I owe Steven Moffat an apology. I may have been wrong about Dr. Who. I was talking with a friend about the season opener, introducing Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and a piece I’d read by a Dr. Who fan complaining about the previous Christmas Special with David Tennant, Matt Smith, and John Hurt. My friend, a devoted Dr. Who fan, rejected my complaints about “Deep Breath,” and other recent episodes, being an amalgamation of popular Whovian plot devices and tropes assembled Lego-block fashion into a formulaic structure (And what does this have to do with BBC Sherlock, you ask? Patience. It’s going to connect in a moment.).
My friend then explained that this was what the Whovian fans expected, what they wanted — something familiar, something they recognize, with just enough difference to make it new. It was then I had an epiphany; Dr. Who fans were like category genre readers, or even Marvel Comics movie fans, wanting the comfort of consistency — a recognizable structure, core characters, style and certain established tropes. I owe Mr. Moffat and apology for my critiques that his scripts and production for Dr. Who were hackneyed; the very things that I criticized in the series were, in fact, essential to the target audience for the series.
But the Dr. Who story structure is not the Sherlock Holmes story structure, which, given my criticisms with “A Scandal in Belgravia” and “His Last Vow,” makes the recent comments from Moffat and Gatiss even more frightening.
…Moffat said it is part of the overall appeal of the series: “An episode needs to be about something in their lives. It is not enough for it to be a mystery.”
Gatiss agreed, saying: “It is a series about a detective, it is not a detective series.”
— Quote from Digital Spy, Nov. 1, 2014
The truly ironic point missed by Mofftiss is that focusing on the personal lives of the characters is exactly what they’ve done with Elementary — and Castle and The Mysteries of Laura and, well, most every network detective or mystery show on the air.
The following is a little (“Sarcasm?” “Yes.”) monograph on the philosophy of friendship. Apparently, I was channeling Sherlock Holmes (although my inner-Watson felt the need for a little levity). So I suppose I should put an academic warning on this…
Is the enduring appeal of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in their complete friendship?
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet it’s doubtful he realized that he was creating one of the most iconic relationships in literature. With adaptations of the characters appearing onscreen and in print at a near geometric pace, in everything period pastiches to openly labeled alternate universes, Holmes and Watson have replaced David and Jonathan in the 21st Century as a shorthand reference to an everlasting and extraordinarily close friendship. But what makes the friendship so appealing that a hundred years later we are still fascinated with them? How do they epitomize the philosophic ideal of friendship? And what, if anything, do the permutations of the relationship and the characters say about the culture in which they were created and re-created?
Word of Warning If You Are Viewing “Sign of Three” For the First Time This Weekend
To avoid choking or spewing, I recommend that first-time viewers NOT drink any beverages during the episodes. Seriously. Each time you think you are going to be safe to take that big gulp, you’re at risk of having things go down the wrong pipe or be shockingly ejected in a wide dispersal pattern (I believe I have found and cleaned everything from the party at this point, although the micro fleece afghan may never be the same. I’m so glad I served champagne and not the red wine!)
While I’m curtailing my Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes fannish spending to optimize my U.K. Invasion funding (%%$%#$$#% Taxes!), I suspect the nerd and geek in me will not be able to avoid buying the Sherlock App for my iPad. There’s a full review and details on Sherlockology here. Who wouldn’t want to be part of Sherlock’s “Homeless Network?” I mean you never know when you might be called upon to help stage a fake suicide, right? But even more exciting is that there are supposedly 10 new mysteries that you get to solve. Alright, Alright, I confess. They got me with the news that there will be some exclusive new footage of Cumberbatch and Freeman as Sherlock and John included as well. The app is a joint venture of The Project Factory and Hartswood Films and should be available now from your UK App store. Supposedly an international and Android release are coming. (You know, it would really be lovely if corporations grasped the fact that these days things need to be released world-wide at the same time because we are connected world-wide and that not doing so only causes people to have to fake IP addresses and engage in behaviours they ordinarily wouldn’t. Just saying…)
And finally, here’s a charming video from CBS about the lasting power of Sherlock Holmes with some nice shots from the Atlantic Sherlock Holmes Convention, some historic footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and some lovely interview bits with Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller from Elementary — oh, and a brief segment on all the naked Sherlock Holmes of late (that got your attention, didn’t it?).
It’s okay. We all love it when you pout, Sherlock. And besides, there are non-fattening treats later in this post.
To jump to the treats, click here. (I really thought they’d show up sooner.)
Oodles of catch up to do this week (and I still haven’t physically recovered from the Seattle Sherlock Convention (the brain may still feel 30, but the body is reminding me that my motto at that age was “I can rest when I’m dead.”) which explains the fact that I still haven’t finished unpacking from the convention — okay, that and the fact that my Sherlock: The Casebook arrived from the UK on Saturday so it was waiting when I got home on Monday…It’s very well done and, like the show, was done with love and care about the characters, the series, the people involved, and the fans.).
I’ve been pretty quiet on the Elementary front because a) I don’t have TV reception and CBS’ on-site episode streaming has been highly problematic for that series and b) it’s not good Sherlock Holmes. I’m sorry, but really the kindest critique I could make is to borrow from several other reviewers who’ve said that it would have been much wiser and kinder to the show to call the lead characters anything *but* Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson because it’s really just another formulaic CBS police procedural with quirky characters like “The Mentalist.” However, by calling it a “modern Sherlock Holmes” it not only comes with certain expectations but demands comparison with BBC’s Sherlock. And it can’t begin to hold up to the comparisons.
My concerns from the beginning was with the apparent marketing mindset of “we gotta have a gimmick” (to paraphrase the strippers in “Gypsy”). Changing the gender of one of the lead characters would require changing at least some of the dynamic between then, but this would have been fine — except I was suspicious from the start that the show creators chose to make the emotionally supportive and less ostentatiously bright partner (Watson) female instead of tackling the harder task of making Sherlock the woman, so my concerns from the start was that Watson would become a “wife”/caregiver. Granted we have this done already in Bones, so I could understand the idea of doing a different gender-swap and choosing Watson, however, I was also dismayed by the choice of Liu as Watson which I felt was another marketing choice (“We can appeal to the Asian demographic as well as attract the nerd/geek/tech fanboy demographic who might tune in hoping to see her in a cat suit.”).
One of the key dynamics of the original Holmes/Watson partnership is the pairing of Sherlock’s cold, taciturn, inscrutable behaviour with Watson’s passionate, demonstrative, transparent personality. Cumberbatch and Freeman capture this yin and yang perfectly with Freeman’s face expressing entire three-volume-novels of emotion while Cumberbatch can drop an Iron Curtain of enigmatic complexity across his face that lets us see that the CPU is overclocking at an alarming rate, but gives no hint as to what the results will be. Liu has never been known for the openness of her expressions and the preview made her appear Botoxed into a rigid mask of obscurity.
But even having two enigmatic, mysterious characters might have worked for Elementary (although not as canonical Holmes & Watson) if they’d made Lui’s Watson dynamic and strong. I’d been afraid when I first heard of the casting that they were going to have Lui act as a sort Kato (martial arts sidekick and chauffer to the Green Hornet) to Miller’s Holmes, but frankly, that would have been a better choice than the emotionally-damaged, low self-esteem, wimp Watson. One of the things that makes both Jude Law’s and Martin Freeman’s Watsons work so well is that, while they try so hard to fit into the social norms of the middle-class, they are zestful and vital and delight in the opportunities to action. Given Miller’s Sherlock roams NY looking like a gay, emo, addict, I’d expect attacks by gay-bashers, bully-boys or general muggers to be fairly common and having Lui’s Watson apply a little Sandra Bullock/Miss Congeniality self-defense ,or demonstrate she’s not the victimizable “weaker sex” that canonical Victorian Holmes considered all women, would go a long way towards bringing some life to her Watson. Right now, her Watson is like a small black hole sucking out what little energy the show has and Miller can’t possibly generate enough thrust to avoid being pulled in.
Since I didn’t really intend for this to be an Elementary critique post, I’ll skip breaking down why Miller’s character fails as an effective Holmes (it’s not Miller’s fault, but the writers, producers, and directors; he’s working his heart out). But I will point out that what works for Robert Downey, Jr.’s action-man Holmes is that he isn’t angst-filled emo. He is totally self-centered and so we don’t feel guilty about our enjoyment of his rather callous fun. Cumberbatch’s Holmes understands that he is disconnected to the emotional lives of others (“Not good?” “A bit not good.”). This single vulnerability, and his charming dependence on Watson like a child clutching another child’s hand on a Field Trip outside the safety of the classroom whenever he must deal with the emotional lives of others, allows us to connect with Sherlock. But the writers of Elementary do Miller no favours by trying to make his Holmes a tough “bad boy” who also self-analyzes on a daily basis while trying to pretend he isn’t just another rich, white boy with a good education and no excuse for failure.
Right. Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Now to the treats.
Sherlock Quote Artist Trading Cards
For the convention, I wanted to create something that could be given away and possibly used as a conversation starter for the less outgoing or newbie (at least to conventions) fans. It’s always a bit awkward showing up at a party where you don’t already know most of the people. My friend, Heidi Berthiaume, has been in the Artist Trading Card (ATC) movement for several years which gave me an idea. Alas, I’m a very slow artist so there wasn’t time to make a series of “art” cards, but the thought occurred how about some Quote cards? So I started making quotes laid out to print on the self-perforated, create-your-own-business-card stock available at office supply stores. Somewhere around page 12 I realized I had to stop because it was going to cost me a fortune to print out enough copies to provide enough variety to allow folks to exchange them at the con. I’m not certain everyone understood the entire concept, but folks seemed to like the quotes and were having fun with them, so I promised to post the entire set (120 different quotes on 12 sheets of 10-up cards) in PDF format so people can print out their own.
Simply download the 12 different sheets in PDF format below.
Print each sheet on card stock (the pre-perforated, business card stock from the office supply stores is the easiest and best solution).
Separate your cards and use them however you wish.
Some possible uses are:
Exchange with others (either as Artist Trading Cards or fellow Sherlockians)
Print your fandom IDs, URLs, email address, or other note on back to give out to others.
Use as gift labels (the holiday season is approaching and you don’t want to make Molly’s mistake).
Create random acts of Sherlockian street rebellian by leaving them in public places to be found by others. (You can even add “I believe in Sherlock Holmes” or “Moriarty was real” to the back to promote the movement.)
Do your own artwork on the back.
Use to communicate with people when you don’t want to actually say what you’re thinking (“You lower the I.Q. of the entire street.” or one of the nice ones even.)
Okay, I’m trying to keep an open mind about the upcoming Elementary. I’ve already expressed my concerns about the trailer here. And I don’t often read The Huffington Post articles for much the same reason I don’t expose myself to Fox “News” without a hazmat suit and tranquilizers at hand, but this writer has completely nailed what I’ve been thinking but not saying, so CBS, here are 10 of my Questions About the Sherlock Adaptation Elementary.
I’m assuming CBS, and the rest of you, realize that some of those ridiculous scenarios and suggestions are sarcastic and facetious, right? I mean you are aware that they are the kinds of things a 14-year old, emo-loving fanfic writer would come up with and not what a professional scriptwriter would come up with. Uhm, perhaps CBS you should have your writers read Scalzi’s Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas before you get too far into the season.
Actually, I have a few more of my own, but I’ll keep them to myself until I see that first complete episode.
Oh, stop pouting, Sherlock. You didn’t really expect a parade with a flotilla and fireworks to end Sherlock Holmes Week, did you?
Of course Sherlock did, John. Not to mention a torch relay and 4-story puppet.
It may be the last day of Sherlock Holmes Week, but thank goodness we all know it’s not the last of Sherlock Holmes — or even Sherlock. The Fandom Who Waits is on the downside of the production countdown while in the States everyone is awaiting the arrival of Elementary.
I’ll let you check out the video first, if you wish, before giving my initial response.
Okay, first let me say that it isn’t as bloody-awful bad as expected. From the initial press releases I feared a Sherlock/Green Hornet mashup (with Lucy Liu as Kato). Miller seems to be an impressive actor. He’s certainly doing a lot more than I’d expect with less than sterling material.
That said my fear of American pandering and focus-group writing appears accurate. It looks like Monk-As-Done-By-Tragically-Hip-BBC-Mystery-Series-Team with Watson as Sherlock/Monk’s paid companion. Okay, excuse me but we’ve got everything from a million variations on CIS CSI (“There’s always something.” — Sherlock) on TV as well as things like Bones — which is Sherlock Holmes as a female forensics expert with an FBI Watson. The two examples of Sherlock’s deductive ability shown are a marble landing in a pool of blood showing where a “safe room” is located with a body in it and announcing that a huge amount of glass on the kitchen floor comes from two glasses while finding the second glass base under the fridge. I personally found it hard to believe that the New York police wouldn’t have a) noticed a pool of blood, not mention the smell of blood and dead body (oh, yeah, you can smell a dead body), OR b) notice they had too much glass and look under the fridge when they were sweeping for evidence.
My concern that the US version is going to dumb-down Sherlock appears justified. Especially since they seem to have targeted every ethnic stereotype in the preview. Look! Something for everybody! See our amazing uber-white guy with a cool foreign-but-still-English accent! We’ve also got a traditional US middle-class white guy! And look! We’ve got a hispanic Lestrade who’s an ineffective, bumbling idiot but very macho and scruffy (because we know all hispanic men are tough, blue-collar and not interested in style or hygiene, right?)! And shoot! Check it out. We’ve combined our hot, plastic babe with our inscrutable Asian, who’s a doctor, and made her the supportive, worshipful sidekick so the men won’t feel intimidated.
They’ve butched-up Sherlock Holmes with gangsta-style tats and conspicuously displayed, “incredibly cool” underwear over a 6-pack obviously to attempt to appeal to the American frat-boy, Jersey Shore mentality young males while Lucy Liu comes across as paid arm-ornament entourage/shrink. (Alternatively, they think that geek/nerd-boys would like to see themselves portrayed as over-compensating, testosterone-overdosed loser hoods). No offense but Eminem/Vanilla Ice/Jersey Shore “gangsters” are not what I think of when I think super-smart. And has *anyone* seen the people coming out of rehab? They look like they’ve been living rough, not like they just spent 6-months at a fitness spa.
So I’m hoping that after they pander to the brain-dead, party-boy crowd and/or the Hollywood executives (who probably are the frat-party-boy crowd), they’ll realize that those guys aren’t this show’s audience and let Sherlock look less like someone auditioning for a Details ad or a Beyonce music video, and more like someone who doesn’t really care about “fitting in” with the T.H.I.C. crowd (Tragically Hip Incredibly Cool crowd; this is not a compliment, btw). I kept expecting Katy Perry to appear singing Ur So Gay…
I sincerely hope Liu’s Watson is going to get some backbone and facial expression in the actual episode. In the preview trailer she bears a striking resemblance to a Kristen Stewart in Twilight non-action figure — but with less emotional range. I’m sorry but after watching all of the subtleties and dynamic tension of Martin Freeman’s Watson, the near expressionless, vapid portrayal shown in the trailer is just appallingly scary. It combines two of my most abhorred stereotypes: young women as wimpy sidekicks who appears to live for male approval and “inscrutable” (i.e. expression-less”), smart-but-not-as-smart-as-the-white-guys Asians who are Salarymen. Uhm, maybe you should go a littler easier on the Botox, Ms. Liu. Is it too late to get Sandra Oh for Watson?
I think I actually would have preferred Liu breaking out into Bruce Lee or Emma Peel. My initial fear was that they were going that route, but after seeing this trailer I’d rather see her kicking-butt and taking-names both mentally and physically — even if she does stir his tea counter clockwise later. FYI, this is a reference to Emma Peel’s advice to the new female sidekick. But that was the mid-60’s so women were happy just to be allowed to be smart and shoot guns, not the second decade of the 21st century when women actually get to be Supreme Court Justices, Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State.
I guess they got rid of Mycroft and everything is being arranged by Sherlock’s father (which again is so-ooo pandering to the stereotype that “bad boys” are rebelling against daddy; really? really? No one on staff could research ASBD or even Asperger’s?). Heaven knows what else they’ve done with the canon. And I’m not a stickler for canon. I grew up with Basil Rathbone’s Nazi-hunting Sherlock and I adored Michael Caine’s idiot version, so I’m pretty flexible. But Elementary comes across like an American politician during an election year — dishonest in attempts to ingratiate itself to everyone.
Well, I guess you get the idea that I wasn’t terribly impressed.
I’ll give it a shot, like all things Sherlock Holmes, but after the Dynamic Duos of Brett/Hardwicke, Downey, Jr./Law, and Cumberbatch/Freeman, my standards are pretty high and my tolerance for pandering essentially nil. (I should confess at this point that I haven’t had TV reception in this century…)