It’s been 134 years since of the publication of the very first Sherlock Holmes story. That tale – A Study In Scarlett – appeared in The Strand magazine and was followed by three more novellas and 56 short stories. Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later came to despair of his creation, Holmes has continued to inspire authors, filmmakers, and artists worldwide.
Netflix’s The Irregulars is the latest addition to this seemingly ever-expanding Sherlockian world, and it takes as its inspiration the Baker Street Irregulars—street boys who were employed by Holmes as intelligence agents. However, while Doyle’s original Irregulars operated in the gritty world of late Victorian England, series creator, Tom Bidwell’s (My Mad Fat Diary) re-invention is an all-together different beast.
Set in a highly fictionalised 19th Century London, the series follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for a sinister Doctor Watson (Royce Pierreson) and his business partner, the elusive Sherlock Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). As the crimes take on an horrifying supernatural edge, and a dark power emerges, it’s up to the Irregulars to come together to save, not only London but the world as we know it.
A cast of young actors, led by Thaddea Graham as Bea, and Darci Shaw as her younger sister, Jessie, provide the backbone, heart, soul, and plot-glue of the show. McKell David (Spike), Jojo Macari (Billy) and Harrison Osterfield (Leo), complete the rag-tag family, and there’s such potential here that it’s occasionally frustrating to see characters languishing in the shadows, when the actors clearly have much more to offer.
An ensemble cast of familiar names, gives solid support, with Clarke Peters (The Wire) bringing real weight to his performance as the mysterious Linen Man. The series locations, in and around Liverpool, are well chosen too, and add to the wonderfully Gothic feel of the production.
This is a show that Sherlock fans will love. Holmes fans? Not so much. But then, the history of Holmes and Watson pastiches is one of writers pushing the envelope, to bring something new to well-known stories and characters. Bidwell’s Irregulars sits somewhere between the worlds of Bridgerton and Merlin, with modern sensibilities and language, refreshing colour-blind casting, and enough nods to pop-culture to fill a geek bingo card.
The result is undoubtedly a mixed-bag. The modern music is jarring and the first few episodes seem to tread water. There’s a YA feel to the production that may put older audiences off. And a little too much gore to be suitable for little ones. However, The Irregulars does have oodles of charm and tons of potential—and it’s hard not to be reminded of the likes of Supernatural, which, for all its faults, ran and ran, thanks to great casting and a willingness to play with the medium.
The Irregulars, launches globally on Netflix on March 26, 2021, www.netflix.com/theirregulars