TV - The Irregulars

The Irregulars with John Watson

What if Sherlock Holmes had a bunch of magical teen sidekicks? Ahead of the start of The Irregulars, coming to Netflix on 26th, read an interview with series creator Tom Bidwell...

Set in Victorian London, the series follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner, the elusive Sherlock Holmes. As the crimes take on a horrifying supernatural edge and a dark power emerges, it'll be up to the Irregulars to come together to save not only London but the entire world.

Created by Tom Bidwell, with Endeavour's Johnny Allan as lead director for the series, the ensemble cast includes Thaddea Graham as Bea, Darci Shaw as Jessie, Jojo Macari as Billy, Mckell David) as Spike and Harrison Osterfield as Leopold. Of course, Mr Holmes is going to make an appearance, played by Henry Lloyd-Hughes, joined by Royce Pierreson as John Watson.

Here's the interview:

Can you give us an overview of The Irregulars (general concept, genre, characters, setting etc.)?

Doctor Watson gets in touch with a group of teenagers because something isn’t right in London and he ropes them into investigating a series of supernatural crimes which are both horrific and mysterious. The more they investigate, the more they realize there are things afoot that are shocking, disturbing and emotionally very relevant for them.

The two main characters are Beatrice and Jessica and they’re sisters. Bea is fierce, a natural leader and very stoic and Jessie is a bit of a space cadet, she’s very emotional and overt. They lead ‘The Irregulars’ made up of Spike, Billy and then eventually a character called Leopold.

It’s quite a unique show with many genres: it’s adventure, it’s horror, it’s crime, it’s romance, it’s fantasy, it's mystery. 

What is your connection to previous iterations of Sherlock Holmes and what were some of your inspirations for The Irregulars?

I hope the audience won’t go in expecting to see a very traditional adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work because this isn’t that. We don’t intend to be that and we’re not protecting the canon: we’re taking elements and twisting and turning them.

Our inspirations were things like The X-Files, where there are really exciting ‘monsters of the week’. We also looked at a lot of horror films: Stephen King was a huge reference point for us. I think Stephen King has that kind of characterfulness, weirdness, darkness but also the story is so important, it’s not just about shocking people - it’s about telling really good stories.

So how is this telling of Sherlock Holmes different to what audiences might have seen before?

I think we’ve tried to stay away from a lot of the tropes and he’s not the main character either which is quite unusual for a show set in the Sherlock world. These two girls, the two sisters, are the heart of the story.

The crimes being investigated are very different because they’re supernatural with elements of horror. The show goes into the world of spiritualism which is something Arthur Conan Doyle was actually really interested in. We wanted to create a world in which the spiritual interest of Arthur Conan Doyle crashed into the logical, rational character of Sherlock, so really I’d say it’s very different.

Who are you expecting the audience to be and what are you hoping people will take from this show?

When I was younger I used to watch The X-Files. I’d get my brother to tell my mum that it wasn’t that scary so she’d let me stay up. It was such a thrilling experience for me to watch that kind of TV. I vividly remember a lot of the monsters from it because they stayed with me, not in a bad way! I was just so excited by it.

I think, with that in mind, our audience certainly has no top end to it but also goes down to the age I was watching The X-Files. I think there’s quite a big audience for it, from different age groups. I just want to tell a good story and I want to introduce people to a really imaginative world where anything can happen.

I think the best TV experiences are when you immediately feel relaxed because you know you’re in the hands of good storytellers. If you can pair that with a story that can subvert expectation - my best TV watching experiences have always done that, where I can’t believe what’s going on. I’m hoping that we can provide that to our audience.

It’s an interesting question asking what you want the audience to get from this, I think the world has been so difficult and so challenging for a lot of people and I think actually we’ve relied a lot on stories and we’ve relied a lot on television for that sense of familiarity. What I really want from this is for people to be excited by it and for it to bring a little bit of joy, even if it’s just during the time you’re watching it and even if it’s escapism because that has a lot of value in it at the moment. I’m not trying to minimize it but distraction can be really important and I hope that we can bring a bit of joy to people’s lives at the moment. That would be the best possible outcome, definitely.

Can you talk about the casting process? What has it been like working with the cast/crew?

We’ve got a great casting director in Sarah Crowe who’s done a fantastic job. As ever, with casts that are led by young actors, oftentimes you’re looking for people who are near the start of their careers. I think you really need someone like Sarah who’s got an eye out on up-and-coming talent. I couldn’t be more pleased with the people she found. In my head now they are the characters I wrote. It’s amazing how that happens: you’ve thought of these characters for so long and then suddenly they are these people and they’re live and they’re real.

It’s a very demanding show, it’s a very physical show and a very emotional show. The schedule on the show is crazy and I think they’ve all managed it very well.

What was it like being on set, filming on location and seeing the world you had created coming to life?

It’s very unusual - these things live in your head alone for so long and only you know the streets and the cobbles and the way the street bends to the left and then to the right. Then all of a sudden you hand it over to dozens of people and they turn it into a reality and that reality is inevitably different.

I think we’ve got such a great design team on this: art, costume, make up, VFX, just unbelievably talented people. That process of collaboration means they come up with things that are so unexpected. It’s a delight to see them take that street and turn it into a real street. They’ll have thought about it much more than I would. It’s amazing to see the detail that goes into it, way more detail than my imagination could come up with!

What are you most excited about audiences seeing/experiencing when this is released?

I think we’ve got some very cool and very scary monsters and villains in the show so I’m really looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to my mum seeing it and saying she doesn’t like it because it’s too scary. I’m just looking forward to it because it’s been such a long time coming. We’re really pleased with what we’re seeing and I just hope people will think it’s as cool as we do.

I just really love the ‘monster a week’ format and I love the fact that we’ve been able to create eight small movies. I really want them to be talking points. When I was at school it would be 'oh did you see this on The X-Files? Did you see this? Did you see that?’. You just really want to light a fire in the imagination of the audience and get them excited about it.

What are some examples of your previous work and how does this project compare and contrast to those experiences?

I started off writing in theatre and in radio then moved across to television. I took part in the BBC Writers’ Academy then went onto soaps for a year and really cut my teeth on those challenging but brilliant shows. I did a show called My Mad Fat Diary (E4), an adaptation of a real diary of a young woman who suffered from mental health problems when she was younger. After that I went onto an animation called Watership Down which was on TV last Christmas and won an Emmy. I then did a three-part kids show after that called Katy which also just won an Emmy and I won a Childrens’ BAFTA for that for Best Writer. I’ve done mainly young adult and family stuff that’s broad in appeal.

With this project I’m trying to get stories with heart and with emotional impact into something that’s dark and exciting and a little bit more edgy than perhaps some of my other projects have been. I’d say this is bigger in terms of the scale of the show, the world of the show. It’s an original world we’re building and an original story. I know it’s based on Sherlock Holmes but we’re not taking much other than the period. It’s an absolute monster of a show in every way: editorially, post production, stress levels. But it’s fun, it’s an absolute dream to work on.

The team has very talented people so it makes you push yourself to make sure you're doing everything you can to raise the quality of the show. These last two years have just been crazy. I can’t believe it’s actually real. Honestly I cannot believe that this show that I thought of is going to be on Netflix. I’ll only believe it when I sit down and I see it on TV. Then I’ll go ‘Oh it’s actually real, it wasn’t a hallucination!’

The Irregulars comes to Netflix on 26th March

Images - Matt Squire: Netflix
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