What is it about the Sherlock Holmes story that keeps us coming back? Part of it, surely, is the fantasy of all-knowingness — the inherently compelling idea that a single person can contain within his skull the key to cracking all mysteries. Another element, though, is the aesthetic of Victorian London, an atmosphere that’s as dank and moody as it is easy to conjure onscreen, and whose mists and alleys lend the pleasurable sense of there being sufficient secrets to keep even a polymath detective busy for years to come.
“The Irregulars,” a new Netflix series, keeps half of that equation, but ditches the first. In this show, created by Tom Bidwell, a group of teens, together, lend a sort of teamed-up sleuthing power to Holmes and Watson’s operation. At the center of the group lay Bea and Jessie (Thaddea Graham and Darci Shaw), two sisters burdened with misfortune and given the mixed blessing of unusually strong abilities in the realm of the supernatural. Dr. Watson, played by Royce Pierreson, draws in the pair along with three friends of theirs (Jojo Macari, McKell David, and Harrison Osterfield); though Watson first claims he brought the group in because they’re helpless and hapless children off the street, it becomes clear that a greater mission is at play. What were once seemingly disconnected instances of horror plaguing the city come to seem like a united impingement of the surreal upon the real. Sherlock Holmes (played by Henry Lloyd-Hughes), though not present at first, eventually appears, seemingly holding a key to it all.
The horrors depicted in “The Irregulars” are somewhat extreme — a woman’s eyes are pecked out by birds in the first episode — as the show aims more to startle than dazzle. (The Irregulars fleeing those same birds called to mind the marketing materials for the schlock-horror film “Birdemic” — not, perhaps, the first place one’s mind traditionally goes when considering the work of Arthur Conan Doyle.) And the show’s overarching plot, about a rip between dimensions that threatens those of us on our side, feels baldly derivative of “Stranger Things.” If the comparison is to be forced, it’s an unfair one, as these kids — even with Bea and Jessie’s shared history, with the intriguing wrinkle of one Irregular’s noble blood, and with what is communicated to us through expository dialogue as a shared sense of adventure — play out a story that’s all gruesomeness and little joy.
For all that we’re told these kids are special, they confront their duty with a sense of glum obligation; there’s little of the high-stepping curiosity and possibility that is present in the best of Holmes, and that one might expect from a show in which teens attuned to voices from other worlds avert the apocalypse in Holmes’s London. The show brings in figures from the lore like brother Mycroft Holmes as well as a sort of proto-Frankenstein’s monster, but it doesn’t have much to do with them, so committed is it to a story that could be happening in any time, to any group of people. Perhaps, given the show it seems to want to be, the worst thing that can be said about “The Irregulars” is that, by its eighth and final episode, this series with a toe in two such fascinating dimensions — that of Holmes and of fantasy — just seems regular.
“The Irregulars” debuts on Netflix March 26.