Fiction requires willful suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience, and for Netflix’s new series, The Irregulars, you will need every dram of it you can muster. You’ll need to disregard anything you know about the Victorian era (including clothing, language, class, and culture) and Sherlock Holmes, as well as much of your innate sense of good storytelling. And if you can manage that, you might enjoy the ride. Here at borg, we’re fans of mashups and we like twists on classics (Batman + Dickens’ A Christmas Carol = Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Noel = win). We love a supernatural mystery series full of dark magics and otherworldly creatures (e.g., Grimm, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Wu Assassins). And we love Sherlock Holmes. We really love Sherlock Holmes plus the supernatural (as in James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes/Chthulu Casebooks). So we were obviously the ideal target audience for this new vision of Baker Street. Unfortunately, we really struggled to warm to The Irregulars.
Perhaps we just know too much about the 19th century. (One of us kept shouting, “underwear!” at the screen. Not naming names.) Perhaps we’re just weary of Hollywood thinking that setting a work in the 1880s requires piling on the bodily fluids. Maybe it was the cringeworthy twenty-first century slang that even the cast had trouble taking seriously. Maybe it was the sense that there was nothing about the real Victorian era or the Holmesian tradition that the creators had any interest in. It all gives the feel of shaking things up merely for the sake of shaking them up, without having a cohesive thematic goal in mind, and the result is a clunky assemblage of parts, rather than a fun, spooky romp.
So, what did we like? We like the concept—a supernatural twist on Holmes’s cohort of street kid investigators (Arthur Doyle’s “Baker Street Irregulars”) is a great idea! We love the diverse cast (yes, there actually were people of color in London in the 1800s). Several actors turn in strong performances, including Darci Shaw as Jessie, Harrison Osterfield as Leopold, Clarke Peters (His Dark Materials, Jessica Jones, Forever) as the Linen Man, and the actor playing Holmes (Henry Lloyd Hughes). (Keep an eye out for fan favorite Anna Maxwell Martin (Frankenstein Chronicles, Bleak House, The Bletchley Circle) in a guest role). The hints of intrigue are… intriguing, and the supernatural elements—magic, creatures, and effects—are nicely delivered amid a moody gaslit atmosphere. The series picks up considerably mid-season, with the arrival of Sherlock Holmes on the screen, and as the actors and writers find their rhythm a bit. But a rocky, confusing climax puts the appeal of a second season in jeopardy.
It’s hard to recommend The Irregulars, except for diehard fans of the subject and setting, but if you can set aside your inner critic, you might find enough here to enjoy. The Irregulars is streaming now on Netflix.