drama, gaining worldwide viewers and acclaim. Yet it is already expensive to make and as Cumberbatch in particular transitions into a lead in the Marvel Universe, salaries could increase accordingly. Political pressure from the UK Government on how they spent public money has already seen them lose The Voice and Great British Bake Off, two other ratings winners for commercial TV. It's almost inevitable that Sherlock is the next casualty, with Benedict and Martin making millions per movie.
Nevertheless, it's not always keeping the headline stars of the show that can make the difference. Jim Moriarty's death in Season 2 was as much a result of the actor who portrayed him, Andrew Scott, being cast in SPECTRE as it being the right time to end his arc. Sherlock is teasing his return, but it can't really happen, can it?
While the character's death that at the end of "The Six Thatchers" is somewhat obvious, one only has to read the tabloids to know the real and very personal reasons for it. At the same time, familiar faces who flesh out the world of Sherlock have all moved on, notably Jonathan Aris as Anderson who recently appeared in #RogueOne and Tom Brooke who is now Fiore in #Preacher.
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One of the biggest reasons for this issue is due to the gap between filming seasons. If you're a supporting actor in Sherlock, offered a big role or even a smaller one in a big production, can you afford to turn it down if it clashes with the window Benedict and Martin have free?
Perhaps the most unexpected ally the BBC has when it comes to Sherlock will undoubtedly be #Marvel. When Cumberbatch and Freeman both signed deals to play major roles in the #MCU, time to film Sherlock would have been part of their deals from day one. Neither man would abandon the show and the both clearly enjoy being part of it. Their popularity aslo helps draw people to the MCU who might not otherwise be interested. Indeed the post-credits scene in #DoctorStrange was a definite nod to Sherlock and that's before the inevitable Cumberbatch/RDJ moment.
With Infinity War and its follow up fast approaching, the increasing use of Doctor Strange and Everett Ross in the MCU is going to really limit when Sherlock can be filmed or rather how much of it can be filmed at a time.
Less Is More?
There is a definite shift in event TV happening as rising costs among other reasons limit what is filmed for expensive productions. Game Of Thrones only has 13 episodes left over 2 seasons, when 13 episodes per season has been the norm for the series. With many of the best tales being already told for Sherlock, it is unlikely many fans will like the idea of one movie every couple of years and quickly move on to other shows, especially if it's seen as BBC political cost cutting.
Yet, there may be a way to save Sherlock as a full series, just not on the BBC alone. (Check out the trailer for this season in the video below.)
The aforementioned Game Of Thrones will be wrapped up in just over 3 years time. That is going to leave a big gap in programming for HBO. With Cumberbatch and Freeman a proven double-act and Sherlock a world-wide hit, HBO would be a logical co-producer/host network for the series going forward. The network also has the financial clout to offset the costs the BBC may not be able to afford in the future. Going to HBO could also open up the cast to some other well-liked actors. Who wouldn't want to see Charles Dance as a villain or Peter Dinklage involved in some way?
As a fan of the show I'd like to see more, but I accept it's looking less likely after watching this one episode from Season 4. It's going to take Sherlock's best game face to save the future of this show.