The Baker Street Irregulars were a gang of street urchins who Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote into a few of his Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Holmes recognized that the savvy youth—led by a boy named Wiggins—had intimate knowledge of the streets and investigative abilities aided by their anonymity, and so hired them for some of his cases. The Baker Street Irregulars have made occasional appearances in the Holmes canon since then, in a series of children’s novels and performing songs in the Baker Street musical.
Tom Bidwell’s new Netflix production The Irregulars not only puts the young street gang at the head of their own series, but it also catapults Holmes’ usually straightforward detective work into the realm of the supernatural, a move that the afterlife-fascinated Doyle probably would have applauded. Instead of Wiggins, these Irregulars are led by Bea (Thaddea Graham, fresh off another Netflix kid ensemble series), a tough, impoverished teenager and former workhouse resident who tries to provide for her delicate sister, Jessie (Darci Shaw), as well as her pals Billy (Jojo Macari) and Spike (McKell David). Bea’s efforts get a boost when she receives a proposition from the enigmatic and vaguely menacing Dr. John Watson (Royce Pierreson), who needs help solving a plague of mysterious crimes that are becoming disturbingly more prevalent around London. Meanwhile, the gang’s new pal Leo (Harrison Osterfield) is keeping some secrets of his own.
The crimes are clever, based on modern myths with an intensified, nightmarish supernatural twist, like a tooth fairy that steals all the teeth right out of your mouth. A botanist who creates a monster out of love. An ornithologist that wields a terrifying power over birds. A taxidermist who turns their trade toward skinning humans instead of animals. These bolstered skill sets stem from the “rip,” a tear in the reality continuum that is letting all of these evils filter into Victorian-era, poverty-stricken London, which already resembles a dusty hellmouth as it is. Other kids shows have had similar plots in which an evil entity threatens to envelop the world into its bizarre apocalyptic milieu—Weirdmageddon, as Gravity Falls describes it, or the Upside Down of Stranger Things. But even Stranger Things doesn’t have this kind of graphic, gruesome depiction. No details are spared for that face skinning. We learn that birds love to pluck at eyes specifically. At one point, as the rip (surely a nod to the area’s most famous serial killer, Jack The Ripper) seeps its way into London’s underclass, one man feasts on another man’s entrails in the middle of the street.
Veering on the horrific side of picturesque, The Irregulars’ gore stretches the limits of its TV-14 rating, which is unfortunate, because without all the carnage, The Irregulars would have made a fun watch for tweens. Fortunately London’s effectively atmospheric hellscape (partly filmed at Liverpool’s Stanley Dock, home of Peaky Blinders and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes) is tempered somewhat by the plucky determination of The Irregulars’ young leads and their iron-like bond. Also, Holmes himself doesn’t stay hidden for long, though there’s a reason that Watson had to search elsewhere for help, as the famed detective is ravaged by drug addiction. Henry Lloyd-Hughes offers an inspired take on the icon, especially in flashbacks displaying his once-prominent (and frequently witty) brilliance. Holmes and Watson have a to-be-unearthed connection to the kid gang and to the rip itself—especially via Jessie, who puts the “irregular” in The Irregulars. She’s a powerful clairvoyant who’s often trapped in nightmares, but also has the ability to enter the subconscious of these regular citizens now transformed into murderers. The ornithologist, botanist, et al. are just normal people who begged for help out of desperation, only to receive the power to have their darkest desires fulfilled.
Jessie has a lot to carry on her fragile shoulders, but her four friends offer ample backup. Graham’s Bea is the group’s rock, and the two sisters are clearly at the fulcrum of the series. Billy and Leo both get some side plots to help flesh out their backstories; Spike remains mostly underexplored, which is too bad, since he’s a charming standout in a group that’s already pretty appealing. Because the young detectives are teens, there are obviously going to be hidden crushes and commented-on desires you’d expect from hormone-ridden adolescents, even if their straits are dire. But primarily, The Irregulars serves as a conduit, especially for fans of Sherlock Holmes in all his many forms, into some goosebump-inducing, jump-scare-filled mysteries—intriguing to be sure, but not for the faint of heart.