question of the day: What is the modern appeal of Sherlock Holmes?

The BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, finishes up its run on PBS in the U.S. this weekend — its ratings have been phenomenal, more than doubling the typical viewership for its timeslot. The two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have combined earned well over a billion dollars worldwide. And now the American network CBS is launching a modern-day Holmes series set in New York City, starring Jonny Lee Miller and, as a gender-switched Watson, Lucy Liu. A sneak peak at Elementary (which will debut sometime in the autumn):

(Doesn’t look much different than Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which features an NYPD officer who uses Holmes-esque methods to solve cases.)

Why is Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective everywhere — and so popular — at the moment? What is the modern appeal of Sherlock Holmes? Does his emotional coldness and daunting intellect have something to say to us that strikes a particular chord right now? Or is Holmes a perennial favorite that storytellers will be returning to and updating far into the future?

What do you think?

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