What do you get when you mix Sherlock Holmes, Stephen King, and The X-Files? As peculiar as this cocktail sounds, it proves to be a winning combination in The Irregulars, a new 8-part series from the mind of writer-producer Tom Bidwell (My Mad Fat Diary).
Based on the “Baker Street Irregulars”, a group of fictional street kids created by Arthur Conan Doyle, the show introduces us to orphaned teen sisters Bea (Thaddea Graham) and Jessie (Darci Shaw), who are living in a cellar in Victorian London after leaving the dreadful workhouse they grew up in. Along with their friends Billy (Jojo Macari) and Spike (McKell David), they’re recruited by the mysterious Dr. John Watson (Royce Pierreson) to investigate a string of strange, supernatural occurrences around the city.
On the other side of town, Prince Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), who has been housebound his entire life due to an illness, seeks to break out of the confines of his stately palace and find adventure. His quest unexpectedly leads him to Bea, whom he takes a particular liking to, and gets involved in the gang’s exploits all while concealing his royal identity.
There’s a fun dynamic between the leads, and they are very believable not just as friends but as a found family. The bond that they share – forged from their respective rough starts in life – is key throughout the entire series. Although they share very similar backgrounds, each member of the group has their own distinct personality. Bea is feisty and strong-willed, while her younger sister Jessie is more reserved and naïve. Billy is a serious, tough-guy character – quite the contrast to the funny and gentle-natured Spike. The bulk of the series rests largely on the shoulders of these talented, up-and-coming young actors, and you can see them becoming more confident and comfortable as the series progresses.
Unfortunately, although Spike is the self-appointed “skeleton” of the group, the show doesn’t treat him as such. David breathes so much life into the character and has fantastic comic timing, but Spike’s background is left largely unexplored, and he rarely has a chance to shine as the others do.
A lot of time is devoted to Leo, a character whose story sadly lessens the show’s overall cohesiveness. Osterfield is rather charming as the young prince, with his boyish good looks and sensitive demeanour, but his constant to-ing and fro-ing between the regal palace and the grimy London streets creates a disconnect that isn’t resolved until later episodes. His problems feel so far removed from those of the Irregulars that they appear irrelevant, and his presence feels forced for a large part of the series. Each episode is packed with plot and other arguably more important secondary characters, so it feels as if he exists purely to be a romantic interest for Bea.
However, Leo’s tenuous link to the narrative is easy to put aside once the show delves deeper into the group’s connection to Watson and his elusive partner, Sherlock Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). Featuring Conan Doyle’s two most famous characters grounds the show in a sense of familiarity and gives it an added appeal, but thankfully they never step on the leads’ toes. They are undoubtedly important to the story, and the true extent of their curious connection to Bea and Jessie is revealed over the course of the show’s second half, but Bidwell rightly makes sure that it’s never their story. In fact, Holmes remains an aloof, anonymous character up until the fifth episode, and is only referred to by Watson, who insists that his partner be left alone by Bea and company.
When we finally meet Holmes, he is far from the quick-witted and arrogantly intelligent detective that one would expect. Think Robert Downey Jr’s all-over-the-place Sherlock, but with more trauma and fewer wisecracks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Watson is more put together than Holmes, but he still struggles with his own demons and harbours a deep, personal secret that has worn him down over the years. Unlike previous iterations, the case-cracking duo are not joined at the hip and actually spend as much–if not more – time apart than they do together, which is a bold but successful move. Lloyd-Hughes and Pierson, seen most recently in Killing Eve and The Witcher respectively, puts an immensely enjoyable and unique spin on Holmes and Watson, and they have intriguing chemistry that leaves you wanting more.
In the same vein as shows like The X-Files and Doctor Who, the series introduces a new threat or ‘monster’ in almost every episode. Each one is more unusual and uncanny than the one that came before it, but almost all of them have interesting backstories that make them and their motivations more complex than expected.
It’s also through these antagonists that the horror influences really shine. From bodies bursting zombie-style through the ground to a girl peeling people’s faces off with a knife and wearing their skin, the show goes all-in on the stuff of horror fans’ dreams. The lead characters may be teens, but this is far from the kid-friendly fare.
Even when it juggles a multitude of characters and plot points, the show impressively never loses sight of the bigger picture and always finds a way to weave each new threat into the main story arc. The further the group dives into the greater mystery at hand, the more the stakes are raised as the city falls into disarray around them, culminating in a well-earned explosive finale.
The Irregulars is a true melting-pot of genres, bringing together elements of horror, fantasy, crime drama and mystery, with a bit of romance mixed in for good measure. Despite a mediocre start, the show soon finds its footing and gets stronger and more exciting with each instalment as it expands its exploration of the supernatural while keeping one foot on the ground and tackling serious topics like class division and grief.
The Irregulars is available to stream on Netflix.
by Holly Weaver
Categories: Anything and Everything, Reviews, TV
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