Sherlock Has Very High Expectations

Martin Freeman as John Watson in BBC Sherlock talking to a frowning Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

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’ve mentioned my concerns with the trailer for Elementary (cliches, pandering to marketing demographics, turning Sherlock Holmes into a gangsta wannabe, the apparently botoxed to rigidity of Lucy Lui’s face, the apparent lack of chemistry between her and Miller, the dumbing-down of the science — and plot), but I’m hoping it was just a bad marketing department decision and am looking forward to actually viewing the first episode. Miller is a talented actor and the basic concept of Sherlock Holmes in New York is not inconceivable. It often helps to remove drug addicts from their usual haunts, contacts and sources of supplies — although in the case of Sherlock Holmes, it should handicap him greatly to be in a city he doesn’t know like his own face and without the resources he’s developed like the Baker Street Irregulars (or street people in the case of Sherlock). But I’m willing to give the concept a shot and look forward to seeing what they do with it. The studio execs have come out insisting that there won’t be a romance between Lui’s Watson and Miller’s Sherlock, largely in response to the social media outcries against the idea (frankly, I’m skeptical of how sincere they are if the ratings don’t hold up. Network pronouncements mean little when money is on the line and there’s a strong tendency to go for the easy, cheap (in all senses of the word) “solution.”).

My primary concern for all of the current renditions of Sherlock Holmes is what I now call the RedshirtProblem, after John Scalzi’s brilliant book. (If you haven’t read Redshirts, I highly recommend it. It definitely talks to media fans. But be warned, the book explores several very rich themes, and while starting out all light and seemingly superficial, evolves into a dense, dark exploration of the very nature and purpose of our existence.) The Redshirt Problem is the tendency of series writers to get lazy and begin to grab for the obvious emotional buttons for their audience — even when it creates giant holes in the plot or warps the established character. Pushing an emotional button to get an audience reaction takes precedence over the   internal consistency of the world developed, plot or the character.

I won’t alienate any other Sherlock fans by pointing out where this has happened, but it’s why I’ve never been able to become a Dr. Who fan despite loving many of the actors, characters and scenes, particularly in the recent incarnations. I’ve been told by more than one avid anime fan that internal consistency no longer matters, that for them the visual splendor and emotional release are more important. Perhaps this is why the tendency today for focusing on the emotional arc versus the logical one.

But in the best stories, the ones that last, the emotional arc is partnered with internal consistency. It’s why we love watching Holmes develop the entire logical and inevitable story of events from a few observations of the evidence of an emotional result — the body on the floor, the tearful confession, the hysteria. I believe that Scalzi is right that what we want from our storytellers is that they help us make sense of our world and of our lives, that they help us find a purpose to our existence.

Even when, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who anticipated being remembered for his historical novels and not the detective trifles he penned initially for his own amusement, we don’t recognize the very real impact we have on our world and others.

I hope everyone has had a Happy Sherlock Holmes Week. Let’s keep Sherlocking and Sherocking!

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