You can see what they were thinking with The Irregulars. Someone at Netflix must have bounded into a meeting a few years ago, said, “How about Stranger Things – but English,” and been lifted onto the shoulders of their ecstatic colleagues while being showered with crisp dollar bills. The problem is that Stranger Things was good. The Irregulars is not.
The series borrows its name from the Baker Street Irregulars, the band of street children whom Sherlock Holmes paid to find information he could not. Those urchins are reimagined here as a quartet of ex-workhouse teenagers (Beatrice, Jessie, Spike and Billy) – plus a regal interloper (Leopold) – who are conscripted by Dr Watson to help solve some disturbing paranormal mysteries. Jessie is, just like Will in Stranger Things, the one with a connection to an alternate reality – and the one who may just be able to save the world…
Although two alarm bells should be ringing already – are the Sherlock Holmes stories not mysterious enough without being supernatural? Should a whole series rest on the acting abilities of five youngsters? – it is easy to imagine a world in which this show captivated like Stranger Things did. Sadly, the writing is so bad and the acting so weak that this possibility is dead within minutes.
Though the show does take the Holmes canon to new places (I can’t remember an iteration where the detective is called a wanker as frequently), this doesn’t stop every possible cliché rearing its head at some point. This is the fault of the writers, not the cast, but these actors – almost all of them 10 years older than the Stranger Things ensemble, in fact – aren’t experienced enough to breathe life into the script.
What we’re given is a dark, sombre, often gory show – presumably in order that adults are drawn to it despite its young cast – that, unlike Sherlock, for example, seldom strays into comedy. This means, unfortunately, that when its dialogue makes you shriek with laughter, it isn’t intentional. How you’re supposed to keep a straight face at lines like “Here it is: the largest aviary in Europe”, “Holy moly – he’s trashed the place” and “It’s almost orgasmically linear” is unclear. In the first episode, a man roars and emits a cloud of ravens from inside his coat; later in the series, a woman who has stitched body parts together in order to give her comatose husband a new lease of life shouts, “HE’S MADE UP OF OVER 30 PEOPLE.” It is extremely, always accidentally funny, and proof that you can land a Netflix commission while being oblivious to what bad dialogue sounds like.
The Irregulars would have sunk without a trace without its Sherlock Holmes connection. Like Emily in Paris, however, a second series has already been commissioned. Are Netflix doubling down on a mistake? Or do they genuinely think this is what good drama looks like? It’s a mystery more perplexing than anything the Irregulars are tasked with solving.
‘The Irregulars’ arrives on Netflix from March 26