Super Sleuth
Made in Canada, The Adventures of Shirley Holmes has become an international hit

TV Guide

On The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, the concept becomes clear in each episode's opening credits: 12-year-old Shirley (Meredith Henderson) is seen opening a trunk that once belonged to her great-grand-uncle - who just happens to be the world-famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes. With genes like that behind her, you just know that young Shirley is going to be unraveling a mystery in no time.

Not since Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys has a mystery series so captured the imagination of young viewers. Now entering its third season on YTV (the premiere is Sept. 14), Shirley Holmes has also been picked up by the BBC and the Fox Family network in the US. After all, there aren't many shows about a bright, independent heroine with her own style and her own agenda: to slove mysteries in small-town Redington (actually Winnipeg, where the show is filmed). Buffy the Vampire Slayer is cool, but c'mon, most kids don't live anywhere near a hellmouth. Shirley, in fact, is pretty average, if privilaged. She lives with her diplomat father and free-spirited Gran and goes to a co-ed private school. Her mom, a virologist, went missing four years ago in Rwanda, though Shirley cannot accept the official view that she's dead. It's the one mystery in her life that she is unable to solve.

Finding the right Shirley, who is closer to Arthur Conan Doyle's single-minded sleuth than any of the teen detectives that came before her, was difficult, recalls producer Kim Todd. "A lot of kids, all good actors, read Shirley with a kind of edge, because, looking at the lines on the page, you could interpret it that way," says Todd. Only Ottawa native Henderson "got that Shirley plays them just dead straight."

In Europe recently to premote the show's BBC launch, Henderson thought it was "pretty cool" when she was recognized by two squealing girls, although she says the attention can sometimes be a little much here at home. Meanwhile, the older audience - especially girls - respond to John White, who plays Shirley's sidekick, Bo. Henderson also thinks younger viewers are drawn to Shirley's self-reliance. "They like the kid-involvement. Shirley doesn't go to adults a whole lote. Every once in a while when she does need help, she goes to Gran. So that says to kids, try to do it on your own, but if you can't, it's OK to get help."

Todd believes Shirley Holmes is a success because it doesn't underestimate its audience. And it helps that each episode has a little of everything: action, suspence, humor. "I think kids are at least as demanding as adults that a story work and that the characters feel true," says Todd. "And if they don't think so, they just turn it off. So we want to push the edge, we want it to feel real."

Making the show reflect their real-life maturity is something both Henderson and White and keen to do more of, now that she's 14 and he's 17. Slowly, the writers are introducing teen-themed storylines, such as the second episode of the new season, in which Shirley develops a crush on a boy (Eerie, Indiana's Bill Switzer). Says White: "It's good, because they're experimenting in a whole bunch of different ways. The characters are branching off in their own direction and the stories are following that."

Will Bo and Shirley ever get together? Todd emphatically says no. "It's very important that a boy and a girl can be best friends, and I really want to keep it that way, and not say, this really doesn't work when they get older because other complications come it."

Henderson isn't so sure. "There's part of me that says they should get together because they're so perfect for each other. Who else is going to put up with Shirley?" White agrees with Todd. "If Bo and Shirley get romantically involved, it would be too hard if something went wrong. That's the end of it."

And Shirley Holmes is far from finished: Todd is optimistic there will be at least another season after this one, and books based on Shirley's adventures are due out this fall. One case, at least, seems closed. Kids love Shirley, and it's no mystery why.