Several lists are floating around the internet depicting which adaptation of Sherlock Holmes people think is best. Some I agree with, some I don't. The beauty of Holmes is that there are so many adaptations, even if you're not the biggest fan ever, you'll probably find one you like.
There's a difference between “favourite” and “best”. For this exercise I decided to split some of my favourite adaptations into two categories – recent and older – and from there sort them by what I think is the best.
Began 2012 on CBS, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson.
Elementary is set in modern-day New York City. Sherlock Holmes is a scruffy, heavily-tattooed recovering heroin addict who consults with the NYPD. Joan Watson is an ex-surgeon who is hired by Holmes's father to be his sober companion. Their relationship begins purely out of business, but slowly a friendship buds, until eventually Watson decides to continue her work with Holmes, without pay.
Although it's far-removed from the canon, it's a unique twist on the character. Although I still sometimes find it hard to believe that I'm watching Holmes and Watson, I believe CBS took a daring move with Elementary, and I think it worked wonderfully and, out of the three, Elementary has the widest audience appeal.
#2. Sherlock Holmes
Released 2009 and 2012, starring Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr John Watson.
Sherlock Holmes was the film that really got me into Holmesmania, so I owe it my thanks (or blame, however you want to look at it). It's set in a gritty, steampunk Victorian London and features a messy, chaotic (and short) Holmes. Though it occasionally makes nods to the canon, it's pretty far from the original stories. Downey's Sherlock Holmes is more of a caricature of the original rather than a direct adaptation. When we enter the story, Watson is seemingly well beyond fed up with Holmes's antics, no longer starry-eyed and unable to hold back his enthusiasm for Holmes' deductions. Despite its departure from the original, Sherlock Holmes and its sequel are charming, funny, and heartwarming.
Began 2010 on BBC, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson.
I have to admit that, out of the three, Sherlock is my favourite adaptation. If you want canon-heavy episodes and a believable – if perhaps incredibly young – version of these characters, Sherlock is your best bet.
Each episode is laden with details right from the original stories. The episodes are over an hour long and play out like mini-movies, with beautiful scores and fantastic cinematography. Although this Holmes is perhaps colder, and a bit more harsh than the original, the fact that the show keeps canon close to its heart won me over, and is why I list it at #1. If you're looking for Sherlock Holmes in the twenty-first century, Sherlock delivers.