Creator Tom Bidwell (Netflix’s Watership Down) has been dreaming of making The Irregulars into a series for more than a decade. As a fan of the gang of street kids often referenced in the Sherlock Holmes stories, he wanted to center a Holmes story around their crime-solving abilities. But the Netflix series is more than just another Holmes rehash — in fact, the detective takes a major back seat in this story.
The Irregulars isn’t just a Victorian mystery series; it’s a Victorian supernatural mystery series, with each episode following a different paranormal crime. Starting off with compelling monster-of-the-week episodes, the first season slowly teases an overarching mystery and builds up to a satisfying climax in a way that feels uniquely different from the typical rooted-in-reality Holmes mystery.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for The Irregulars.]
The Irregulars follows a gang of street kids led by the determined Bea (Thaddea Graham). Her younger sister Jessie (Darci Shaw) is plagued by mysterious nightmares, and all four of them are short on money and fear getting sent to a workhouse. When Holmes’ partner John Watson (Royce Pierreson) approaches Bea, asking her to help provide information on some criminal activity for Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), she agrees, in exchange for a hefty sum. But as she and her friends dive deeper into the investigation, they learn supernatural forces are at play, dramatically shaping London as they know it.
Unlike Netflix’s other YA-tailored female Sherlock Holmes stand-in, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), Bea isn’t as immediately lively and bright. She starts off a little rough around the edges, though her hot temper makes her stand out from Enola. Eventually, it’s clear that Bea will do absolutely anything for her sister and her friends, that her strength lies in her compassion and loyalty, and even though she’s been through so much, she refuses to let that spark die. Jessie is also compelling, a dreamy young girl who finds herself with a growing, terrifying power that she’s too frightened to use. She just wants everyone to be happy and normal again. The three boys who round out the gang don’t really grow beyond their one-note descriptions: bubbly Spike (McKell David), brooding Billy (Jojo Macari), and posh Leo (Harrison Osterfield). But that’s okay — they’re here to bolster the girls’ stories and act as supporting players.
The lower-stakes interpersonal drama (including a secret prince who joins the gang) slows the story down. But The Irregulars finds its strength in a compelling plot. Instead of dragging on one central mystery across eight almost-hour-long episodes, Bidwell chooses to focus on singular cases. Because of the paranormal elements, the result unfolds less like traditional Sherlock Holmes sleuthing, where minute observations unlock a puzzle-box case, and more like a Victorian Era X-Files.
The first half of the show follows separate incidents that are each chilling in their own way. In one, a mysterious culprit steals the teeth of sleeping victims. The next episode follows Tarot-themed murders in a remote Gothic mansion. They are all uniquely and wonderfully horrifying, and by tapping into speculative fiction, Bidwell and his crew keep the show from feeling like it’s chained to the great legacy of Sherlock Holmes. Unlike The X-Files, which usually dipped into totally separate paranormal phenomena, The Irregulars does make it clear that its supernatural occurrences share some connection.
Bidwell and the writers weave the overarching plot into the episodic mysteries with finesse. As the characters slowly discover more about what is granting people horrifying powers, the audience also learns more about the backstory tying everything together — and how Holmes and Watson fit into the greater scheme of things.
Admittedly, the show’s connection to Holmes’ literary legacy is thin at best. Bea and her friends do discover a more direct relationship to the master detective, but Sherlock Holmes could be any sort of brilliant Victorian detective in this case. It’s never really clear why he’s Sherlock specifically, except for the IP name, and to have characters like Mycroft Holmes and Inspector Lestrade make minor appearances. The references don’t necessarily detract from the series (and certainly might pull in more potential viewers), but they also don’t really add anything to the story.
But that said, the connection between this version of Holmes and Bea, Jessie, and their friends ultimately adds to the greater mystery. The cases aren’t solved by logical deductions based on minute observations; instead, they tap into the occult and often dive into the villains’ emotional motivators. (Jessie figures out the nuances of one case, for instance, based on how lonely the murderer must’ve felt.) The cases are thrilling and often terrifying, and they help construct an exciting mystery. It’s less about the who and the how, and more about the why. Even attached to the great legacy of Sherlock Holmes, The Irregulars manages to be its own unique thing — an exciting, horror-tinged supernatural Victorian romp.
The Irregulars is now streaming on Netflix.