Oh Sherlock Holmes. As a character, the mythos, lore, and general identity of the character has inspired many retellings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works and even new stories that write in and expand characters like Netflix’s Enola Holmes. While Sherlockian storytelling is well-known and beyond well-traveled, The Irregulars takes on the characters and makes its own world by mixing the in supernatural and a cast of street urchins who have nothing but each other.
The Irregulars is an eight-episode Netflix Original series developed by Drama Republic and created by Tom Bidwell. Set in Victorian London, The Irregulars follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for a possibly sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner, the elusive Sherlock Holmes. But they aren’t deducing their way to capturing criminals. Instead, they’re confronting crimes that increasingly take on a horrifyingly supernatural edge, all while a dark power emerges. Dubbed the Baker Street Irregulars, it’s up to them to come together to save not only London but the entire world.
It’s important to note that The Irregulars is a young adult supernatural crime drama and it very much lives in YA land. I don’t mean this as a negative critique, but rather, I present it as the baseline for the show. Because YA comes with its own collection of tropes and a specific audience in mind. While the series begins initially with a focus on a group of orphans trying to survive and showing their intelligence in solving mysteries, the series quickly pivots into a supernatural story about family and how to stop the end of the world.
On paper, adapting Sherlockian mysteries to hard supernatural concepts like magical powers, entering others’ minds, and a tear in the fabric of the reality threatening the fall of society, should work. I mean, “The Hounds of Bakersville” is one of the Sherlockian mysteries that dances with the supernatural before deducing the reality behind it. But like a lot of YA, the blending of concepts in The Irregulars struggles to find its footing in making sure each side of the story is balanced. In fact, much of the supernatural elements feel tacked on instead of seamlessly blended with the heart of what makes Sherlockian stories well, Sherlockian; using logic to uncover the truth.
The Irregulars leans hard into the supernatural that works aesthetically but is applied to patch plot holes in the mystery, making it feel too hollow for the universe it’s based on. In fact, had the story been detached from the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, the series would have been better for it. Because going hard in the paint with magic and horror elements is what The Irregulars excels at. From a woman growing bodies in her yard to a zoologist controlling every bird in London and more, there are enough monster-of-the-week elements that make the series both interesting and intriguing.
While some character choices like a menacing Watson are interesting, the main cast that makes up the Baker Street Irregulars is superb. Now, they aren’t all well-written, but the young actors who bring them to life offer up compelling performances. But it isn’t only their performances. It’s their chemistry as a group of friends who become family, in a sense, that works well. Our lead character is Bea (Thaddea Graham), the tough, street smart, older sister that takes on the most responsibility of the group. Next is her sister, Jessie (Darci Shaw). She is the character used to introduce audiences to the supernatural world. Then their supporting cast of teens is rounded out by Billy (Jojo Macari) and Spike (McKell David), the other Baker Street Irregulars, and Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), a rich kid intrigued by the mysteries and the Irregulars themselves.
As a unit, all of the young actors work well together and their chemistry on-screen as a found family and as romantic partners is great to watch. While some could have used more development, as a unit, they’re a joy to watch. Out of them, Bea is the strongest character and Graham delivers a stellar performance. As a character, Bea goes through a rollercoaster of growth. She carries the responsibility of the group’s safety on her back, heightened by the need to protect her younger sister after their mother’s death. The need to carry the burden of responsibility pushes Bea into situations where she has to put aside her own sense of morality in order to save those around her. Bea carries the literal fate of the world on her shoulders and as an actress, Graham brings a strength and a vulnerability to the role with gravitas on screen.
That said, one large issue with The Irregulars is that it colorblind casts instead of casting to color. If you’re unfamiliar with the difference in these two phrases, the latter is used to describe when a character is cast and they’re impacted by the identity of the actor portraying them, and the former means that the actor’s identity has little to no effect on the character’s storylines or identity. While not an inherently bad practice, especially in period dramas, creators have to showcase an understanding of negative tropes that casting a character of color in specific roles will embody.
This is particularly salient with the casting of the series big bad, The Linen Man, played by Clarke Peters. Initially, his role seems to embody the Magical Negro trope, a Black character put into a story to magically interact with a white one and save them through spiritual wisdom or supernatural powers. Now, while the Linen Man isn’t discarded, he does become the menacing villain in the story. When coupled with the fact that other Black characters, especially those with dark skin also play a villainous role in the story, it’s hard to not see hints of colorism and tropes that mar The Irregulars. Even Watson, who enters the story as an antagonist, is only changed when Sherlock enters the picture.
Additionally, there are moments in the series, early on where you see the white Irregulars belittled and maligned by Black upper-class characters. It causes a cringe that comes from a lack of understanding about how character tropes are very much grounded by the identities of the actors playing them, whether casting intends to or not.
Overall, The Irregulars offers up a good story with some expertly executed horror-inspired visuals, but fails to connect the magic with the Sherlockian mystery. Despite having a phenomenal cast of characters, there are some elements that leave them underdeveloped—mainly with some romantic subplots that feel more like YA fantasy necessities instead of well-thought-out narrative elements. While The Irregulars has its share of issues, it’s still a pretty fun watch if you know what you’re in for ahead of time.
The Irregulars is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
The Irregulars offers up a good story with some expertly executed horror-inspired visuals, but fails to connect the magic with the Sherlockian mystery. Despite having a phenomenal cast of characters, there are some elements that leaves them underdeveloped – mainly with some romantic subplots that feel more like YA fantasy necessities instead of well-thought out narrative elements. While The Irregulars has its share of issues, its still a pretty fun watch if you know what you’re in for ahead of time.