Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Sherlock, the latest BBC interpretation of that indefatigable inspector and his sidekick, had its second season premiere in the U.S. last night to a large audience indeed.  Well, large by PBS standards, anyways.

Deadline reports that 3.2 million Americans tuned in last night to watch the most Britishly-named man in the world, Benedict Cumberbatch, as he continued to play the role of Sherlock Holmes, possibly the most popular character in the history of crime-fiction.  3.2 mil is actually not all that many viewers when you get right down to it–as Deadline points out, the second season finale of Downton Abbey pulled down almost twice as many–but PBS is no position to complain, regardless.  After all, Downton Abbey is something of an anomaly, having garnered a huge following despite the fact that it just looks to me like a big Gosford Park sort of a deal.  So comparing that to Sherlock is kind of unfair–it’s like comparing a successful comic-book like Watchmen to a ten-times as successful Batman, y’know?

Anyways, not to sound like more of a philistine than I surely already do, I think the fact that people are watching this much PBS really speaks to the longevity of the Sherlock character.  You could point to the Robert Downey movies as proof of this as well, but I think we can all agree that as good as those flicks have been, they’re certainly not as traditional as past Sherlock films have been, representing a very action-film mentality that’s always going to draw an audience.  If they did an action/adventure version of Great Expectations, it’s not unlikely that it’d draw a crowd.  Though the current Sherlock series is set in present-day, I’d argue that it’s over-all tone and demeanor hews much more closely to the original source material.  The fact that folks are tuning in despite this resistance to any overwhelming common denominator either tells that people are getting smarter or that the character of Sherlock has something at its core that people just can’t get enough of.  My money’s on the latter.

Personally, I’m also glad this Sherlock series is doing well because I’ve always been a big fan of Martin Freeman, who plays Watson.  Since his early days on the original The Office, he hasn’t had a whole lot of luck breaking big in America, especially after that film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy really underperformed.  Hopefully, Sherlock will be his key to America’s heart.