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Watson tv tonight
May 21, 2013 1:37 PM   Subscribe

"That a woman of color on a major network show should have a character this focal and active without any romantic angle is a rare bird. It's also deliberate." --- But -- "Remember the time Sherlock and Watson looked up a clue on a sponsored computer product while he sat on the toilet? I sure do! Bing me!" -- However -- "We have, at last, a true partnership for Holmes and Watson, couched in that particular soulmate simpatico of 221-b, and moving distinctly forward without losing sight of the canon." -- Why Elementary is the bestest if flawed modern Holmes television adaptation, according to sf/fantasy author Genevieve Valentine. Some spoilers.
posted by MartinWisse (195 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
TBH the times I've watched it it's just seemed like a generic dumb crime show with vague Sherlockian theming, but mileage varies I guess.

They should let Lucy Liu be funny in it, that would make it a whole lot more likable.
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but I have to most respectfully disagree: Jonny Lee Miller is a lousy Holmes, making Watson a woman feels like pandering, and the whole show is a ripoff. Call it something else if you must, but it is not Sherlock Holmes.
posted by easily confused at 1:45 PM on May 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


I love this show. Then again, my love for Lucy Liu knows no bounds.
posted by 41swans at 1:48 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I honestly can't imagine a better Modern Sherlock than what has been produced with Mr. Cumberbach.... even to the point of avoiding the US version in hopes that it will whither and pale so that the UK production speeds up a bit
posted by NiteMayr at 1:49 PM on May 21, 2013 [26 favorites]


I can't wait to tell my mom that even the cool kids are watching Elementary. It's the only procedural show she watches that I'd put on voluntarily. I found the show really started to pick up about halfway through the season, coincidentally right around the time it was no longer necessary to shoehorn in frequent explanations of what a sober companion is.
posted by Lorin at 1:51 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good lord.

If nothing else, the article's author hit the awesome name jackpot. I'm so jealous!

I have no opinion on the TV show, though.
posted by kavasa at 1:52 PM on May 21, 2013


I really dig Elementary. I also dig the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law films. I also dig BBC's Sherlock. They all have problematic elements (ha) to them, but I enjoy each on its own terms and deal with the flaws of each in my own way.

I also enjoy The Great Mouse Detective, Young Sherlock Holmes, and the 1987 tv movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in which American private detective descendant-of-John-Watson Jane Watson inherits ye olde Watson house in England, finds the cryogenically preserved Sherlock Holmes, and revives him to help her fight crime.

I went to Sherlock's Last Case, starring Frank Langella as Sherlock, when it was on Broadway, about fifteen times. It was RIDICULOUSLY good fun with an excellent wrench thrown into the story.

In conclusion: MOAR SHERLOCK ADAPTATIONS YAY.
posted by tzikeh at 1:54 PM on May 21, 2013 [45 favorites]


and the whole show is a ripoff

Of what exactly?
posted by Justinian at 1:56 PM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


NiteMayr: in hopes that it will whither and pale so that the UK production speeds up a bit

Yeah, the speed at which Sherlock is produced has nothing to do with whether or not Elementary thrives, and everything to do with the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are kinda busy guys just now.
posted by tzikeh at 1:56 PM on May 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think it's very well done, and I absolutely love that they've put an attractive woman on TV and haven't made her a sex object. It's a very rare thing.
posted by something something at 1:57 PM on May 21, 2013 [24 favorites]


I've enjoyed Elementary far more than Sherlock, warts and all. Sherlock has a lot going for it except for the fact that it isn't much fun, and there's a lot there that just keeps my eyes rolling. To be fair, I never watched series 2 of it because the third episode in series 3 was so damn dire, but I never felt like I was missing anything as a result.
posted by Legomancer at 1:58 PM on May 21, 2013


EVERYONE STOP DISLIKING THINGS THAT I LIKE

NO MORE LIKING THINGS I DISLIKE

thank you for your prompt attention to these matters
posted by elizardbits at 2:00 PM on May 21, 2013 [67 favorites]


. I found the show really started to pick up about halfway through the season, coincidentally right around the time it was no longer necessary to shoehorn in frequent explanations of what a sober companion is.

If they let her character be less boring I might give it another shot. I'm still going to think of it more as House does Law and Order than as a Sherlock Holmes show though.
posted by Artw at 2:01 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


the speed at which Sherlock is produced has nothing to do with whether or not Elementary thrives, and everything to do with the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are kinda busy guys just now.

And the fact that British shows are rarely produced at the same rate as they are in other nations. 3 episodes? That's a season! Or maybe shy of half, in the case of Downton Abbey, which in 4 seasons will be one episode longer than the first season of Elementary.

I love the British Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, as they pair so well, and Andrew Scott plays a wickedly good Moriarty. The three work together so very well.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:01 PM on May 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Elementary got a lot better really quickly, about midway through. I'm still on the fence just due to how many times I've liked a new show only to see it cancelled, but it was better than I expected. At least it wasn't another CSI/NCIS.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:02 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Never watched it much, but the season finale was quite good. Will have to check out the other episodes. The platonic, but still caring relationship between Watson and Sherlock is well done.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:02 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Lucy Liu, and I love Jonny Lee Miller even more. I was biased going in, and then...

Honestly, watching great actors in shitty productions is tremendous fun. Miller in Elementary is as fascinating to watch as, oh, say Donald Sutherland in the original Buffy. Their skill is miles above the mediocre material they're working with, to the point where it creates parallel universes within the production itself -- the level where they're playing, and where everyone else is trying to keep pace, if they even realize how they're being outshone.

So yeah. Sick Boy. I lubs lubs lubs him. He's a talent of the first order. And Lucy is a good match. But the rest... Ungh. Eventually, even watching Sick Boy outclass everything and everybody got to be too much. Like watching your home team pummel an opponent, it's great fun for a while, and then it becomes embarrassing for all concerned.

I watched maybe half the season? Then I had to give up. Even Sick Boy and Lucy couldn't make me tune in anymore. If only the writing were worthy of the leads' talent.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:02 PM on May 21, 2013


I wasn't that interested in Elementary, mostly because I was worried that they'd play Liu as a love interest. I'm more interested now that I've learned that she's not, because a woman of color as a main character in a Holmes tale sounds pretty good to me right now, as I thought that the first season of Sherlock was racist/misogynist as fuck.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:04 PM on May 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


I watch it, but it's not a patch on Sherlock Holmes in Miami.

Also fuck this twee "bestest" crap which was not in the article. This is MetaFilter, not the House on fucking Pooh Corner.
posted by w0mbat at 2:04 PM on May 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


As much as I dislike the obsession with Moriarty and Moriarty-like nemeses, Elementary's handling of it was more interesting than Sherlock's tired-ass "game of cat-and-mouse". Jumping to Moriarty in episode three is, to me, a big red warning sign.
posted by Legomancer at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


I just caught it for the first time last week, and really liked it. *SPOILER SHIELDS UP*
posted by benito.strauss at 2:06 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sherlock is incredibly stylish and the actors are amazing, but the plots don't make very much SENSE.

Elementary is a workhorse CBS crime drama, but the plots are adequate to the task of filling the crime-of-the-week and the rest of the show is surprisingly interesting. The Watson character is honestly refreshing, and the Sherlock is given more emotional depth (and less "Spock, but an asshole about it") than usual.

I really thought I'd like Sherlock better of the two shows, and it was definitely more dazzling off the bat, but over time I've come to be more interested in Elementary's ongoing character relationships.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:08 PM on May 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's a little too much standard CBS procedural in plots for me to love it, but the parts with Holmes and Watson interacting are always a delight, particularly because they actually treat the partnership as something to respect intellectually as well as emotionally. Which is a nice contrast to the BBC Sherlock, where Watson, after a decent start in the pilot, is reduced to trailing around after Sherlock uselessly. "We need to change the plots of the original text to make Watson _more_ ineffective" would not have been my takeaway from the original Doyle works.

Also, Elementary got huge, huge points in my book for having a transsexual character show up, it be acknowledged, and then not be treated as either a joke or as an afterschool special but their plot _having nothing to do with their transexuality_. I literally cannot think of another time I have seen that on TV.
posted by tavella at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2013 [29 favorites]


I actually agree that it's more vaguely Sherlockian themed/homage than a close adaptation, but it is very good, though it started off somewhat rockily. (And the post Superbowl episode was . . . odd.) It does have some issues with being a procedural, which are unlikely to be totally resolved, but on the other hand sometimes it's fun to just watch a procedural instead of something with a season or multi-season long arc and mythos that wasn't ever thought out properly.

Watson is, on the show, closely held, but I don't mind that in a character; there are people like that -- women like that, even -- in real life. And I like that there seems to be a deep commitment to inclusion in both the casting and the plotting. It's been fascinating to watch responses to it online, as person after person in sff or intersectional feminism communities started to write about how much fun they were having with it.

I enjoyed only the very first episode of Sherlock.
posted by jeather at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2013


Remember the time Sherlock and Watson looked up a clue on a sponsored computer product while he sat on the toilet? I sure do! Bing me!

My girlfriend was watching this for a while, and the very first scene I caught had Sherlock whipping out his Surface™ to look something up on Bing™. It was pretty hilarious.
posted by brundlefly at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Bestest"? Really? Was that supposed to be cute or something? It isn't.
posted by Decani at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've read the original sixty stories repeatedly (some of them dozens of times) and I just do not recognize the literary Holmes and Watson she is talking about.

I watched half a dozen episodes of Elementary, and then stopped, because for me what makes Holmes interesting (and vital, and fun to watch) is that he is inhuman. Inhuman in his abilities and inhuman in his desires. Elementary's angle is to humanize him via character flaws, and that just isn't appealing to me. I love the relationship between Holmes and Watson because Holmes loves Watson but doesn't need him, and Watson loves Holmes but isn't capable of understanding him. That dynamic is just endlessly fascinating, even through dozens of short stories where the plots got thinner and thinner. The British Sherlock TV show edges in the same dangerous (dangerously boring, to me) territory with humanizing Holmes, but they haven't go nearly as far (yet) and Cumberbatch has a natural gift for playing the not-quite-human.

Still, the more adaptations of Holmes exist, the better.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:14 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


If we have to compare, Sherlock lost me with the Chinese acrobat episode. I honestly thought they dredged up whoever wrote The Talons of Wen Chiang for Doctor Who with that one. Neither show is particularly faithful, but I find Elementary rather charming. And Lucy Liu is a great Watson.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm still going to think of it more as House does Law and Order than as a Sherlock Holmes show though.

I don't disagree, and I appreciate Elementary as another procedural with Sherlock DNA rather than an actual adaptation. Adherence to source material is not all that important to me, though I understand it is to others.
posted by Lorin at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2013


There's very little in the original Doyle that suggests "inhuman". Logical and supremely self-controlled, yup, but he's quite capable of empathy and that in fact drives a number of his cases. "Inhuman" characters don't let the fiance' of a murdered woman walk away clean from their revenge murder because of their sympathy for his actions, for example.
posted by tavella at 2:19 PM on May 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


MartinWisse: ""Remember the time Sherlock and Watson looked up a clue on a sponsored computer product while he sat on the toilet?"

Dressed in his Clippercraft suit after imbibing a nice Petri port, no doubt.
posted by boo_radley at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I liked Lucy Liu better as a head in a jar on Futurama.
posted by jonmc at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2013


I'm still going to think of it more as House does Law and Order than as a Sherlock Holmes show though.

You know that House was intended as Sherlock Holmes, MD, with his sidekick Wilson/Watson, the Irregulars (Chase/Cameron/Foreman). He invoked Irene Adler, he lived in apartment 221B, he read Conan Doyle, he even faked his own death (though not with a waterfall).
posted by jeather at 2:23 PM on May 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Related recent MeTa.
posted by purpleclover at 2:29 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Elementary is a fun, solid procedural. It makes you respect the craft that goes into making consistently good television. Lucy Liu is great in her role, but really, the whole thing is solid. They don't hit the addiction angle too hard or too soft. My only real complaint is that Elementary's treatment of legal matters is often especially unrealistic even for television, but whatever, it's a TV show.

I have no idea where Valentine got the idea that the original Sherlock is supposed to be anyone but the smartest person in the room. Strengthening Sherlock's team is a good, conscious choice of the team behind Elementary, and not some revealed truth of the source material.

The BBC Sherlock is a very different beast altogether. It feels like a series of highly stylized, very Moffat-y movies. Most are excellent - a few, not so much. Compared to Elementary, it has higher highs and lower lows. Elementary is more consistent, but I don't think twice about missing an episode.

...

If we have to compare, Sherlock lost me with the Chinese acrobat episode. I honestly thought they dredged up whoever wrote The Talons of Wen Chiang for Doctor Who with that one.

Wasn't that the second episode? That one's a stinker for all the reasons you describe, but it gets much better after that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:33 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which is a nice contrast to the BBC Sherlock, where Watson, after a decent start in the pilot, is reduced to trailing around after Sherlock uselessly.

Which reminds me of the ever-awesome Hark A Vagrant's take on Watson.

Regarding the inhuman aspect -- the original Sherlock Holmes wasn't ever particularly consistent in his portrayal, but the perfect-crime-solver idea is a creation of less-creative mid-century writers. More often than not, Doyle's Sherlock Holmes was portrayed as a pretty messed up guy who was extremely smart but also a victim of his own abilities. To a certain extent, Moriarty is the inhuman, extremely smart and one-step-ahead-of-the-game that Holmes is not; Holmes is more human, and as such succeeds. House MD picked up on that an ran that to the nth degree; Elementary does well at following that line of thinking, if it does fall too much into the standard-police-procedural format too often. I, too, like that the Watson and Holmes of Elementary can be of different genders, but act like two non-sexualized normal people toward each other.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


If nothing else, the article's author hit the awesome name jackpot. I'm so jealous!

Seriously! Genevieve Valentine. Does she own her own spaceship?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Bestest" as an emphatic superlative dates back to at least 1868. You may not especially like it, but it isn't the the subject of this thread, and I don't know if it forwards any conversation by being rude to the author of the FPP for using a word that predates your great grandfather.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:36 PM on May 21, 2013 [45 favorites]


But I am outraged on behalf of the people of 1867 who did not know this word and thought it twee.
posted by sweetkid at 2:39 PM on May 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


bestest?
posted by thelonius at 2:42 PM on May 21, 2013


Bestish.
posted by Catblack at 2:43 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Elementary is a workhorse CBS crime drama

This is my opinion of it too. It's a glass of generic American police procedural with a twist of Sherlock Holmes thrown on top.

Sherlock was genius not just for Cumberbatch's portrayal or the UK's convenient re-invasion of Afganistan so that Watson could be an actual Afghan vet but for it's cinematography, it's realistic use of cell phones and the simple but effective flying text effects uses for text messages. It wasn't perfect but the whole thing really broke the mold for police procedurals to me. And serious, the season 2 ending? MIND. BLOWN. It could only have been crazier if they had introduced John Hurt as a previous Sherlock.
posted by GuyZero at 2:44 PM on May 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


And serious, the season 2 ending? MIND. BLOWN. It could only have been crazier if they had introduced John Hurt as a previous Sherlock.

That was my initial reaction as well. And then I remembered it's a Moffat show, and so there's going to be a cutesy, hand-wavey explanation and they'll carry on like nothing happened. I am pre-emptively bored.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:54 PM on May 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


If nothing else, the article's author hit the awesome name jackpot. I'm so jealous!

Seriously! Genevieve Valentine. Does she own her own spaceship?


SF writer. Her stuff is pretty good.
posted by Artw at 2:55 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really appreciate the actors in Sherlock, especially Cumberbach and Freedman, but they seem to be constantly struggling against uninspired, cliched writing. Not to mention the "rude, brilliant" hero characterization has been done to death, recently (and doesn't really fit my understanding of Sherlock as a well-liked, sociable dude, when he gets around to it, making the choice all the less groundbreaking for me).

Elementary is a workhorse CBS crime drama

I haven't watched Elementary yet, but I have been enjoying other "workhorse CBS crime dramas with a twist," such as Person of Interest, so I'll probably pick it up when I get the chance.

And serious, the season 2 ending? MIND. BLOWN.

...except anyone who read the original stories knew the ending of the episode based on the title, which just made all the character's actions seem strange and forced.
posted by muddgirl at 2:58 PM on May 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


tzikeh touched on this above, but Young Sherlock Holmes ranks up there with Goonies and Labyrinth in terms of 80s awesome kids movies
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:59 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


You know that House was intended as Sherlock Holmes

His name should be a bit of a clue. Holmes --> Homes (more or less) --> House.
posted by Justinian at 3:01 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


And once again, MetaFilter shows that reading the article is silly when one can just report one's snap impressions from 15 minutes once spent watching a show and complain about the wording of the FPP.

I love this show, not the least because Joan Watson is a fully formed, interesting, human being who just happens to be Asian and female and that seems to be impossible on network TV.

I also love that we are not pretending that dabbling with drug addiction is fun and that we are acknowledging that recovering from addiction is hard work. I love that Ms. Hudson is trans* and no one gives a fuck. I love that Watson calls Sherlock on his shit, using words like misogyny and privilege on national television (words that I will note are frequently controversial right here on this webpage). I love even more that Sherlock listens to Watson and actually admits when he has fucked up, instead of screaming "What about the men?". I love that Joan is now solving cases and doing it well and that Sherlock appreciates that and isn't threatened by it.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:02 PM on May 21, 2013 [46 favorites]


I watched Elementary's first several episodes, though I’m not a fan of the CBS procedural stuff. I was disappointed that Liu’s character didn't come across as the (presumably smart) doctor she’s supposed to be.

Perhaps her backstory, why she wasn't a practicing physician any more (IIRC she'd made a major mistake/ cost a life), was supposed to be the reason she didn't want to participate in his actual work. And maybe they'd have her gradually get more involved in the cases itself. But I got impatient.

I was a bit intrigued by the Sherlock character – it felt like eventually he wouldn’t seem as much an a-hole as House always was.
posted by NorthernLite at 3:06 PM on May 21, 2013


I also love that we are not pretending that dabbling with drug addiction is fun and that we are acknowledging that recovering from addiction is hard work. I love that Ms. Hudson is trans* and no one gives a fuck. I love that Watson calls Sherlock on his shit, using words like misogyny and privilege on national television (words that I will note are frequently controversial right here on this webpage). I love even more that Sherlock listens to Watson and actually admits when he has fucked up, instead of screaming "What about the men?". I love that Joan is now solving cases and doing it well and that Sherlock appreciates that and isn't threatened by it.

It would sure be interesting if, when someone is writing the history of 2010s television, Elementary stands out as a towering example of "progressive" programming. Or if in twenty years someone living in more conservative circumstances will be as astonished by it as I was by watching a videotape of Laugh-In in the late nineties, simply because it had never occurred to me that mainstream television would be allowed to articulate those critiques.
posted by Frowner at 3:07 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


To be fair, I never watched series 2 of it because the third episode in series 3 was so damn dire, but I never felt like I was missing anything as a result.

I presume you mean series 1 and the only think you're missing is how horribly bad the show becomes, particularly the season finale. It was nice when we got only the best of British television but now the worst is full force.
posted by juiceCake at 3:18 PM on May 21, 2013


The biggest flaw with Elementary is that the plots and mystery-solving are so often dull/lame/shoddy. It seems to prioritize the Holmes/Watson relationship ( and the related boring unravelling of the "mystery" of Holmes' eccentricities/backstory) above all else which highlights the weakness of the plots / deduction process even more.

My favourite very recent Holmes adaptation is House, MD ( earlier seasons )
posted by Bwithh at 3:20 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I enjoy Elementary but I liked Lucy Liu better on Southland.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:20 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps her backstory, why she wasn't a practicing physician any more (IIRC she'd made a major mistake/ cost a life), was supposed to be the reason she didn't want to participate in his actual work. And maybe they'd have her gradually get more involved in the cases itself. But I got impatient.

The reason she wasn't actively participating in his work so much in the early episodes was because she was acting as his sober companion, not because of why she left medicine. She was literally being paid (by Holmes' father) to make sure Sherlock didn't relapse into addiction and to assist him on the road to recovery. Like, if Sherlock was a musician, her job wouldn't have been to take up a violin along with him while making sure he didn't relapse.

Part of what I found so refreshing about the show was that Watson's responsibilities as a sober companion weren't taken lightly, that her decision to become a sober companion was respected by the narrative (and Sherlock), and that even Sherlock came to genuinely appreciate and value her as a sober companion. Watson slid into Holmes' work slowly, and it gave her eventual decision to continue on as an apprentice detective and Sherlock's partner real weight. Also, I think it really made both Sherlock and Joan seem like real people with real lives, for whom entering into new careers and new (platonic) relationships aren't decisions made quickly or on a whim.

I love the show, and think what it lacks in interesting mysteries and flashy production is more than made up for by the delicate, painstaking attention to character work. Sherlock isn't just an asshole genius, and Watson isn't just the sidekick. I've always found that the most interesting thing about the Sherlock Holmes stories isn't the sometimes frankly byzantine and weird mysteries, but the relationship between Holmes and Watson. I'm always a character over plot person, so Elementary is perfect for me as a Holmes adaptation.
posted by yasaman at 3:25 PM on May 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I really appreciate the actors in Sherlock, especially Cumberbach and Freedman, but they seem to be constantly struggling against uninspired, cliched writing. Not to mention the "rude, brilliant" hero characterization has been done to death, recently (and doesn't really fit my understanding of Sherlock as a well-liked, sociable dude, when he gets around to it, making the choice all the less groundbreaking for me).

This, to me, is like complaining that Conan the Barbarian is an uninspired swords and sorcery flick. It only seems that way because it's the seminal work in the whole area - Holmes is the original rude, brilliant protagonist. That it's become cliche isn't Cumberbatch or Moffet's fault.
posted by GuyZero at 3:30 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Only one man has played Sherlock Holmes and his name is Jeremy Brett. The rest have played at playing.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=JX6a--uu6QM&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DJX6a--uu6QM
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 3:53 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Holmes is the original rude, brilliant protagonist

Except, not really. The Holmes in Doyle's text was a gentleman detective. He was incisive and dispassionate, yes, but not rude. The idea that Sherlock was, to be frank, gleefully sociopathic (the way that he is portrayed in House and Sherlock) definitely seems like a modern invention.
posted by muddgirl at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I've really come to enjoy this show. If you only watched a few episodes early on, or gave up around mid-season, you definitely should watch some of the back half of season one. The writing really improves and Watson becomes a much more interesting participant.

While it still does feel like a Holmes-flavored crime procedural to a fair degree, the relationship between Holmes and Watson in this incarnation really is terrific, and the Moriarity arc through the season finale was great.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just taking one line from the original A Scandal in Bohemia: Doyle's Sherlock meets a client:
"Pray take a seat," said Holmes. "This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have I the honour to address?"
Quite rude indeed!

I have no problem with interpretations, interrogations, and character changes between adaptations. I just don't agree with the generally-accepted idea that BBC's Sherlock Holmes is very true to the original source, when to me it has always read as very true to House more than anything else.
posted by muddgirl at 4:15 PM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Holmes in Doyle's text was a gentleman detective.

Gentlemen of that age would come across as borderline sociopaths in modern society. I mean, I get where you're coming from, but I'd hardly characterize Doyle's Holmes as a warm 'n' fuzzy guy either.
posted by GuyZero at 4:16 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


And when the Doyle original _does_ decide to be rude, he's usually somewhat subtle about it, for example:
"What a woman -- oh, what a woman!" cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?"

"From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty," said Holmes coldly.
There's a fanon Holmes that has gotten built up over the years that doesn't have that much to do with the original texts.
posted by tavella at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


hydropsyche has already articulated the reasons I adore Elementary, but I will add one more: Clyde the turtle. His ambulance shell! His stubby little turtley legs!

I also love Sherlock, as well as the RDJ / Jude Law films. And I LOVE that they're all so different from each other, that contrasting them is interesting but subjective ranking is pointless. And these are just the most recent Holmes adaptations!

Sherlock Holmes is vast, it contains multitudes, from The Great Mouse Detective to "A Study in Emerald." I've read and loved all the ACD Holmes canon, and it makes me so happy that I can pretty much expect to spend the rest of my life wading through as much Holmes-related transformative media as I want. It's the gift-fandom that keeps on giving.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:20 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Gentlemen of that age would come across as borderline sociopaths in modern society.

Is your argument that Moffat intended for Sherlock to be an antiquated throwback? Because that's not quite the reaction to him demonstrated in the show.
posted by muddgirl at 4:21 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


UK's convenient re-invasion of Afganistan so that Watson could be an actual Afghan vet

The Moffatt Conspiracy.
posted by dhartung at 4:41 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wasn't that interested in Elementary, mostly because I was worried that they'd play Liu as a love interest. I'm more interested now that I've learned that she's not

I'm still scared they will do this at some point, because it looks like something easy to do and often times network TV confuses easy/lazy with good.

I've had mixed feelings about Elementary over the course of the season; it's had its ups and downs and has been uneven. But I love the casting of Watson as female and Asian, and was head over heels when Ms. Hudson was introduced and it was clear she was trans and nobody gave a shit. I had another moment of thrill when it looked like Moriarty might be a black man (I'm still working my way up to the end of the season on my DVR, so I don't know where they might still be going).

I'm hoping they smooth things out and allow the characters and plots to continue to develop in complex ways. I have concerns that it will be allowed to do so, based simply on the fact that network TV always prefers simple over complex.
posted by never used baby shoes at 4:52 PM on May 21, 2013


That it's become cliche isn't Cumberbatch or Moffet's fault.

The enormous number of cliches that choke the show are surely Moffet's fault, though (the Chinese Acrobat one, as has been noted, has enough for any 12 episodes to start, and I was desperately unimpressed with the Adler story).

I like Cummberbatch's Holmes (although I agree that he's not really Doyle's Holmes at all), but I notice that they keep trying to soften the sociopathic elements, perhaps because it's really hard to care about a sociopath for too long. Note the rather drunken plotting of House's seasons -- his hateful attitude makes House funny, but it makes him hard to like.

On the other hand, I am still waiting for Elementary to come out on DVD, so I can't really compare the two. I'll note that the recent Downey/Law films have great chemistry but pretty lousy plots, too. It's like Holmes is cursed by great actor pairings mixed with really weak writing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:55 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not that Holmes is incapable of empathy, just that it almost always takes the back seat to analysis. He's not a sociopath, but he is someone who built up an analytic rule set based in part on empathy and then cut himself off almost entirely from that mode of thinking. This is in part I think why Adler as a combination of romantic interest and nemesis works well even if it's not canonical, it speaks to the idea that his Achilles heel is forcing the emotional part of his brain to suppress the very strong analytic side.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:02 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would like to be pedantic and point out that Jane Tennison is not a Holmes-type detective.

Bad writing might be an inevitable part of any Holmes adaptation. Let's not forget the original stories had killer jellyfish.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:05 PM on May 21, 2013


This is in part I think why Adler as a combination of romantic interest and nemesis works well even if it's not canonical, it speaks to the idea that his Achilles heel is forcing the emotional part of his brain to suppress the very strong analytic side.

Tangent: Zero Effect had the single best non-canon angle on Adler, in that she was brilliant, she had good reasons to do what she did, and she had her own identity. On the other hand, I greatly dislike the Adlers who are essentially Sexy Lady Moriarty. Not only is it predictable, but it also leaves Adler as being just an appendage of Holmes.

Or if in twenty years someone living in more conservative circumstances will be as astonished by it as I was by watching a videotape of Laugh-In in the late nineties, simply because it had never occurred to me that mainstream television would be allowed to articulate those critiques.

Smothers Brothers > Laugh-In
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:23 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


the original stories had killer jellyfish

My favorite bit of charming canon wtf is when Holmes solves the case by constructing a pillow fort nest to brood in.

And don't forget the guy who gives himself superpowers by shooting up with monkey juice!
posted by nicebookrack at 5:26 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I liked this show. I wasn't expecting much, but the series was a pleasant surprise, except for the last episode, which I thought was really dumb.

Thursday evenings have been pretty good: Person of Interest, then Elementary, then Hannibal. Now it's just Hannibal, and that may not get picked up for another season. Darn.
posted by homunculus at 5:35 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Moffatt Conspiracy.

Oh fuck yes I am totally going to spread terrible tumblr rumours that Moffat's money is invested in various international private security contracting companies, just to watch the uber dedicated fans twist and turn themselves into madness trying to explain how it's totally okay to be a fiendish war profiteer.
posted by elizardbits at 5:35 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


i'm so excited to be a bad person
posted by elizardbits at 5:35 PM on May 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


i'm excited that you are one because it makes your tumblr awesome

also i'm now talking like you

it's strangely liberating
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:37 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


freeeeedom
posted by elizardbits at 5:38 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


if this ends in Moffat becoming Iron Man then everything suddenly makes so much sense
posted by nicebookrack at 5:40 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd settle for Moffat singing "iron Man." That would make up for a lot.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:49 PM on May 21, 2013


I really like Elementary, for all the reasons articulated in the article (which, thanks for - enjoyed the essay). It was worth the investment of a season to watch the characters grow.

Now it's just Hannibal, and that may not get picked up for another season. Darn.

I'm really hoping they don't pick it up. Because it is perfect as it is, right now. But if they have to stretch the conceits beyond one season I think it will fall apart. For me.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:00 PM on May 21, 2013


I will fight you right here and now.
posted by elizardbits at 6:04 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


and?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:04 PM on May 21, 2013


My wife loves it; I was a bit sniffy at first because Cumberbatch, but I'm coming round. The world-building is a strength, and the two leads have chemistry.
posted by misterbee at 6:05 PM on May 21, 2013


and you will be a casserole.
posted by elizardbits at 6:05 PM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


I watched the first episode of Hannibal expecting to be both amused and repulsed by how terrible it was. Just as everything post-Silence of the Lambs was worse and worse until ridiculous.

Imagine my surprise when Hannibal was unquestionably the best drama on network TV with the exception of the (over for the season) The Good Wife. I can't tell you how shocked I was. I had no idea it was being done by Bryan Fuller, no idea Mads Mikkelson was starring in it, and so on. I've never been so blind sided by a TV show.
posted by Justinian at 6:07 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The show definitely picks up steam as it goes, despite some weak episodes. I love Lucy Liu and think the Jonny Lee Miller does a nice interpretation of Holmes, although he seemed a little more dangerous in the first episode or two. The season finale was enormously entertaining and made up for some of the filler episodes. I hope it keeps getting better. It's sort of like Castle for people in their thirties.
posted by mecran01 at 6:09 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although they gave away the twist as soon as they announced the casting of Natalie Dormer.
posted by Justinian at 6:11 PM on May 21, 2013


I watched the first episode of Hannibal expecting to be both amused and repulsed by how terrible it was. Just as everything post-Silence of the Lambs was worse and worse until ridiculous.

Imagine my surprise when Hannibal was unquestionably the best drama on network TV with the exception of the (over for the season) The Good Wife. I can't tell you how shocked I was. I had no idea it was being done by Bryan Fuller, no idea Mads Mikkelson was starring in it, and so on. I've never been so blind sided by a TV show.


Which is exactly why I fear a second season. How long can it go on before the tricks to keep Will from catching on get laborious? How long before the "Will is on the edge" storyline gets old? How long before one-up-ing the inventive kills becomes a parody of itself? We know the ending (unless they decide to completely reboot canon). That end has to come soon, or you start to lose respect for everyone involved (they're all supposed to be super smart and intuitive, so how long before we start shouting at the TV?) I want this show to quit while I still love it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:14 PM on May 21, 2013


The weirdest part is when I can see the Pushing Daisies aesthetic in Hannibal. That scene with the opera singer was straight outta PD!
posted by Justinian at 6:18 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


(unless they decide to completely reboot canon)

Good idea. Maybe we'll get lucky and Hannibal will kill and eat Graham in the season finale.
posted by homunculus at 6:19 PM on May 21, 2013


We know things are slightly different; whassername the trainee FBI agent already noticed The Wound Man and figured things out before Hannibal got her.
posted by Justinian at 6:21 PM on May 21, 2013


I just want more awesome guest stars and more glorious food porn.
posted by elizardbits at 6:34 PM on May 21, 2013


How long can it go on before the tricks to keep Will from catching on get laborious?

This show was specifically pitched to be more like the cable model, and they've already said they're only doing 13 episodes a seasons.

Also, if I recall some interview with Bryan Fuller, he said they'll get to the events of Red Dragon around the third or fourth (and the total will be in the 5-7 range). So on the one hand, they've got a ways to go... But on the other, it's not 60ish episodes to go, but a mere 26-39 since the first 13 are already in the can.

I'm not too worried about them keeping things plausible up till that point. Especially given the high level of quality they're already operating at, assuming they get to make more of it.
posted by sparkletone at 6:35 PM on May 21, 2013


a mere 26-39 since the first 13 are already in the can

Reading that back, maybe I was unclear. That's 2-3 seasons to go before Will definitely will be starting to really put the pieces together. That is, they've only got to keep the ball in the air till that point and then no longer have to think of "tricks."
posted by sparkletone at 6:44 PM on May 21, 2013


Also, without getting too spoilery, but if they continue on with Will's current character development it's pretty easy to see how they'll prevent him from making any significant connections any time soon.
posted by elizardbits at 6:48 PM on May 21, 2013


I've been very forgiving, but I can't get past the show's instance that Osmia (mason bees) are social hive-makers and could possibly hybridize with Apis honeybees. Sorry, that just where I draw the line.
posted by cRamsay at 6:58 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am contractually obligated to mention the Wicker Man at this point.
posted by elizardbits at 7:01 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A man's got to have a code.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:02 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


homunculus: "Hannibal, and that may not get picked up for another season."

My understanding is that Hannibal is pre-sold at such a high price in such an unusually high number of countries, its production company turns a profit before NBC pays a dime. Thus, if NBC fails to renew it, they can easily offer it at a per episode price such that cable will almost certainly swoop it up in short order.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:08 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sounds like they've got the relationship with Holmes and Watson good, but I just prefer my Holmeses asexual. It's one of the things I found intriguing about the original stories, and it's one of the first things most adapters change.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:18 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In truth, I've never cared much for either Miller or Liu, so "Elementary" just didn't grab me at all. Robert Downey's version of Holmes was enjoyable enough for a couple of movies, but I really have no pressing need to see him play the character again.

Though it has its share of flaws too, the Cumberbatch/Freeman version is my favorite of the three, for the performances of the leads and the general look & feel of the production. And to agree with what someone mentioned upthread, I wouldn't mind if they made Cumberbatch/Holmes a little less misanthropic, as that aspect of the character seems overemphasized right now.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 7:25 PM on May 21, 2013


It occurs to me that this the second or third time in as many days that I've seen a thread to which Hannibal is at best only tangentially related start discussing the show. I hope this keeps happening until the show gets renewed, and then someone makes us a nice, juicy, tastefully-presented FPP ... That happens to be made out of people.
posted by sparkletone at 7:32 PM on May 21, 2013


I just prefer my Holmeses asexual.

I was never clear on whether he was asexual or subordinating his sex drive to focus on his vocation; either way it makes for a better character.

On the other hand, I greatly dislike the Adlers who are essentially Sexy Lady Moriarty. Not only is it predictable, but it also leaves Adler as being just an appendage of Holmes.

Certainly the way they usually construct it, but I do like the idea of a coldly calculating Adler/Moriarty seducing him expressly to destroy him. Her falling in love with him was awful though. Personally, I always hate the way the Moriarty / Holmes conflict plays out in 9 out of 10 interpretations.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:42 PM on May 21, 2013


Emphatically jumping on the "Doyle's Holmes was not rude" bandwagon! Sherlock is very flashy, Cumberbatch has a... distinctness to him, for lack of a better word, and I am always always on Martin Freeman's side, but when I watched the show it struck me as smug and unpleasant and not as smart as it pretends to be, which I've since been told is a characteristic of all Moffat's work (I have never seen Doctor Who). Just one man's opinion, and I harbor no grudge against people who like it for what it is,* but that is not the Holmes of the original stories and I have my not-only-falling-apart-but-crumbling-to-dust half-century-old copy to prove it.

Holmes is, in many ways, the modern scientist incarnate. He holds a great disdain for his so-called "contemporary" detectives, not because they are less intelligent than he is, but because they mock and belittle his efforts while simultaneously depending almost entirely on them. He is Descartes' enlightened man, relying not on intuition but on a solid foundation of truth from which otherwise confounding mysteries suddenly seem comprehensible. I think it's Lestrade in "A Study in Scarlet" who looks at RACHE scribbled in blood on the wall and begins fantasizing about a woman named "Rachel", a jilted lover, perhaps, a woman in an affair, somebody who... No, says Holmes, rache is but the German word for "revenge". The real clues lie in the height of the word on the wall, the dust on the floor, the little unexciting details which nonetheless tell us something about the world we're observing.

(In Sherlock, this little exchange is "cleverly" reversed, and the result is that Sherlock comes off as ineffable and cold and possibly insane rather than merely smart and dedicated. As somebody who revered the literary Sherlock as a child, and who finds the tendency of nerd culture to excuse gross social ineptness with "lookit how smart I am, get out of my way peon, I can't even explain my brilliance to you", I found that somewhat jarring right from the start.)

But the Holmes of "Scarlet", while far too proud to fake a humility towards detectives who are less rational and more condescending than he, is not a cold or a distant man. He's not even especially absent-minded. He writes articles for local journals, has a wide array of contacts whom he meets seemingly for reasons other than pure professionalism (though he seems to've met most of them through his work), and from the start has a broader personality than merely "gives a shit about crime-solving". He's surprisingly warm, in fact; even his frequent scrabbles with Watson where he makes some absurd deduction about a man and then laughs at Watson for not believing him, come off as playfully braggish rather than impatient or scornful. In fact, in their exchanges Watson is more frequently the scornful of the two, right from the very start where he reads an article of Holmes', calls it rubbish, and then gets into the first of their many debates over whether Sherlock's approach is any less mystical or arcane than the lesser detectives' approaches, or if it just appears that way to the uninitiated.

I'm reminded of the Chris Sims article about Scooby-Doo where Sims argues that Scooby Doo pushes a secular humanist worldview: the moral of the show is that things we don't understand always have an explanation, even if we don't know what that explanation is yet. Sherlock Holmes is the same way, except that it's more fascinating because it keeps us at arm's length from Holmes. He is always smarter than us. He always knows something we do not. Which is why Watson's such a wonderful character. He's the educated everyman: he's smart, he's courageous, he's practical in a way Sherlock just is not. He's able to verify, from repeated experience, that what Sherlock does yields results, and he's able to probe Sherlock about his method and receive a meaningful answer. Yet he doesn't know enough to do it himself, which is why in the longer stories there's often some tension in the plot where Holmes vanishes or plays his cards close to his chest and Watson (and we) are left to speculate about the clues left behind, the various hints we've been given about what might be. Rarely does Doyle play fair and give us enough evidence, because with the mysteries he's writing we're not educated enough to see the case in detail like Sherlock does. And what gets mistaken for arrogance on Holmes' part is much more often sheer amusement: "You thought it was the old woman who stole that crucial piece of evidence? Why, I can see how you came to that conclusion, but you can't possibly make leaps that large and expect the case to hold together!"

He's a cipher, but not in the ways (IMO) that it's done on the shows, where you go Who is this guy? and part of the comedy involves Sherlock essentially being a freak of nature who borders on the non-human. It's just, he knows this shit. Just like on Scooby Doo, we see a ghost glowing radioactively, but Sherlock sees Mr. Wilkins, proprietor of the carnival, scaring people away to keep 'em away from the gold or whatever. The only difference is that in Scooby Doo everybody's an idiot, whereas in Sherlock Holmes there's a very smart person who's either trying to get us to understand what's going on in his head or who's not telling us anything yet because there's a piece to the puzzle that even he's missing. The mystery in a good Holmes story isn't the one Holmes is presented with, it's Holmes himself, and what makes the formula so neat is that Holmes is a human with a certain range to him, and that the nature of the mystery in any given story changes based on how Holmes chooses to approach a case. When you throw Holmes-as-human out the window, you lose that dynamic, which is a shame.

Anyway like I said, YMMV on whether or not that makes a particular adaptation worse or less watchable for you, but I think that that "inhumanness" is what made Sherlock so unpleasant for me. What was originally a story about a well-studied specialist attempting to test his theories of the world out on reality instead becomes a story about a cold arrogant shit going around wanking off about how smart he is. The TV Sherlock is convinced that he's above everybody else to the point of being a separate species; the original Sherlock was a scientist who tested his theories and published his results.


* this is emphatically not true but yay politeness
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:48 PM on May 21, 2013 [39 favorites]


Oh my God, I will fight anyone who claims that BBC Sherlock is, in any way, shape, or form better than Elementary. I do it on Tumblr. I can do it on Metafilter, too.

EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU COME ON LINE UP AND FEEL THE BLAZE OF MY SHERLOCK HOLMES NERDRAGE.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:12 PM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


yeah, regarding the unusually diverse characters on Elementary -- I'm a white, middle-aged woman in the midwest, and Elementary immediately felt more recognizably like my real life than most shows on television because there are characters of different races, sexualities, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc., and these are all treated as interesting things about them that inform their experiences of the world, but not as the ONLY and defining thing about them. It took me a while to figure out why such an unrealistic show felt so realistic and comfortable, and eventually it occurred to me that it was because it looks like an actual place with actual people (but prettier and who don't say "uh" all the time) who live there and who treat other humans as, you know, other humans, and not zoo exhibits. It really brought home to me how whiteness (in particular) is really a default setting on mainstream television, and how little that reflects a community like mine, let alone a big city like New York!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:23 PM on May 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


I really like Elementary, despite being kind of annoyed by the episodic procedural style at first. The only thing about the show that I can't wrap my head aound is that it is a modern show that exists in a world where No other version of Sherlock Holmes has ever existed. Which is odd considering just how much cultural influence the character has in modern society. Every time he introduces himself as Sherlock Holmes, i'm waiting for the other person to make some sort of witty response.

In the world of Elementary, if I went out on halloween dressed in a double billed hat, with a pipe and magnifying glass, what would I be dressed as?
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:32 PM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the idea is that you would never go out on Halloween dressed like that because there would be no cultural referent for it.
posted by Justinian at 8:39 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the world of Elementary, if I went out on halloween dressed in a double billed hat, with a pipe and magnifying glass, what would I be dressed as?

A old timey hunter with cancer in his future.
posted by sparkletone at 8:41 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Down this far and no one has mentioned The Seven Percent Solution? Great film. Too bad that particular group didn't make any more.
posted by zardoz at 8:53 PM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Might as well mention The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, now that we're at it. A pretty decent take on the Sherlock Holmes genre from Billy Wilder.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:17 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think my favorite thing about Elementary is how refreshing it is to just watch a show and not feel angry when it's over.

Even with other shows that I love, there's a constant background fuzz of racism/sexism/other-isms that eventually just spoils things for me. I always get to a point where I have to love it less, or just stop watching, and it's disappointing every time.

So, while Elementary may not be the most tightly written, original, brilliant tv show I've ever seen, or even the best Sherlock Holmes adaptation, for me it's one of the most enjoyable shows I've watched this year. It's relaxing to be able to watch a show without that constant background noise. That might not be enough for everyone, but it's certainly something that I value and rarely seem to find.
posted by madelf at 9:42 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The TV Sherlock is convinced that he's above everybody else to the point of being a separate species; the original Sherlock was a scientist who tested his theories and published his results.

I have to say I'm always surprised about what gets peoples' figurative irish up around here, although clearly I should know better.

I will most gladly back down from the position that Doyle's original character is rude. You're all quite right on that front. At the same time while he seems to know a lot of people, my (limited) memory of the original stories is that this is one of those elements that's told but not shown. What Watson sees and reports is a man who is slightly manic-depressive, who often isolates himself and, although not every story dwells on it, is an opium addict. The Grenada series is so faithful that I probably blur a lot of it together with the stories but I suspect that close reading would show some gaps. But certainly this was also Brett's portrayal at times - a man almost suicidally bored with life looking for some excitement except that for whatever reason he find nothing in carnal pleasure (unless you put opium in that category).

Anyway, I don't see Cumberbatch's Holmes as being arrogant solely because he has a big ego so much as that he's... weirdly emotionally impaired. Like how he insulted Molly at Christmas. he doesn't even realize what he's doing until it's too late. But certainly I think his portrayal captures the same elements above of a man who essentially has some sort of puzzle fetish for lack of a better description where by puzzle I mean hard, ambiguous, complex puzzles with real consequences and not just sudoku.

I can't even explain my brilliance to you", I found that somewhat jarring right from the start.

Sure. But I read it as that he literally CAN'T explain it. it's not that he won't, he actually lacks the seemingly simple ability to explain himself while at the same time he can explain everything else in the world around him, even the inner workings of other people. I can see how you might find that annoying. I don't even know if I can really articulate what I liked about the show other than I thought the plotting was good, the acting was good and for better or worse I don't see Moffett's plots coming down the road like a dog on the prairie.

Is there a Mycroft character on Elementary? Because the next logical question after Holmes and Watson is who does the best Mycroft.
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a Mycroft character on Elementary? Because the next logical question after Holmes and Watson is who does the best Mycroft.

Not yet, but that seems like fertile ground to explore in S2.
posted by sparkletone at 10:06 PM on May 21, 2013


Not even the accoutrements help me decide:

Sherlock - Eschenbach 5 power snap close magnifier. LED Lenzer P7
flashlight.

Elementary - iPhone with after-market magnetic wide-angle/magnifier
snap on lens, same phone often used as flashlight.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:09 PM on May 21, 2013


it's realistic use of cell phones and the simple but effective flying text effects uses for text messages.

Innovative sure but pretty much unreadable when you're watching it on a phone screen while riding a stationary bicycle. I actually had to go back and rewatch those scenes to figure out what I missed.
posted by srboisvert at 10:12 PM on May 21, 2013


If you're making your television show just as watchable on a phone screen as a large screen TV you are not making adequate use of the strengths of the medium. It's like trying to get the same sound out of a pair of cheap earbuds as a $2000 sound system and surround sound speakers.
posted by Justinian at 10:15 PM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Innovative sure but pretty much unreadable when you're watching it on a phone screen while riding a stationary bicycle.

uuuhhh... I guess. The BBC Sherlock series-s (how are you supposed to be able to tell when series is plural? gah!) are really more like oddly paced movies to me. And while it's possible to watch Sherlock or, say, a Michael Bay movie on a phone, it does sort of defeat the purpose. Watching a TV show about minute details without being able to see said details would indeed be frustrating.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


unreadable when you're watching it on a phone screen

I understand the appeal if rewatching things that way, but heavy emphasis on re. If you're doing your first viewing on something like that and then complaining, I'm forced to wonder if you also try to read books while standing on the other side of the room with a magnifying glass and then complain.
posted by sparkletone at 10:30 PM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not even the accoutrements help me decide:

I like Elementary a lot, probably more than Sherlock -- mostly I like Jonny Lee Miller's version of Twitchy Genius better than Cumberbatch's.

But Sherlock has THE TEA KETTLE. GLOWY BLUE TEA KETTLE WITH GLOWY WATER! GLOWY GLOWY GLLLLOOOOOOOOWWWWY!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:51 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of the Holmes adaptations are simply trying to do different things, and comparing them shouldn't become a zero-sum game. Cumberbatch's Holmes is meant to show Sherlock as a modern young man, and he's intentionally playing Sherlock as more abrasive, cold, and insensitive than the Sherlock of canon. What would Bretts' Holmes have been like as a brash young man? What mistakes did he have to make before he fully matured as a human being? That's it, that's the show. The overarching story of Series 2 was Holmes' emotional development and his efforts to overcome his social deficits, usually with a great deal of help from Watson.

I can't even begin to understand how people could describe Martin Freeman's Watson as a doormat, though - he is a total BAMF, certainly more badass than Watson ever got to be in canon (although I do wish they'd let him have Baskerville to himself).

Are the cases on Elementary any good? I hardly ever see anyone discussing the mysteries, which seems like a bad sign and is why I haven't gotten around to watching it yet.
posted by dialetheia at 11:05 PM on May 21, 2013


How can an SF/Fantasy author deny the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:07 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


dialetheia: "Cumberbatch's Holmes is meant to show Sherlock as a modern young man, and he's intentionally playing Sherlock as more abrasive, cold, and insensitive than the Sherlock of canon. "

I like Cumber!Holmes well enough but he does, excruciatingly, remind me of a certain class of intelligent men who have learned that their intelligence allows them rudeness, which they then use to further explain their intelligence. Which was not something I felt when reading the original stories - genius yes, occasionally abrupt and certainly inappropriate but never rude because he 'can't possibly work out why someone is insulted'. With the added factor of 'if you're so smart, why does the very simple social interaction confuse you - he who learns every kind of cigarette ash can't learn to apologise in order to sooth someone's hurts?' - it irritates me in real life and I found it (and the sexism and racism and queerbaiting) in BBC!Sherlock to ultimately be unbearable.

(Yes, cinematics are pretty but I loved that style of thing more in Man On Fire)

Which is probably why I like Miller!Holmes more - he plays it as a weakness, or deliberate for a case. Not for fun, not because 'oh noes teh emotions r dumb', but because he sometimes is more logical than he should be for something that is often illogical. The scene where he's inviting Joan to be his apprentice is excruciating yet so absolutely on point for the character. The original Holmes was explicit with Watson about his faults - modern!Holmes parlays that into a very aware, very well-thought out invite. The intent, the meaning, is retained but method adjsuted.

(I mean, how good could you really be at solving murders when a lot of them are emotionally predicated and you couldn't possibly work out any sort of social nicety or contract because 'it's too illogical'?)
posted by geek anachronism at 12:27 AM on May 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Bestest" as an emphatic superlative dates back to at least 1868.

Yeah, it was wrong then as well:

Usage: slang; incorrect superlative
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:16 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look, it isn't a patch on the BBC series. It's a better effort than the Life On Mars remake though. Man that was shite.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:01 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imagine my surprise when Hannibal was unquestionably the best drama on network TV with the exception of the (over for the season) The Good Wife.

So you are saying it is not necessarily the bestest but one of the bester ones?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:12 AM on May 22, 2013


Tangent: Zero Effect had the single best non-canon angle on Adler, in that she was brilliant, she had good reasons to do what she did, and she had her own identity. On the other hand, I greatly dislike the Adlers who are essentially Sexy Lady Moriarty.

Huh, I never thought of her as an Irene Adler. Possibly because she's not like all the other ones, or maybe because the slant of Zero Effect that only Daryl Zero really thinks it's a Sherlock Holmes story in a Sherlock Holmes world.
posted by fleacircus at 4:18 AM on May 22, 2013


A big part of why I prefer Elementary over Sherlock is the way the former treats women. I loved the Irene Adler twist, and that it was Watson, not Holmes, who defeated her. The women on Elementary have agency. (And the same for what everyone else has already said about people of colour.) Moffat's show is so centred on the character of Sherlock Holmes and his geek rage that it's actually really difficult for me to watch, whereas Elementary is always a breath of fresh air. There's such a huge difference between Irene Adler being Moriarty's henchwoman and needing rescuing by Holmes and Irene Adler being the world's smartest criminal who's brought to justice by a woman she underestimated.
posted by toerinishuman at 4:35 AM on May 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


Sounds like they've got the relationship with Holmes and Watson good, but I just prefer my Holmeses asexual. It's one of the things I found intriguing about the original stories, and it's one of the first things most adapters change.

I always thought the asexuality was more of a classic "left to the imagination of the reader" conservativeness than actual asexuality. The kind of storytelling that doesn't try to give a 360 degree view of someone's life and personality, rather simple episodes in that person's life.
posted by gjc at 4:53 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was never clear on whether he was asexual or subordinating his sex drive to focus on his vocation; either way it makes for a better character.

Right, whether it's asexuality by nature or just in practice, it boils down to the same thing.

I always thought the asexuality was more of a classic "left to the imagination of the reader" conservativeness than actual asexuality. The kind of storytelling that doesn't try to give a 360 degree view of someone's life and personality, rather simple episodes in that person's life.

Nah, Conan Doyle spells it out in black and white in A Scandal in Bohemia. I feel that Watson is enough of a reliable narrator to take him at his word.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:26 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Sherlock is very flashy, Cumberbatch has a... distinctness to him, for lack of a better word, and I am always always on Martin Freeman's side, but when I watched the show it struck me as smug and unpleasant and not as smart as it pretends to be.

Ugh, yes, thank you for putting it so succinctly.

The article links to the excellent Why Can't Any Recent Sherlock Holmes Adaptions Get Irene Adler Right? essay. I'm still creeped out by the recurrent theme of turning Adler into a villain, and then destroying her, in all the modern Holmes's. The entire point of Scandal in Bohemia is that Adler isn't the villain, Holmes is. He let his desire to solve an interesting puzzle blind him to the fact that he was helping the bad guy, the stalkerish King. The always-supreme Granada series nailed this, with Watson as the moral center throwing 'can you believe this guy??' looks at Holmes when the King says he's had Adler burgled and mugged. I have no idea what screenwriting tic of the 2010s is responsible for this trope. Is it that Holmes HAS to be the Bestest, so if she's smarter then she must be diminished in some other way?

Anyways The Great Mouse Detective is clearly the best Holmes adaption, The End.
posted by Erasmouse at 5:29 AM on May 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


Huh, I never thought of her as an Irene Adler. Possibly because she's not like all the other ones, or maybe because the slant of Zero Effect that only Daryl Zero really thinks it's a Sherlock Holmes story in a Sherlock Holmes world.

That's part of why I like her so much! She's a completely different sort of Adler than what we get nowadays. She gets the better of Sherlock, but she's not a henchwoman, she's not in love with him, and she's a completely different sort of mystery than anything else that Sherlock has ever faced.

The idea that Irene Adler is a vampy femme fatale who uses Feminine Wiles™ to get the better of Sherlock is a tired idea. Not to say that that sort of thing could never be done well again, but I don't like that that's what people assume Adler must be.

...

I haven't seen the conclusion to the Adler storyline from Elementary, so I can't comment on it, but it sounds like they went somewhere unique for that as well. I look forward to catching up on it.

...

Regarding Elementary's inclusiveness: I love how they get little things right about being Chinese-American in New York. Joan is not the Other, not by a longshot. Her mom is not a Tiger Mom caricature. When they go to dinner together, they go to the sort of Chinese restaurant with Chinese clientele, which is perfectly realistic, but what's different and nice about it is how the restaurant looks like a real restaurant. It's not the red-walls-and-paper-lanterns Chinese restaurant that you usually see in Hollywood. Her mother speaks Chinese to the waiter, which is realistic, but the show doesn't feel the need to treat this as being exotic. Joan pours her mother's tea first, which is of course traditional, but the show doesn't feel the need to fixate on that as being unusual, which of course it is not.

...

Sidenote: a friend of mine works in the comic book industry. One of his early internships was at a company which makes celebrity children's books. He singled out Lucy Liu as being not only one of the few celebrities who actually wrote their own book, but also as being one of the relatively few celebrities who was an unalloyed pleasure to work with.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:44 AM on May 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


GuyZero: I have to say I'm always surprised about what gets peoples' figurative irish up around here [...] I read it as that he literally CAN'T explain it. it's not that he won't, he actually lacks the seemingly simple ability to explain himself while at the same time he can explain everything else in the world around him, even the inner workings of other people.

geek anachronism articulated this very well above, but part of what makes Sherlock frustrating is how much its Holmes reminds me of people I know in real life. Hell, it reminds me of a younger me: passionate, bright, but inarticulate, and convinced that if other people can't follow along it's their fault, not mine. In time most people grow out of that, but there are a few devoutly arrogant sorts who continue to delude themselves into thinking failure to communicate is the same thing as proof of higher intelligence.

Yet in Sherlock, not only is Holmes roundly justified (by the show) in his ways, to the point that any time he ruins Watson's day in any way it's played as a joke – and the show's sense of comic timing is damn good, but it bothers me that it seemingly never gives Watson's hurt feelings or ruined days anything more than a punchline – but it suggests that there's a league of super-smart people, headed by Moriarty, who are all borderline sociopathic because they're so smart. Which, again, is a nerd fantasy that reminds me of middle school. Everybody says I'm being a jerk but that's because they're all stuuupid!

Relatedly:

I'm still creeped out by the recurrent theme of turning Adler into a villain, and then destroying her, in all the modern Holmes's.

The Irene Adler episode, which was pretty much when I stopped watching even as a favor to friends, was just awful in its portrayal of Irene. After that I Googled Steven Moffat, who I'd never heard of before, and found that (shockingly) he's often criticized for being an arrogant and lazy writer. In interviews where he defended the Adler episode he came off as an arrogant and lazy person. It was a "not even wrong" territory kind of thing. He'd argue things like "it's not misogyny to show Irene Adler naked, we even hid her tits!" So that reinforced my impression of Sherlock as "that asshole".

If the problem was just contained to the character of Sherlock himself, then I'd buy that this is an interesting look at a complex human being yadda yadda, but the Moriarty nonsense shook my faith, and the Adler episode pretty much dispelled that. For Sherlock Holmes to work, you have to believe that the clues Sherlock's seeing in the world around him are rooted in something real and verifiable, that he's not mad, he just practices a kind of science that other people aren't yet aware of. A woman stripping naked to render moot Sherlock's powers of observation? What about body language, interesting linguistic cues, all the things that Holmes often uses to identify facts about his opponents? It's nonsense. And if it's nonsense, then Sherlock's incapacity to treat other people decently becomes less a tragic flaw and more a sign of a generally detestable person.

Which isn't made any better, of course, by the show's treating each and every time Sherlock acts horribly towards another person as a punch line. It creates a universe wherein people are exactly as worthless as Sherlock treats them. And again we're told, not implicitly but very explicitly, that if only we were smarter we'd be just as frustrated by other human beings as Sherlock or Moriarty or that evil psychopathic cabbie was. (There's a tangent to get into here about how sympathetically the books treated many of its criminals, down to the tragic story of the guy in "A Study in Scarlet" which "psychopath cabbie" subverted, but this comment is long and insufferable enough as-is.)

I'm made distinctly uncomfortable by the show. All I can think of when I watch it is how many preteen or teenage kids are gonna watch it and come away with the moral that being a dick is what proves to other people how smart you are. That's exactly the sort of message kids do take away from media when they're young, and at times I think Sherlock's is somewhat reprehensible.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:08 AM on May 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


I have to say, I am usually quick to advocate the BBC version--it's the Anglophile in me--but hearing about this version, while a police procedural in some respects, in which Watson is a strong female lead and not a love interest, where addiction is not treated as LULZ, and an ordinary trans character played as everyone else has me intrigued.

Also, I grow tired of Moffat's belief that middle-class white dudes have a hard time of it. It was easier to ignore when I was younger, but at 36, I'm like, "STFU, Moffat, and try writing a woman who isn't a mother/maiden/crone for your work."
posted by Kitteh at 6:12 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've always looked at Cumberbatch's interpretation of Holmes as a brilliant man who is highly observant, who can understand and interpret the emotions of others quickly as a result, but who has a very limited emotional existence in himself. That is, he knows what you are feeling and why you are feeling it, but cannot experience that feeling himself; this is why that show has called him a sociopath, because that is as close as our terminology could come to understanding what he is.

I view the character as damaged and needing to put on an arrogant front in order to mask his increasing desperation as he flounders about, solving problems that no one else can in the hopes of solving his own dilemma. The solving of impossible puzzles is the only emotional reward that he has found so far.

Watson has emerged as a moral grounding point and a possible path to connection with the rest of humanity; I'm intrigued to see where the show goes with it.

That being said, I think they made a huge mistake in series 2 with taking on the 3 biggest stories in the Holmes canon; ones that even folks with a passing familiarity with Holmes would likely know. It really didn't serve them well, I think - it is very hard to live up to those stories.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:18 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


dialetheia: "Are the cases on Elementary any good?"

They're adequate to support the story. They make sense, I don't usually feel like the writers cheated, and the unrealistic parts are forgivable for television (the appalling police procedure!). I'm not really a mystery person, so I'm probably not the best judge of when they're actually good rather than just good enough for narrative, but there have been at least a few episodes I can remember where I was like, "Whoa, this is intriguing!" and stayed glued to the mystery all hour. (Rather than half-watching the mystery while being fully interested in the character interactions.)

My husband and I watch a fair number of crime procedurals (because they're all on in the third hour of prime time, after the kids have gone to bed, and we're too tired by small children to do anything else, so it's become a bit of a thing even though neither of us likes procedurals that much!) and we have a game of guessing which Procedural Trope will solve the case -- "The twist will be that it was the wife," "No, no, it's a double-twist, and it's the lawyer!" -- and we're pretty good at it with most procedurals, but on Elementary the stories aren't so obvious ... but they don't usually feel like they've been solved from nowhere with clues you didn't get during the hour.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:09 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's hard for me to explain why the BBC Sherlock series makes me see red, but in the end, it boils down to the fact that I loved the Arthur Conan Doyle stories for decades. To this day, I still listen to the Clive Merrison radio versions of the stories to fall asleep every. single. night. I know the stories the way that forty year old men still remember the stats of their favorite sports player from when they were nine and fell asleep at the kitchen table, listening to the evening game on the radio -- like, that's the place that Sherlock and Watson, waiting in the dark in the bank vault in The Adventure Red-Headed League has in my heart.

I'm Asian-American, too, and I was so, so, so excited about BBC Sherlock after the very first episode, because it looked like such a smart, modern, engaged-with-the-ACD-canon updating! Afghanistan veteran! Disappearing limp! Holmes loves texting!

Annnd then we got to the second episode, The Blind Banker.

If you haven't seen it, the Blind Banker is chock full of racist stereotypes. We aren't talking background fuzz discomfort like madelf mentions above. We are talking full-on, wall-to-wall, straight-from-the-1920s, I-can't-believe-this-is-on-TV-in-2010 portrayals of Chinese mystery ladies in cheong sams holding mystical Chinese mystery knowledge, long-nailed evil dragon ladies speaking semi-broken English, and kung-fu secret martial art triad societies pursuing our white valiant heroes, and it was all so so stupidly and lazily executed, oh my god.

TIP: THE EXOTIC MYSTERY SECRET SIGNAL ARE THE EXACT SAME NUMERALS USED EVERY DAY BY OVER ONE BILLION NATIVE SPEAKERS. ALSO, FIVE YEAR OLDS LEARN THEM IN KINDERGARTEN AS PART OF THAT UNIT ABOUT "HOW PEOPLE COUNT AROUND THE WORLD". YOU KNOW, THE ONE THEY DO RIGHT AFTER "THE FIVE SENSES" UNIT AND BEFORE THE "MY FAMILY AND ME" SHOEBOX DIORAMA UNIT.

I consider myself pretty thick-skinned about portrayals of Asians in mass media. I don't have a problem with the occasional L&O episode about triads or gangbangers, and I don't have any problems with the Repressive Immigrant Parent stereotype on TV shows because, reader, I lived that life. I even laughed at the Chinese dude in the Hangover, you know? But man, Sherlock punched straight through that and came out the other side of nerdrage betrayal meltdown -- to co-opt something else that a lot of Mefi'ers love, the sense of betrayal and anger I felt was roughly equavalent to the average Trekkie reaction if a reboot of TNG had Jean Luc-Picard walking onto the deck of the Enterprise and telling an hour-long story about how much his lazy Mexican gardener loved siestas, welfare benefits, and anchor babies.

The show's misogyny is, in fact, only the whipped cream on my ice cream sundae of NOPE.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:31 AM on May 22, 2013 [31 favorites]


but they don't usually feel like they've been solved from nowhere with clues you didn't get during the hour.

I'm starting to sense a proneness to "Guest Star of the Week did it" though.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:40 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


House is the modern interpretation of Holmes I've enjoyed the most, largely due to how great Hugh Laurie is. Even has the later seasons got worse, Laurie didn't.

I seems to me Miller's Holmes is very close to Laurie's version of the charater. Even Miller's fastidiousness is not a great contrast to Laurie's slovenliness, as they are both about how everything needs to be exactly their way. (Recalling House's refusal to have replaced the carpet stained with his own blood.) Ultimately, they are both playing the "defective" person angle; brillant but broken.

Cumberbatch's character is played as more alien. He's not broken so much as robotic. There is a touch of innocence about him that is long gone from Miller's Holmes, and was probably never there with Laurie's House.

There all sort of there in the original material though, but they are emphasizing different aspects of it.

Robert Downey Jr. is a fun, skilled actor, his character doesn't feel remotely Holmesian to me.
posted by spaltavian at 8:06 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


RDJ's version involves a lot of RDJ playing RDJ, but I like to think of it as picking up on the more bohemian elements of Holmes -- that comment, right, about art in the blood taking the strangest of forms?
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:15 AM on May 22, 2013


Robert Downey Jr. is a fun, skilled actor, his character doesn't feel remotely Holmesian to me.

Yeah, I probably would have loved those movies if they had been about the adventures of John Smith, Victorian Detective.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:20 AM on May 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I enjoyed the first Robert Downey Jr movie by pretending it was about Sherlock's distant Hungarian cousin, Szerlock.
posted by Erasmouse at 8:29 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Only one man has played Sherlock Holmes and his name is Jeremy Brett. The rest have played at playing.

On television, certainly. However, Basil Rathbone did it on the big screen and is still the quintessential Holmes, despite the movies having only passing similarity with the stories. (Particularly when it comes to the non-canonically bumbling, albeit lovable, Watson.) He embodied Holmes as did no other actor save Brett.

Of the three big, contemporary adaptations, I have to say I have adored the BBC and the Robert Downey Jr movies -- for very different reasons -- not least of which due to the strong supporting casts. You can have the best Holmes in the world, but if your Watson (Freeman/Law), your Mycroft (Gatiss/Fry), and your Moriarity (Scott/Harris) are subpar, it just won't work. Conversely, if they are strong, it can overcome other weaknesses, which both BBC Sherlock and Guy Ritchie's versions have.

I was excited if leery to see what CBS did with Elementary, as I am with any new take on Holmes, but especially because I'm a huge Lucy Liu fan. My initial concern, due to the timing of things, was that it would just be another poor American ripoff of a UK series, but it was apparent right away that wasn't the case.

Unfortunately, I gave up on it after a few episodes, as the writing just wasn't clicking for me. And despite great performances from both Miller and Liu, the whole production just felt too "networky."

This thread has made me interested in catching back up with the series, as it has confirmed what I've heard from other places -- that it took a little while to get up to speed, as US series with their long seasons often do.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:30 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I probably would have loved those movies if they had been about the adventures of John Smith, Victorian Detective.

I remember a reviewer/commenter making a simliar observation around the time Game of Shadows was released, something to the effect of, "This would be the greatest movie ever made if it weren't called 'Sherlock Holmes.'"
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:32 AM on May 22, 2013


joyceanmachine: And The Blind Banker isn't an adaption of an existing story, so there's no excuse of "gosh, we were just being *true to the text*". The racism came straight from the writers and producers, and oh will some of the Sherlock fans flip when you point that the producers are racist.
posted by tavella at 8:45 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know a lot of people are outraged about a female Watson, but I remember people were outraged about a female Starbuck, and that turned out okay.
posted by ErikaB at 9:40 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Delighted to see this on the blue. I've thoroughly enjoyed the first season, which I devoured almost whole over the weekend, and in spite of the obvious problems it rang very true for me. Holmes the character is written with a very sharp ear for dialogue, he sounds convincingly English and all credit to Jonny Lee Miller for making me believe in Sick Boy as tormented posh genius. Hell, he even met up with Renton halfway through the season. Elsewhere, Lucy Liu knocked it out of the park, Vinnie Jones should have had more screen time, and Natalie Dormer was fabulous but just a little bit too young.

mild spoilers ahead

The way the show navigates the question of Holmes' sexuality is intriguing. While this Holmes is demonstrably heterosexual, changing the gender of both the companion and the archenemy and casting the only significant female character as transgendered highlights for me the implicit homoeroticism in the source material. (disclaimer: I grew up on Jeremy Brett's campy performances so I may be suggestible.)
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 10:03 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I found myself really uncomfortable with BBC Sherlock's seeming message of "you can be a complete asshole if you're smart, because all those other less intelligent peons are beneath you." At least when House was an asshole, it wasn't portrayed with quite the same sneering approval, and the show knew how to keep the balance between "wow this guy is a complete raging asshole" and "wow this guy is good at what he does and maybe he does give enough of a shit to somewhat balance out the assholishness," in the earlier seasons. But now the asshole white genius detective is frankly all too prevalent in media, and it's just gotten boring.

So I'm glad to see that Elementary's Sherlock is kind of a dick, but in more or less the same way Conan Doyle's Sherlock was a dick. When it comes to interacting with others, he seems to be on level with Conan Doyle's Holmes, only with somewhat less Victorian courtesy and more impulse control issues.

And one thing I haven't seen pointed out: BBC's Sherlock is in a completely different place than Elementary's Sherlock. He's young, as Conan Doyle's Sherlock was when he met John Watson, and BBC Sherlock is still growing into something more like the detective we recognize in portrayals like Jeremy Brett's.

But Elementary Sherlock is older and sadder. He never had a Watson in London when he was younger, and he's hit rock bottom, and we (and Watson) first meet him as he's clawing his way back out. He's had his illusion of supreme self-control demolished by his addiction and recovery, and he's had the realization that even his vaunted mind and deduction skills can be overtaken by his emotions. This is a Sherlock Holmes who has been humbled and broken. His journey in the first season of Elementary is one we haven't really seen yet in modern Sherlock adaptations. It's a journey of recovery, one which the show is really, gratifyingly serious about: recovering from addiction is hard but important work for Sherlock, and he comes to recognize it as such. And it's a journey of connection and partnership too, as he comes to rely on and appreciate Joan Watson.

Elementary is in many ways, a much kinder and more tender show than any other Holmes pastiches or adaptations, and that's what's kept me watching what I was fully expecting to be a mediocre CBS procedural. It's a really pleasant break from all of the other grim and intense dramas that are on right now.
posted by yasaman at 10:26 AM on May 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


Hell, he even met up with Renton halfway through the season.

What now?
posted by 41swans at 11:43 AM on May 22, 2013


Here's a really nice side-by-side discussion of the flaws and virtues of BOTH series: Sherlock vs. Elementary
posted by Eideteker at 11:49 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I found myself really uncomfortable with BBC Sherlock's seeming message of "you can be a complete asshole if you're smart, because all those other less intelligent peons are beneath you."

I don't take TV character's behaviour to be proscriptive...? You can like or dislike the character but in what sense is it sending a message that the behaviour is good? Simply because he's the protagonist?
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


You can like or dislike the character but in what sense is it sending a message that the behaviour is good? Simply because he's the protagonist?

Watch how they set up Sherlock dropping one of his rude lines. It's usually when somebody questions him or doesn't quite come up to his standards. There's this beat, and then Sherlock drops his rudeness. To me, that reads as the show wanting the audience to believe that Sherlock's rudeness is justified, particularly given the two other things --

First, watch what they show after Sherlock does one of his rude lines. The camera shows Cumberbatch saying the line, and maybe there's maybe a reaction shot of people looking shocked and John maybe looking a little disapproving, but nobody ever verbally smacks Sherlock in a way that stings. Like, in one recent episode of Elementary, Sherlock Holmes makes a flip comment about whether Watson is on her period. Watson snaps something along the lines of "couching it in scientific observation doesn't fix the misogyny of your statement." Holmes is taken aback; Watson is angry, and the scene is structured so that her comeback takes all the wind out of his sails.

I can't remember that happening in Sherlock. I'm told there is a seaon in Season 2 where he apologizes to a character for being rude to her -- I don't doubt that it happens, and personally, I haven't seen anything after the Irene Adler premiere to S2 that made me ragequit the show, but there are no hints whatsoever of that side/capacity/moral judgment in S1.

Second, despite him being such a hideous asshole/so difficult to work with, his rudeness never has any of the real-world consequences that come with being rude like that. People keep working with him. John and others are shown as being ~~ drawn to him ~~ despite his behavior, and ladies keep going for him. The police keep using him because he's just right! All the time! And they can't not use that!

The Sherlock characterization of Holmes as rude and callous about the feelings of others, particularly those who are less powerful than him, is actually a sharp, sharp departure from the ACD stories. Holmes's affection in Elementary for those who don't have power, and his contempt for bankers, actually strikes me as being much closer to the ACD stories, where Holmes gets very angry, for example, on behalf of woman who is being physically abused by her stepfather.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


The police keep using him because he's just right! All the time! And they can't not use that!

There are one or two episodes where the police basically investigate him as because they can't believe that he could possibly keep solving all these impossible mysteries. Lestrade's subordinates all hate Holmes and insult him to his face.

Watson is played as a milquetoast, yes.

The Sherlock characterization of Holmes as rude and callous about the feelings of others, particularly those who are less powerful than him, is actually a sharp, sharp departure from the ACD stories.

Sure, that's a fair assessment. But I don't know if the show exactly sends a message that it's some sort of universally great behaviour.
posted by GuyZero at 12:17 PM on May 22, 2013


What I find interesting about Sherlock is that it's basically a superhero story - or superbeing, anyway. The Holmes boys, Moriarty and Irene Adler have this hyperpenetrating intelligence at the price of human engagement - there's one scene in a mortuary, for example, where Sherlock and Mycroft notice a mourning family and wonder what it's like to be that way. They are drawn to each other because they are the same kind of being, but cannot really trust each other.

That's a fairly big departure from the Conan Doyle original, right there. But that's what I enjoy about the series. That and the over-the-top visuals.

In terms of appropriations of Conan Doyle, I've a book in my reading queue called Moriarty: Hound of the D'Urbervilles by Kim Newman, which (if it's anything like his superb Anno Dracula series), I'm going to enjoy very much.
posted by Grangousier at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2013


I don't take TV character's behaviour to be proscriptive...? You can like or dislike the character but in what sense is it sending a message that the behaviour is good? Simply because he's the protagonist?

This is a really fuzzy thing to describe, and I acknowledge that not everyone will see it the same way, but there's stuff in the overall narrative of Sherlock that validates Sherlock's behavior. I'm not saying media needs to be didactic or moralist in a way that means bad behavior always requires bad consequences, because obviously real life doesn't work that way. But look at Sherlock's treatment of people like Anderson and Donovan, who the narrative makes into villains for the crime of doubting Sherlock. Anderson's just a jerk, sure, but Donovan has some solid reasons to doubt Sherlock or question his methods, reasons which his rude behavior does nothing to assuage, and her concerns are never really validated by the narrative. And Sherlock suffers consequences, but in a way that martyrs him to the audience and makes the doubters into bad guys. It's not proscriptive per se, but it's part of how overwhelmingly Sherlock-centric the narrative is in a way that doesn't allow for much room for Sherlock to be wrong.
posted by yasaman at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love this show, but I can't get enough of Lucy Liu. Her portrayal of Watson as a peer, a partner of Sherlock is quite refreshing from the typical "sidekick" status Watson normally wears. I have not been as excited to watch a new episode of a procedural since the first season of CSI.

For some reason I've had a hard time convincing others how good it is. It's been described to me as "House with more heroin."
posted by chemoboy at 12:57 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


At least some of the "SH is a raging jerk" interpretations are thanks to the self-propagating nature of adaptations themselves. For example, House really is the template, I think, for the BBC Sherlock & Ritchie film versions of Holmes & his relationship to Watson (raging snark ahoy!). And "Sherlock Holmes could really use a therapist" is also a product of post-1970s adaptations--e.g., The Seven-Percent Solution and Michael Dibdin's The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (not to be confused with Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case, in which Watson...needs help).
posted by thomas j wise at 1:11 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The ACD Sherlock is neither entirely an asshole nor entirely kind. There's nothing inherently wrong or right about accenting one side of his personality or another. The BBC Sherlock has him as a Dexter-style "sociopath who secretly feels". Elementary has him as a cocky genius who is also kind and affectionate towards his friends. Both are fine approaches in and of themselves.

This is a really fuzzy thing to describe, and I acknowledge that not everyone will see it the same way, but there's stuff in the overall narrative of Sherlock that validates Sherlock's behavior. I'm not saying media needs to be didactic or moralist in a way that means bad behavior always requires bad consequences, because obviously real life doesn't work that way. But look at Sherlock's treatment of people like Anderson and Donovan, who the narrative makes into villains for the crime of doubting Sherlock. Anderson's just a jerk, sure, but Donovan has some solid reasons to doubt Sherlock or question his methods, reasons which his rude behavior does nothing to assuage, and her concerns are never really validated by the narrative. And Sherlock suffers consequences, but in a way that martyrs him to the audience and makes the doubters into bad guys. It's not proscriptive per se, but it's part of how overwhelmingly Sherlock-centric the narrative is in a way that doesn't allow for much room for Sherlock to be wrong.

I disagree with your interpretation of many of these events. I loved how the police were worried that, one day, they'd come to a crime scene to cuff Sherlock himself. That didn't make them villainous to me at all. It made them interesting - they are not charmed by Sherlock's arrogance, and they are creeped out by the fact that he lingers around as an unpaid consultant. It made Sherlock's world interesting. It helped make Watson's choice to follow Sherlock interesting, as well. In Elementary, crime solving with Sherlock is, for Watson, a fun, empowering learning experience. In Sherlock, crime solving with Sherlock is, for Watson, a potentially self-destructive reaction formation against Watson's experiences in Afghanistan.

In Sherlock, I loved how Moriarty was able to use their (previously justifiable) doubts about Sherlock in order to cause Sherlock's downfall. The fact that they were mislead by Moriarty did not make Anderson and Donovan into villains. Antagonists, yes, but not villains. The villain is, obviously, Moriarty. Huge difference. It's the difference between the Joker and the Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:24 PM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


When will Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin be modernized for young, hip, audiences?
posted by Apocryphon at 2:26 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for a new Fantômas adaptation.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:27 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


When are we going to get a Young Miss Marple series where she's an amped up version of her initial portrayal? The one where she's a kinda mean gossip that expects the worst of everyone and which everyone else thinks of her as nosy at best.
posted by sparkletone at 2:48 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want the Murder, She Wrote meets Dexter update where Angela Lansbury kills people randomly just to get plot ideas for books.
posted by GuyZero at 2:49 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would be extremely okay with a Young Miss Marple show. I will say, though, that the way you've described it reminds me distinctly of Veronica Mars. I loved how they dealt with what people would think of having a Veronica Mars in their milieu.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:52 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I want the Murder, She Wrote meets Dexter update where Angela Lansbury kills people randomly just to get plot ideas for books.

Having seen every episode of Murder, She Wrote (thanks, Netflix and insomnia!) ... This is the only sensible way to read the show as it exists. She's constantly not far removed from the person who's murdered, and yet all this death, all these actual dead bodies seen, all this suffering... No emotional effect on her. Not even after 12 years.

The only reasonable explanation I could think of is that Jessica murders all these people and frames others, and then writes books and profits from them!

More seriously: Everyone should see the Murder, She Wrote episode that has Ernest Borgnine, Levar Burton, Jerry Orbach and Adam West (playing a shady boxing promoter) in it.
posted by sparkletone at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I will say, though, that the way you've described it reminds me distinctly of Veronica Mars.

That occurred to me, actually, right after posting, and yeah. In a certain sense, I could see Veronica growing from the bitter hard-ass she is into the more kindly person Marple is portrayed as later on when she's an old (but still nosy) lady.
posted by sparkletone at 3:15 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooh or maybe a grown up Harriet the Spy. I'd watch the hell out of that.
posted by sweetkid at 3:20 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you haven't seen it, the Blind Banker is chock full of racist stereotypes. We aren't talking background fuzz discomfort like madelf mentions above. We are talking full-on, wall-to-wall, straight-from-the-1920s, I-can't-believe-this-is-on-TV-in-2010 portrayals of Chinese mystery ladies in cheong sams holding mystical Chinese mystery knowledge, long-nailed evil dragon ladies speaking semi-broken English, and kung-fu secret martial art triad societies pursuing our white valiant heroes, and it was all so so stupidly and lazily executed, oh my god.

Don't forget the woman who creeps out of her hiding place in the museum because SHE MUST MAKE TEA AND SAVE A TEAPOT at the risk of her life. I know this was only the second episode, but it was the second episode in a series made up of 3 and it was so remarkably offensive that I still can't believe not just that someone wrote it, but that they got other people to film it and stick it on TV in 2011. Does their entire reading consist of Fu Manchu stories or something?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:24 PM on May 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


So basically, Murder, She Wrote is the further adventures of Basic Instinct if Catherine Tramell had never met Nick Curran.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:25 PM on May 22, 2013


Okay, this thread convinced me to give Elementary a try and I'm glad that I did so. Total junk show, but it avoids doing the things junk TV does that piss me off and it is very, very satisfying. Their Holmes is a much more satisfying one for me to watch, and Lucy Liu is a really good Watson as well.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:09 PM on May 22, 2013


I swear to God that in the season finale Johnny Lee Miller was doing an impression of Michael Kitchen playing the lead role in Foyle's War. Even the weird lip-biting/twisting thing was there.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2013


A strike against Elementary: passing of New York as London! We can recognize those buildings, people! I swear, they had the Williamsburg Bank Tower in one of the "London" shots.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:09 PM on May 22, 2013


....it's set in NYC.
posted by elizardbits at 5:26 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


They have flashbacks set in "London," which is apparently a borough in New York.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:34 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, okay, lazy.
posted by elizardbits at 5:40 PM on May 22, 2013


Oh yeah, one of the writers or producers said they didn't have the budget for real London this season. They're headed to actual London for the first couple episodes of season two, I think.
posted by yasaman at 5:42 PM on May 22, 2013


Big Ben. Parliment.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2013


a phone box with a corgi outside

the corgi has a cup of tea
posted by elizardbits at 5:49 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Clyde the turtle is unlikely to pass quarantine to be in the premiere :(
posted by nicebookrack at 5:55 PM on May 22, 2013


Can't we all just compromise on London, Ontario
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:56 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Season 3: Paris, TX!
posted by nicebookrack at 5:59 PM on May 22, 2013


the corgi has a cup of tea

I had a corgi, growing up. And a wild-assed outdoor calico cat who had little use for most people (although she liked to lay on the back of my legs when I watched TV in the evenings, which was okay except that she also liked to knead my legs with her razor-sharp claws). Her true love, though, was that corgi. The corgi would lay in front of the fire and the calico cat would sit next to him, then lean down and begin licking the corgi's head, grooming him. Eventually, the cat would pause for a while, at which point the corgi would nudge the cat for more, and the cat would happily comply. Mind you, this was a cat who was witnessed dragging a dead rabbit almost as big as the corgi from the fields next to my house, and who I once had the extreme pleasure of watching chase a full-grown doberman pincher out of our yard at a dead run. But she loved that corgi.

She had no use for tea, though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:01 PM on May 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


a phone box with a corgi outside

the corgi has a cup of tea


Text descriptions of my tumblr dashboard aren't really relevant to this thread.
posted by sparkletone at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


So it turns out that calling the non-white lady version of Watson and the CBS procedural version of Holmes the bestest is like, the perfect storm of how to irritate purists...
posted by emperor.seamus at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


A strike against Elementary: passing of New York as London! We can recognize those buildings, people! I swear, they had the Williamsburg Bank Tower in one of the "London" shots.

Maybe you can, but most of the audience don't live in either New York or London, and wouldn't really have picked it. I didn't.

In any case, I imagine it was either passing off bits of New York as bits of London and hoping that they could ride through on suspension of disbelief, or some truly awful greenscreen and costume work. LETS HAVE A CONVERSATION IN FRONT OF LONDON BRIDGE LOOK A BEEFEATER WITH BULLDOG IN A BLACK CAB.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:18 PM on May 22, 2013


the corgi has a cup of tea

Corgi with a cup of tea.


Cup of tea with a corgi.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:23 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


And to to tie it in with at least one adaptation: a Fry with a Corgi.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:40 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a Londoner, I have to say that was so blatantly New York that I facepalmed.
posted by toerinishuman at 8:44 PM on May 22, 2013


the corgi has a cup of tea

Dammit, elizardbits. Because of this one throwaway line, I have spent 45 minutes looking at corgi blogs.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:36 PM on May 22, 2013


As a Londoner, I have to say that was so blatantly New York that I facepalmed.

As a native Vancouverite I've spent years watching places I know quite well being at times pretty much every US city (NY a lot) and state as well as numerous international locations. All the alien worlds and planets are most definitely the best though. "Oh a hey that's such and such quarry. Had a big outdoor party there once." "Oh look it's X. Great hiking spot." "Ooo look it's that spot on X lake. Went to scout camp there."
The worst are driving scenes where there going a longish distance from A to B. It's driven me nuts at times as it's completely ruined any immersion. "Oh they're on one of the local mountain roads and then boom, out in the valley near Chillwack and then, oh Squamish..." bleh
posted by Jalliah at 4:33 AM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


They could have taken a quick trip to EPCOT to film, like Werther's Original does for their commercials.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:49 AM on May 23, 2013


sticherbeast: I disagree with your interpretation of many of these events. I loved how the police were worried that, one day, they'd come to a crime scene to cuff Sherlock himself. That didn't make them villainous to me at all. It made them interesting - they are not charmed by Sherlock's arrogance, and they are creeped out by the fact that he lingers around as an unpaid consultant.

Except of course those who feel that way are presented as bitches and assholes for feeling that way; no one who dislikes Sherlock is allowed to be good and worthwhile. And Sherlock is presented as poor martyred Sherlock who 'sacrifices everything' to save people.
posted by tavella at 4:55 PM on May 23, 2013


Arthur Conan Doyle Interviewed on Sherlock Holmes and Spirituality
posted by homunculus at 8:28 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


a Fry with a Corgi.

I dont think it is possible for any picture to feel more stereotypically British.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


"A strike against Elementary: "passing of(f) New York as London!"

Ahh, but a point FOR Elementary: it's use of New York qua New York
is exemplary. Great feel for various parts of the city. Great use of building
interiors.

Strike against Sherlock: has it been noted yet the irritating
Dr. Whoish overtones of the British Holmes? (I know, I know, "Funny, he doesn't look Whoish".
posted by Chitownfats at 1:56 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Abigail Nussbaum (who was not fond of the first episode) reviews the first season, which she liked a great deal. (She also reviewed Sherlock's second season.)
posted by jeather at 7:12 AM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sherlock - The Manga
posted by Artw at 7:02 AM on May 25, 2013


I cannot help but feel there's a class issue here: many people seem to dismiss Elementary as being a common network floozy, whereas admire the BBC version as a grande-dame, dripping in pearls and ermine. I wonder if there would be this elitism if they were both American productions?
posted by oxford blue at 10:48 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


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