The character of Sherlock Holmes has probably seen more incarnations and adaptations than most, but while the bulk of them fit into Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon a select handful dare to stretch those expected boundaries. From Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) to Without a Clue (1988) to last year’s Enola Holmes, the upside to fictional creations falling out of copyright is that others can go crazy playing in their sandbox. That last film is a Netflix production, and now the streamer is once more dipping its toes into a “what if?” scenario involving the world’s favorite detective. As the title suggests, though, in the world of The Irregulars, Sherlock is only a supporting player — and he’s not quite the world-class investigator we’re expecting.
Per Doyle’s stories, the Baker Street Irregulars are a band of filthy, unhoused street urchins who occasionally help the famed detective secure information that’s perhaps out of reach for a man in high society. Creator Tom Bidwell uses that as an inspiration for his origin story where the dirty-faced teens take the lead, and the result is a show that both hits and misses the mark with almost equal precision. Comparisons to Stranger Things seem inevitable, but it turns out the 1880s were just as wild as the 1980s.
Four friends live in a dank basement just a short walk away from 221B Baker Street, and while they make do however they can it’s their tight friendship that keeps them strong. Bea (Thaddea Graham) is the pint-sized bull looking after the others, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her younger sister Jessie (Darci Shaw) is her main concern as the pair, abandoned as young children, have seen a rough life in the workhouses until now. Worse, Jessie is suffering from nightmares that Bea worries might be connected to their mother’s mental illness. Rounding out the quartet are Billy (Jojo Macari), a tall brute with a heart of gold, and Spike (McKell David), a smooth-talker struggling to remain the optimistic one.
They take a break from the grift when Dr. John Watson (Royce Pierreson) arrives offering to pay for their services in an ongoing investigation involving babies being snatched from their cribs all over London. It leads to some unsettling discoveries, as do the following “monster of the week” episodes, and all of it points to a tear in dimensions threatening not just London but the world of the living itself.
The Irregulars delivers some solid thrills and fun, gory beats with its individual mysteries, and, perhaps surprising no one who’s been watching shows and films over the last year, its throughline is one exploring the dangerous weight of grief upon its characters. It’s the thematic topic du jour, it seems, and while Bidwell’s handling of it can be a bit messy at times its eventual destination is one with substantial heart and wisdom.
Getting there is something of a winding journey, though, involving the arrival of a drug-addicted, washed up Sherlock (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), a prince named Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), revelations involving family, love triangles, city-shaking supernatural threats, villainous reveals, and more. There’s a lot going on here, including more than a few nods to other Doyle characters, and while some of it stumbles in its execution other elements deliver the goods.
The clear highlight to The Irregulars is Graham’s spirited portrayal of Bea. The show is an ensemble piece, but Bea is the undeniable center and with good reason. She’s been hurt by the past and struggling in the present, but it’s never enough to knock her off her feet as she fights for her sister and her friends with wits, ferocity, and heart. Graham finds the humanity in the character’s heroism, and that carries over into her connection to two others — Jessie and, surprisingly, Watson. The sisterly bond is expected, and Graham and Shaw interact as if their chemistry has been a lifetime in the making with the love, spats, and knowing looks between sisters enriching the story in visible ways. Bea’s growing relationship with Watson finds its own power as the two move from strangers to antagonists and beyond, and Lloyd-Hughes is equally at his best when sharing the screen with Graham. Their growing bond eventually finds a heart equal to that of the sisters, and it’s due as much to the performances as to the writing.
The show’s production design helps bring the time and place to life whether its immersing viewers in a Dickinsonian nightmare, dancing among the nation’s royals, or facing off against murderous locals possessed by an evil force. Visual effects increase as the series continues with both flashy, digital work and some gory violence, but the show keeps its human characters front and center as they learn about themselves and others — both their strengths and weaknesses — with sometimes deadly results.
Less effective than those three characters and the surrounding thrills are The Irregulars‘ attempts at romance. Bea finds herself between Billy and Leopold, and viewers will be hard-pressed to root for either of the horndogs as neither is all that interesting of a character. Both get more to chew on than poor Spike who’s left seemingly forgotten by the writers at times, but the competing love interest angle is still endlessly dull and bogs down any/every scene in which it becomes the focus. An adult romance explored in the series’ back half fares a bit better, but as it’s between supporting players it unavoidably carries less weight. Still, the character dynamics that work best — Bea and Jessie, Bea and Watson — do so exceedingly well guaranteeing viewers will be invested through to the end.
The mystery/horror narrative driving The Irregulars is intermittently engaging, but along with the trio of characters highlighted above it’s more than enough to satisfy viewers through all eight episodes. An eventual second season would hopefully give more care to Billy, Spike, and Leo as all three actors seem capable and hungry for more to do. Barring that, more time with Bea, Watson, and Jessie will be enough to make a follow-up season worthwhile.