Not So Elementary

Last week, I watched CBS’s newest drama Elementary.

Then I went and read reviews, but only the next day when I was less…riled. Both the reviews I read—from within the industry I believe—however, both seemed to think it was a good show. They seemed to believe it would work for all but fans of Sherlock Holmes.

I’d like to argue otherwise.

Yes, I know the original Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read all the short stories and novels…actually, I just checked and I read most of them this year. I don’t obsess over the canon details, however. Doyle hated his character enough to (attempt) kill him off, he clearly wasn’t worrying about the consistency of details—which is why there aren’t any. Once at college, I checked out Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes and read it in two weeks. They’re catchy, but there aren’t many character details. And I most remember the theory that between the two parts of the series, Watson and Mycroft had the real Sherlock murdered and replaced him to make more money. I’d watch that show.

Cover of "The Great Mouse Detective"

Cover of The Great Mouse Detective

I am a fan of the permutations of the Sherlock Holmes ‘mythos’. Not just the remakes into movies and television shows (like the recent Downy, and Sherlock), but the more creative pastiches as well, like The Young Sherlock Holmes (self explanatory), Without a Clue (where Watson is the secret genius), and The Great Mouse Detective (come on, it’s adorable). Elementary really doesn’t break as much ground as it thinks it does.

What else is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche? House.

I suppose Elementary follows most closely in that vein, that attitude. This Sherlock is just as much a jerk as House (which is not a show I’ve ever gotten into). Not that Sherlock‘s Sherlock is nice (and even if he were kind, I don’t think he’d appreciate such a vacuous term), but he’s also a sociopath. Even so, part of his story arc is his consideration of others, especially as inspired by Watson.

Elementary‘s Sherlock, however…like Dr. House, there’s little redeemable about him outside of intelligence. Sure, it’s interesting to see him put the pieces together, but you wouldn’t want to run into him in real life.

More on him later, because I wouldn’t be as bothered by this iteration of Sherlock if it weren’t for Watson. I really wanted to like Lucy Liu, and had great hope (in spite of all evidence and common sense) for a female, American Watson. Instead. Well you can’t see me shaking my head, but I would have preferred anything but what we got. What’d we get?

A wimp.

Sherlock’s a jerk: that’s the consistent trait they give him anymore. This Watson, unlike  Law’s and Freeman’s, however, don’t just take it. At least they snark at him. The writers made Lui’s character a doormat. She just takes all of his shit. There are several sequences where Sherlock oh-so-sincerely apologizes, because Watson has what he wants. And she buys it! Does it ever end well for her? Of course not, and despite the fact he’s clearly as sociopathic as Cumberbatch’s character, it’s never acknowledged by the show.

Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson (Photo credit: Scott Monty)

In fact, I suspect he is supposed to be sincere (even though if he meant it, he would have changed his behavior), so that he and Watson can get it on.

Now the very first scene has Watson walking up to Sherlock’s apartment, passing a prostitute on the sidewalk that he’s just sent off—probably just to unnerve her (charming)—and Sherlock’s hanging out topless. That may have been intended as fangirl bait, but, ummm…I guess Miller just doesn’t do it for me, because my only thought was ‘ick!’. Sherlock just explains to Watson (as I said, just to make her uncomfortable) that he needs sex for his thought process, and this brings me to the fundamental problem I have with this show.

It is, at once, but completely unoriginal and entirely unrelated to the source text except for the names. As Sherlock proved, you can change all the details and still have something that has something of the spirit of the original. Elementary seems to get what canon details it has from all the time it’s riffing off Sherlock.

Even then, I don’t need it to be entirely faithful. Frankly, Jeremy Brett exemplifies the canon-Sherlock for a (mostly) canon adaptation. Brett also proved that Sherlock does not have to be devoid of all human qualities to be fun to watch. If nothing else is going to resemble canon, why not stray further: Sherlock likes sex, that’s fine, but if  it’s strictly for his mental process why not make him gay or bi? If Watson is a woman, why does she have to be a surgeon (a failed one, at that)? Why not make her a mortician? She knows all about death and can get information to Sherlock that he can’t get otherwise—and then she’s torn between her irresponsibility and detecting—conflict!

And why, oh why, is Sherlock even from London? It’s set in the US! Do it properly, and have him from New York City, and his arrogance even supports his back story (what, I’m from California, we can make fun of NY). And there is no reason whatsoever for the connection to Scotland Yard; I mean, why bother?

Especially since, for whatever reason, his primary police contact also met him at Scotland Yard. I may have to resort to smilies to express my full bemusement. For some reason, Sherlock bothered me less, but I can’t imagine Elementary‘s Sherlock getting away with this. For one thing, Britain is more accustomed to authoritative government and class differences, and Lestrade’s career is clearly damaged by association. Elementary hasn’t even touched it so far, and I can only imagine his cases going to court: “You let an addict find all your clues? Innocent!” For the record, I had an exceedingly similar response when I heard about TNT’s Perception.

Hopefully, I’ve shown my issues aren’t with Elementary‘s canon discrepancies, only that it’s so…Hollywood. And I do mean that in the most derogatory sense of the term. They go for all the easy answers and forgo any real creativity or risk. I suppose I’ll watch the next episode tomorrow. Maybe it only failed because they were introducing the characters, and I’ll get to see Joan punching Sherlock in the face. I will be a fan for life.

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Winning Over Sherlock Holmes: with a Digression into Copyright

I just won The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University!* Quite an unwieldy title, but it’s basically a Sherlock Holmes prequel (or possibly a prequel to another novel by this author, which I haven’t read). Hopefully what little I know about this story is enough to start with it, and I’m not a canon fanatic, so if it’s not strictly “accurate” (whatever that means in a fictional universe) I’ll still enjoy it just fine.

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches. If ever there’s an argument for taking traditional copyrights from corporations and giving them back to lifetime of the author, I think Sherlock Holmes is it.

If the main stories hadn’t come into the public domain, we wouldn’t have BBC’s Sherlock, which despite its issues is a fantastic update. There wouldn’t be House and I know many of you love that show. There’d be no The Great Mouse Detective which is the best steampunk with talking animals I know. No Robot Watson!

Sherlock Holmes, whatever his creator thought of him, has inspired so much scholarship, so much creativity, it’s draining to imagine how much thinner our culture would be if current copyright length started before Doyle.

*Goodreads.com has a giveaway feature, where authors and publishers can offer free copies of their books to GR users for publicity.

Fan Directions

Cover of Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887, f...

Image via Wikipedia. Sherlock's first episode? "A Study in Pink"

1 Fan fiction is not inherently evil

If you get at all attached to series characters who are so much bigger than the stories the creators actually offer, you want more. Commonest among longer book series or television shows (both where character development often happens behind the scenes), there’s plenty of room for hole patching. Or the character are just so engaging you don’t want to give them up. Some people invest enough emotion and thought into those characters and create for them whole new stories. From which the less invested fan can gain some satisfaction, while knowing it just isn’t the same…which admittedly only serves to draw her in further. Good for the original creators, not so much for the fan’s productivity.

2 Fan fiction is inherently a waste of time

At least as much as the original show. You’re not supposed to read genre fiction (which is where you find most series books) or watch television, because neither is “good” for you. Television is TEH EBAL, according to Them (those of They Say fame) and while books mostly equal good, only if they aren’t much fun to read. Odd, because most of what They consider Good, survived because such works were read for fun.

But They make it un-fun, because those are just weird dead people.

3 And fan fiction, being the creation of the commoners, is doubly worthless.

While a few gems reveal some real life hidden truths through someone else’s universe, even the majority of what could objectively be called “good” is self-indulgent gooeyness. Much like the chic lit genre.

The Colt with thirteen original bullets

Image via Wikipedia

Self-indulgent gooeyness doesn’t take up a lot of time, so I still say worth it. Last weekend, lusting after Supernatural (because I still haven’t seen the 4th season!) I read through some 100 of my “favorites list” and more than 2 million words—and I used my calculator for that, so yeah—in not even two days. But it’s approximately the equivalent of 20 genre novels. Which I can’t read that quickly. Unless they were romance novels, but I don’t enjoy reading those. If I’m reading a book, I don’t want to be reading one I can skim.

Yes, fan fiction is a waste of time. But at least it’s not drugs, however similar the effects may sometimes be.

    Originally, when I started this post, I was not planning to say more than a few words on fan fiction, as an introduction to Sherlock, the newest Sherlock Holmes BBC series, only this one is set in modern-day London.

    And Watson still fought in Afghanistan, just as he did in the 1800s!

    Hardly progress. Nonetheless, the show aired the three episode season in the UK, even offered reruns online. Which, from the UK website, is not allowed in the United States. It wasn’t airing over here either. I only found the show because after I finally saw the 2009 movie back in, what, August? September? I got enthused enough to go back and read over my fan fiction list, much as I did with Supernatural.

    And what was this? Now they keep dropping his last name, and there’s something about cellphones and sociopathy. What could it be? (What cooould it beeee/ that coooomes over meee…*)

    By the time I track down the actual show, from an interview with the actor who plays Watson (who is somehow famous, so naturally I don’t know his name) with a clip of Watson first accepting Holmes’ invitation to a crime scene,

    had me all aquiver with anticipation. Just the news of a second season, without the opportunity to watch the first sent me into paroxysms of joy. (Admittedly, I fall into paroxysms of joy on a fairly regular basis, because happy is a good way to live your life anyway.) Whether or not they’d allow me to watch through their website, I was determined to find a way. A way that was not illegal, because that’s just how I roll.

    Anyway, I figured I’d just wait impatiently for my brother’s Netflix, as I do with so many things—including Supernatural—when, lo and behold, I read my mom’s copy of Parade (the newspaper insert) in the Herald and News). In the past I refused to read in the car, because as a child it made me nauseous. Though apparently I’ve outgrown that side effect, I still tend to avoid it. But it was dreary and rainy and I got sick yesterday with a stuffed nose, so I read. And Parade has a calendar of art-type things (books, movies, etc) to look out for—PBS is showing Sherlock!

    Sundays at 9 EST, check your local listings.

    When I got home I looked for it first thing and couldn’t find it. Fortunately, Brother had his computer out and found it listed under Masterpiece Mystery or something. What can I say, I don’t watch PBS.

    Sherlock is just as awesome as I’d hoped, and funny too. I’m going to watch again, not only because of its awesomeness, but also because I was not entirely focused, due to the distraction of figuring out how to make $11/hr a living wage in downtown Sac—by the way, pleading poverty might just work with the government.

    The British just do everything better. At least when it comes to television.

    *at times I can’t mooove/at times I can hard-lyyy breeatheee

    (I used to be obsessed with him too.)