Netflix's The Irregulars review: Stranger Things-meets-Sherlock Holmes, and not necessarily in a good way
An orphaned, psychically gifted teenage girl with the ability to navigate and seal the portal to another dimension. Now where have we come across that character before? If your mind jumped to Eleven from Stranger Things, Netflix would now like you to meet Jessie, one of the protagonists of their new Original, The Irregulars.
Transplant the Stranger Things premise from Hawkins, Indiana, to a grimy London of the late 1800s and early 1900s, add a dodgy Sherlock Holmes connection, and you have (season 1 of) The Irregulars.
Apart from the aforementioned Jessie (Darci Shaw), The Irregulars focuses on her group of so-close-they're-like-family friends, all of them impoverished and orphaned. There's Beatrice aka Bea (Thaddea Graham), the gang-leader and Jessie's older sister; Billy (Jojo Macari), who's been by their side since all three were at the same workhouse; and Spike (McKell David). They're later joined by Leo (Harrison Osterfield), an upper crust lad who makes their acquaintance and begins helping them, and whose secret identity as a haemophiliac Prince Leopold of England (yes, really) is unknown to the others.
At the start of The Irregulars, Bea and the others are worried. Jessie's mind seems to be unravelling as she has increasingly vivid nightmares about an underground crypt where beaked/masked figures attack her. She sleepwalks, passes in a daze through the streets, listening to voices only she can hear. It is indicated that Bea and Jessie's mother had a similar condition, which led to her death. Meanwhile, rent on the (rather roomy) cellar the four live in is long overdue.
So when a man who introduces himself as Dr John Watson (Royce Pierreson) offers Bea a fee in exchange for tracking down a runaway teenage girl whose baby sister was stolen from the crib, she accepts. Several other babies have also gone missing during this time. Leo, who sees Bea while out on a night ride through the city, later finds her and is able to offer several crucial leads.
But Bea and the gang realise they're up against more than just a crafty baby snatcher when they're attacked by an unkindness of ravens right in the street. There are supernatural forces at work, and to combat them, they need Jessie's gifts.
Watson grudgingly admits to Bea that "a darkness has come upon London" and things are about to get a whole lot worse. Bea, Billy and the others investigate a series of macabre happenings: children whose teeth have been extracted entirely in the night by a vicious "tooth fairy", the tarot card-inspired murders of members of a cult, a killer who keeps the faces of their victims and assumes their forms, a "collector" with a penchant for taking different body parts and organs from victims. In each of these cases, the perpetrator derives power from an unexplained source when they make some desperate supplication to a higher power.
Beyond these cases, there are overarching threads that must be followed: why is John Watson so secretive, who is his mysterious business partner Sherlock Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), and what did Bea and Jessie's mother Alice (Eileen O'Higgins) have to do with the duo? Where are Jessie's nightmares leading her? It emerges that there's a rip — a tear or portal between this world and the next — leaching "magic" that is in turn influencing the monstrous events Bea and the others have witnessed. If the rip isn't closed, the barriers between the world would collapse and lead to the end of this one. Cue Stranger Things vibes.
The pity of course is that The Irregulars is no Stranger Things. It's a mediocre show with a moderately engaging story, mostly middling performances (with the solid exception of Osterfield, and in some instances Graham, Macari), a maudlin climax, and occasionally, the vibe of a music video.
Enola Holmes must have shown Netflix there's an interest in Sherlock Holmes spin-offs, but The Irregulars is more Ratched than Elementary. Which is to say it's an opportunistic attempt to piggyback on a popular fictional character, and a misfire. Sherlock, when he finally makes an appearance in this show, turns out to be not only a terrible human being and barely functional junkie who's lost all his powers of deduction (he cannot even correctly infer the tea variety he's served), but also, seemingly one who takes his style cues from some sort of romantic/dashing seafarer type. Think long hair, earring, flamboyant jackets and flirtatious demeanour. Mycroft Holmes, when he makes an appearance, is incompetent. Watson is a surly, ill-mannered child-endangerer. All three men are trumped by a bunch of teenagers.
Some of the less believable aspects of The Irregulars (why does The. Sherlock. Holmes need help from these kids to solve his cases?) do gain greater credibility as more of the mystery is uncovered. But others remain a stretch. Clues fall into the gang's lap like chunky diamond bracelets on the wrists of housekeepers (quite literally). Nearly every "monster" Bea et al encounter wants to be a god. That's a lot of divine aspirants to meet in a limited span of time and geography. Still, some of the cases do manage to be interesting, even if the predictable love triangle between Bea, Leo and Billy does not.
The Irregulars is a firm 2.5/5, although there are moments when it becomes something more than a period Stranger Things wannabe. In rewriting Sherlock such as to present 'male rationality' in opposition to Alice/Jessie's 'feminine spirituality/intuitiveness', its main message ends up prioritising the supernatural over science, mysticism over reason. And that — despite the show's good intentions in diversifying and updating the narrative — feels irresponsible in a post-truth era.
All eight episodes of The Irregulars are now available on Netflix.
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