Between 2009’s Sherlock Holmes movie, the 2010 series Sherlock, and last year’s Enola Holmes, Netflix’s offerings of Arthur Conan Doyle-inspired works gives a strong indicator of its enduring legacy. Sherlock Holmes, his friend Dr. Watson, and their sleuthing skills transformed detective fiction and amassed icon status in the centuries since initial publication. Lesser known in the canon is the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of street kids that aided Holmes in a few mysteries. The Irregulars aims to cast these characters in a new light, creating an eight-episode series that descends Victorian London into supernatural darkness that can only be stopped by an angsty group of teens.
Life is hard on the dirty, cold streets of London for orphaned sisters Bea (Thaddea Graham) and Jessie (Darci Shaw) and their close-knit friends Billy (Jojo Macari) and Spike (Mckell David). Under Bea’s leadership, the group scrapes by just enough, and at least they have each other. Then London gets inundated with a series of strange events that make living on the streets even more dangerous, thanks to a string of grisly murders by people with inhuman abilities. When Bea gets strong-armed by Dr. Watson (Royce Pierreson) to help him solve these supernatural cases, it puts the group on the frontlines of defense against mounting darkness that will threaten to destroy everything.
Created by Tom Bidwell (Watership Down), The Irregulars adheres to a familiar young adult genre series setup. While teasing an overarching mystery, the eight-episode series opts for a “Monster of the Week” episodic approach, as the young protagonists slowly entrench themselves in the dark underbelly of horror-fantasy London. That exposition-light approach gives more room to focus on the character building and dynamics, for better and worse.
The Irregulars is at its best when it spends most of its energy building the sibling bond between the assertive Bea and her meek, fragile sister Jessie, who’s discovering an emerging power that will become critical in their battle with evil. Bea’s antagonistic engagements with a hostile Dr. Watson, who’s clearly keeping many of the season’s answers close to his vest, also adds to the pro column. Bea’s initial forays into the cliché young adult love triangle with Billy and aristocrat-in-disguise Leopold (Harrison Osterfield) induces yawns. Leopold’s entire storyline reads more plot device than fleshed-out character; he exists to add to Bea’s conflicts and serve as a hindrance or help in the mystery-solving, depending on the need. Many character traits set up early in the season wind up forgotten or adding little to their respective arcs by the finale.
Then there’s Sherlock Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the literary icon who spends the early parts of the season as a shadow that looms large over the proceedings until he makes his entrance. Here, Holmes has fallen from grace thanks to a traumatic event that spurred a drug-addicted downward spiral. The character is less a brilliant investigator, and more of a rock-star magician turned broken man. It’s the most glaring indication that Bidwell is looking to reimagine and modernize Doyle’s characters, aside from the Irregulars themselves. All of which ripples out and chances up the canon in ways that will either lure in new fans or alienate long-time fans.
The production design is fantastic, making the grimy, bustling Victorian London streets feel fully inhabited, even when its characters don’t. The supernatural crimes are often delightfully macabre. Episodes feature vengeful supernatural entities that gruesomely steal faces or teeth, making for some grisly murder methods. How those crimes get solved often proves far less satisfying.
While The Irregulars looks polished and offers moments of horror fun and a compelling lead in Bea, tedious teen angst and drama bog it down. Worse, the central mystery and its big bad can be seen a mile away, but the teens fall prey to the usual pitfalls of melodrama that means they’re ten steps behind. Steeping Doyle’s popular characters deep within the occult makes for an intriguing concept, but this series doesn’t seem to know what to do with it beyond a superficial, generic setup. The cast gives it their all, but this series mostly banks on character legacy to provide emotional stakes. Despite its title, this new take on Doyle’s works is pretty regular.
The Irregulars season one is available on Netflix on March 26, 2021.