The Irregulars’ first season premieres Friday, March 26 on Netflix. This is a review for all eight episodes.
There’s a lot about The Irregulars that shouldn’t work. Firstly, this is the type of out-there, fantastical take on Sherlock Holmes that can only arrive after a thousand or so more traditional adaptations. You know, when the only recourse, to truly do something different, is to make several zany left turns and go for broke. With no more worlds to conquer, Sherlockian lore gets spun about like a top in The Irregulars, a new series inspired by the local street urchins — the Baker Street Irregulars — who Holmes and Watson occasionally employed to do unseemly jobs and/or gather information and rumors from undignified characters. Against the odds, and faced with an uphill climb, the show actually pulls off a rather remarkable feat.
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With a talented young cast, some clever “monster of the week” beats, and a bold new look at Holmes’ drug addiction (and the cause of it), The Irregulars infuses Sherlock’s Victorian-era London with supernatural horror, turning the famous duo into both lauded investigators and…renowned ghost hunters.
But while the series most definitely includes Holmes and Watson, and a few other notables from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s pages, it’s not their story. The heart of this tale belongs to Bea, her sister Jessie, Billy, Spike, and Leo – destitute orphaned street teens who get caught up in a storm of ugly otherworldly events after Dr. Watson hires them to look into the case of some missing infants. Once this tight-knit gang (plus interloper Leo, who the rest don’t know is actually Prince Leopold, son of the Queen) starts to work for Watson to get a bit of coin, they’re quickly absorbed into a fun X-Files-esque adventure involving murderous ravens, human clones grown out of stolen teeth, magical deaths staged to look like tarot cards, and other ghastly goings-on that all signal a large and powerful disturbance in the veil between the mortal world and the land of the dead.
That’s right. Not only does this series sideline Holmes and Watson a great deal, but it’s fully infused with ghouls and ghosts and its own personal take on a “Hellmouth.” Suffice to say, Sherlock traditionalists may want to steer clear. But for those who remain, and give it a shot, The Irregulars starts to fully gel by the third episode, “Ipsissimus.” It takes a few chapters for the show to find its sea legs with regards to tone as it balances drama, comedy, modern music, and its ensemble. The excellent color-blind casting gives us a fuller and more inclusive saga while the rest of the draw is deftly handled by the Irregulars themselves, who you may come to care for deeply as sooty outcasts who, in the end, can rely on no one but each other to provide support and sanity.
Thaddea Graham’s Bea, the default leader of the teens, and older sister to Jessie (Darci Shaw), is forced to mother the bunch while also dealing with Jessie’s burgeoning (and disruptive) psychic powers. Graham’s a magnetic force and projects a strength and wit that allows Bea to be powerful, vulnerable, and driven enough to do whatever it takes to protect those she loves. Jojo Macari’s Billy and McKell David’s Spike round out the quartet as the fighter and the charmer while Harrison Osterfield’s aristocrat-in-hiding, Leo, provides the ultimate gateway into the group. It’s through Leo’s sheltered eyes that we’re able to appreciate the Irregulars truly having, perhaps, “better” lives than he, despite their poverty, since they have love and affection. The inclusion of Leo is a smart way to bridge the worlds of the show and connect the street kids to larger, lofty London affairs.
Watson, for a good deal of the series, is a harsh and somewhat malicious character. Almost an adversary. Royce Pierreson gives the good doctor a nice nasty streak while Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ Sherlock is a fundamentally shattered individual, who, when whole, was still a preening prat. By initially painting these two usual headliners with a brutal brush, The Irregulars makes us starved for decency. Decency we then find, and admire, in the dirty ruffians who wind up saving the day. Additionally, the great Clarke Peters, from The Wire, adds an element of mystery as an American telepath who makes contact with Jessie and helps her control her abilities. It’s another way the Holmesian world is sweetly expanded on this series.
The Irregulars isn’t perfect. It trips over a handful of cliches here and there, and every so often a character’s made to carry the “idiot ball” for the episode (making a conveniently bad choice in order to move the plot forward). And though many of the twists are sadly telegraphed, the core camaraderie between the young cast — which is warmly familiar, but with enough wiggle room for a love triangle — is there to carry us when the series is underserved by occasional tropes.