The Irregulars is a spooky, inclusive, and fun reimagining of Sherlock Holmes lore.
- 👻 Legitimately spooky storytelling
- 👻 Thaddea Graham gives an attitude-filled breakout performance
- 👻 Inclusive cast of brilliant young actors
- 👻 Impressively gory for what's ostensibly a YA show
- 👻 Feels like a natural evolution of classic kids horror like 'Are You Afraid of the Dark'
- 👻 Surprisingly dense lore and atmosphere
- 👻 Intriguing dissection of the myth of the lone male genius
- 👻 The tone shifts from kids adventure to gory horror might give you whiplash
- 👻 The Linen Man is an outdated and trope-heavy magical Black character and the show should have known better than to do such a lazy rendering of him, even if they eventually try to subvert the trope
The Irregulars is available to stream on Netflix now.
Haven't we had enough Sherlock Holmes adaptations? That's honestly a fair question to ask. But in Netflix's new YA horror series the unique take comes from the pages of the original source material. In the classic mystery novels there were a series of stories about young boys that Holmes would enlist to help him solve particularly tricky cases. The Irregulars takes that oft-forgotten bit of Sherlock lore and expands it into a fun and fresh story about a group of super-smart street kids who become entangled in a series of supernatural mysteries that may be connected to none other than the famed detective himself. Overall it works, centering young new faces, clever mysteries, and an impressive amount of scares instead of the oversaturated fictional problem solver. And at its best it even interrogates the danger of creating legends out of the lives of flawed and dangerous men.
The Irregulars is led by the wonderful Thaddea Graham as Bea, who gives the kind of gritty, intentional, and empathetic performance that should make her a star. Bea is joined by her sister Jessie (Darci Shaw), Billy (Jojo Macari), Spike (McKell David), and the young prince Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), though of course none of them know of his royal status. One of the show's best choices is making Bea its lead. At first we're given a moment that sets up Jessie as the potential protagonist, and while she does play a large--if less interesting--part, Bea is our hero. The grounded, intelligent, and angry young woman is the matriarch and heart of her found family, who live in a delightfully grotty hole in the wall in Victorian London. She strives and fights for them, and it's that very grit and determination that puts her in the sightline of the demented and depressed Dr. John Watson (Royce Pierreson).
Over the eight episode season we join the gang as they investigate a number of supernatural occurrences usually featuring some gruesome murders. It's a simple but effective use of the procedural format but is pleasantly cop free. Each of the other kids has a different talent that they bring to the table, whether it's smart-talking Spike, fist-happy Billy, well-read Leo, or Jessie and her burgeoning telepathic powers. Like most crime-of-the-week shows the episodes vary, but one thing the show shines at is attempting to build in interesting narratives around the question of class, gender, and abuse into its episodic romps. There's also a surprising amount of compassion for the perpetrators here which is refreshing.
Each of the adventures becomes further steeped in the supernatural as a mysterious "rip" in reality gives Londoners strange powers. It's all intertwined with a mystery surrounding Watson and the missing Sherlock (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) who may or may not have an unexpected connection to Bea and Jessie's dead mother. There is a lot going on in this show which makes it feel more suited for a weekly watch than a big binge. But while the series centers on setpieces with gory Frankenstein reimaginings, creepy tooth fairies, numerous other monsters, and familial drama, its real strength comes from dissecting and exposing the rot behind myths of singular male genius.
The role of Sherlock Holmes in The Irregulars might displease fans hoping for a Benedict Cumberbatch style clinical crime solving king. Here he's barely seen and when we do meet him he's far from the legend we've heard of. And that's entirely the point. The message of the story that The Irregulars is telling is that no one works alone. Behind any great creations or conundrums solved there are many, many marginalized people that those achievements were built on. It's the truth of the world and it's put across here powerfully. Sherlock and Watson see other people as disposable which translates to the way they treat each other. Just like everything about the series, that relationship has an honestly pretty believable twist that will make many fans of the pair very happy and a few bigots rather annoyed.
The show's biggest flaw comes from its eventually revealed villain. It's tropey at best and problematic at worst. And that's before you get into the questionable optics that the Jessie vs. the big bad debacle sets up. It's a shame as so much of the storytelling here upends the more outdated and inaccurate ideas about period pieces, but when it comes to the big bad the show slips back into the unimaginative archetypes of the past. While the show attempts to upend the reveal and slightly manages it during the finale's final act, it would have been better if the trope hadn't been utilized at all.
Honestly, though, The Irregulars isn't really a show about a villain or catastrophe. It's actually about a found family. It's about trauma and class and violence and the struggle to be kind in the face of the horrors of all that society throws at us. And even as the show heads towards its end and leans on its less than great villain, it also builds on the kids at its core. And they're its power. Especially Bea and Jessie and their love for each other. If you're a fan of broken children finding home in each other then you'll love this ragtag group of gritty good kids who could easily carry a few more seasons at least.
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