On paper, The Irregulars should have been right up my street.
Set in Victorian London and based on the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Tom Bidwell’s eight-episode series is part detective story, part ghost story, a fusion of Sherlock and Doctor Who that sees a group of street-wise teenagers reluctantly helping Dr. Watson (Royce Pierrson) solve a series of grisly happenings across the city.
The premise is a great one, and I went into The Irregulars with high expectations — but while the show is a fun and entertaining bit of escapism, it didn’t quite hit the mark to the extent I’d hoped.
The problem certainly isn’t with the core idea. Bidwell has taken a subset of characters from Doyle’s body of work and given them an entertaining update, throwing them into a parallel universe filled with tooth-stealing fairies and women who can transform themselves by skinning the faces off murdered men. The level of gore and darkness — as well as the sweary banter between the teenagers — makes the show more adult than Doctor Who, less family friendly thrills and more Skins with demons.
The main characters all have their demons, too. There’s the brooding misery of Dr. Watson, the simmering anger of Billy (Jojo Macari) and Bea (Thaddea Graham) over their childhood mistreatment in the workhouse, the shadowy recurring nightmares that plague Jessie (Darci Shaw), and the desperation to fit in felt by actual-Prince-turned-budding-detective Leopold (Harrison Osterfield). There’s also the figure of Sherlock (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) himself, who shows up halfway through the series with his own set of demons very much in tow.
Although some are more interesting than others, the characters all have depth to them and the young cast members do a great job of fleshing them out.
The overall look and feel of the show is spot on, too. Victorian London has been perfectly envisaged by the set designers, with brilliantly-crafted costumes adding to the show’s impressive levels of imagination and immersion.
So, where do things go wrong?
Honestly, it’s difficult to pin down. There’s no one big fault with The Irregulars, but rather a number of minor quirks and issues that add up to a slightly patchy overall feel. Some of the monsters are original and creepy, for instance, while others just feel a tad silly. Several episodes — like the Agatha Christie-style locked room mystery of “Chapter Three: Ipsissimus” — perfectly fuse detective story with the supernatural, though others don’t gel quite so well, and while some of the twists in the story come as a genuine surprise, at other times the plot feels a bit too formulaic.
In a nutshell, the show is hit-and-miss.
At its best, The Irregulars is a tense, entertaining and fresh new take on an old story. At its worst it’s like a fairground ghost train that you’ve ridden too many times before — everything keeps moving forward and the monsters keep jumping out, but the sense of excitement has been lost somewhere along the way.
The Irregulars is streaming on Netflix March 26.