When you’re trying to sell a script, the name Sherlock Holmes evidently helps. Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Ian McKellen and Jonny Lee Miller have all played versions of the character in the past decade, and last year’s Netflix hit Enola Holmes cast Millie Bobby Brown as his little sister. It makes sense: in this era of reboots, sequels and spin-offs, intellectual-property arms races and content overload, Arthur Conan Doyle‘s fin de siècle PI isn’t just the most famous detective in English literature—he’s also mostly in the public domain.
The Irregulars, another Netflix release, out March 26, is the least reverent recent expansion of the brand. Set in a coal-smudged Victorian London that owes more to Dickens than to Doyle, the series follows a crew of teenage orphans hired by a startlingly mean John Watson (Royce Pierreson) to help investigate a spike in paranormal crimes. Bea (Thaddea Graham), their bold leader, is fiercely protective of her little sister Jessie (Darci Shaw), a psychic. A few cute boys hang around as love interests—including, weirdly, Prince Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), who sneaks out of the palace to have some fun, hemophilia be damned.
This isn’t a prestige project. It’s a stew of teen drama, period soap, supernatural mystery and pulp horror, modernized via girl-power story lines and color-blind casting. There’s nothing special about the acting, directing or writing, which foregrounds monster-of-the-week plots. That’s not a complaint, though. The reason to watch The Irregulars is because it’s fun. And it’s most fun when it leans into dark pastiche: opium dens, taxidermists, occultists staging murder scenes to resemble tarot cards. Does the show need Sherlock? No. But there’s room for him, too, in its kitchen-sink approach to creepy Victoriana.
This appears in the March 29, 2021 issue of TIME.
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