If You Don’t Know Steven Moffat by Now…

Season 3 of Sherlock just showed recently in the US on PBS.  Fans of the show are rabid, hardcore.  Part of it, no doubt, is due to Benedict Cumberbatch and his astonishingly otter-like face, and in television, as in film or games, almost all products are the result of great teams, not simply exceptional individuals.  But, if you discount Moffat’s contributions, you do so at your own peril.

A little red-haired Scottish girl solemnly intones, “Dear Santa. Thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you, but honest, it is an emergency. There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it’s just an ordinary crack, but I know it’s not, because at night there’s voices, so please, please, could you send someone to fix it?”  That’s the opening to Season 5, Episode 1 of the re-launched Dr. Who (credit to Doctor Who Transcripts for the text).  Moffat had written for Dr. Who regularly since the re-launch, but the fifth season was when he took over as the show-runner, essentially the creative head of the franchise.  There are plenty of critics of Matt Smith and especially in the Matt Smith years of Amelia Pond (played by Karen Gillan), but there’s little doubt that the series has flourished and grown under Moffat’s stewardship.

Before any of that, there was Coupling, sort of a British version of Friends, a sitcom featuring three young, generally attractive male leads and three extremely attractive female leads.  While it is, in many ways, a fairly straightforward sitcom, even at this early stage, Moffat was experimenting with television as a medium and storytelling within that framework.  For example, there was the episode that played out in reverse-chronological order, starting with the ending and gradually revealing all the incidents that had led up to that moment; or, the episode where the main character speaks English in the first half to an uncomprehending foreigner, and in the second half, he speaks Italian and the foreigner’s dialogue is in English – for the characters, the same disconnect, but for the viewer, a shift in perspectives that unveils a larger picture.

As a writer, as a director, as a show-runner, Moffat has been pushing the quality bar on what can be done in television for over a dozen years; he’s widely recognized in the UK, even receiving a special BAFTA award in 2012.  The moment to be hiply conscious of him has passed; the fascination with the success of his works has already become a repeated topic for him to tackle in the last year.  But, if you like your television with humor, self-awareness, experimentation, and excellent production values, you would do well to acquaint yourself with his body of work.  The only question left is whether he will stick with television or make the jump to the movies.

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