Even if you're someone who watches very little British television, chances are that you've at least heard of both Doctor Who and Sherlock. Both series are incredibly successful over here in the states and have incredibly dedicated fanbases. They also share a showrunner -- the incredibly prolific Steven Moffat, who divides his precious time between the two series. He is undoubtedly one of the best-known showrunners in the world. It's surprising, then, how few people have seen his fantastic series Jekyll.
Jekyll aired in 2007 on BBC One for six hourlong episodes, and starred phenomenal actor James Nesbitt (The Hobbit) as the eponymous Jekyll. Much like Sherlock, Jekyll is a modernization of Victorian era literature -- in this case, obviously, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Unlike Sherlock, however, Jekyll acknowledges the existence of its source text; Robert Louis Stevenson is even a character (played by Mark Gatiss, Mycroft from Sherlock), appearing in flashbacks that build upon the short series' rather complex mythology.
But the real, undeniable star of the series is James Nesbitt, whose portrayal of both Jekyll and his dark alter ego Hyde is utterly magnetic. Jekyll is an incredibly empathetic character, played with world-weary sadness; Hyde, on the other hand, chews on the scenery with such vicious relish that it's hard not to laugh with glee every time he appears on screen. When, in the first episode, he prepares to kill a threatening hoodlum, he announces, "Get ready, Billy! Here comes God!" It's both horrifying and hilarious. It sticks with you.
The cast also includes Gina Bellman, Paterson Joseph, Denis Lawson, and Michelle Ryan, all of whom are great but pale in comparison to Nesbitt's powerhouse performance -- only Joseph attempts to match Nesbitt's enthusiasm, and does so with surprising success.
Jekyll does have its flaws; it often attempts to be far too intricately plotted, often leading to an excess of red herrings. Too often it tries, unsuccessfully, to fool the viewer. It succeeds as a character piece, though, and its successes make it an extremely satisfying viewing experience.
Jekyll might not reach the heights of Sherlock, but fans of the latter will likely embrace the older series. If you haven't heard of it or seen it, it's worth a watch. The six-episode series (it requires little commitment, see?) is available on Netflix and DVD.
If you've seen the series, let us know in the comments section what you think. Would you recommend it?