Monday, November 05, 2012


"For future reference, when I say 'I agree with you', that means I'm not listening. "
-Sherlock Holmes

I panned Elementary pretty badly after the first show on here.  The show is an American take on the BBC hit Sherlock which I do enjoy, but the US version looked just awful.  However, I have watched a few more shows, because I hate to just junk someone's hard work on one try and my complaints were mostly based on problems I had with the one show rather than with the concept, actors, and themes.
After seeing four episodes, I am mellowed a bit.  Sherlock is still an unlikable freak, the mysteries are still not very good, and the writers still can't seem to work out how to depict a really intelligent person or deductive reasoning, but the show has gotten better.
Sherlock hasn't thrown any destructive tantrums since the first show and the deliberate attempts to shock by showing him to be a scuzzball have been moved away from.  They are depicting him more as a very strange guy, not a sleazy psychotic.
The show is slowly developing the relationship between Watson and Holmes, which is interesting.  I liked how they did it in Sherlock, but it felt a bit rushed, like the writers felt everyone knew they'd be together so lets just get it over with.  In this, Sherlock and Watson truly don't like each other at first, and are beginning to grudgingly respect each other.  They still aren't friends, and they only reason they stay together right now is because Watson is a drug counselor keeping watch over Holmes because of his previous heroin addiction.
An aside here: as much as I like Arthur Conan Doyle as a writer (and he's far, far better than his Sherlock stuff in other books such as The White Company), he got it all wrong with Sherlock's addiction.  Doyle had Sherlock so bored with life he wanted a distraction to calm his mind so he took cocaine in a 7% solution.  Cocaine does not calm your mind, it intensifies your mind and hypes you up.  That's the last thing Sherlock wanted or needed.  This show has him instead addicted to Heroin to calm him, slow his mind, dull his senses and get him to forget analysis and deduction for a while.  This is much better for two reasons.  First it makes more medical sense, and second, I have long thought Holmes was the kind of guy that can't help himself, he continually, without intent or conscious effort analyzes everything.  That gets very tiring after a while not just for those around you, but for yourself.  Sleep becomes an escape, and I could see someone like him reaching for a drug to help out.
However, here lies a problem.  The modern writers for Elementary cannot imagine someone like Holmes being entirely sexless and disinterested in relationships.  So they not only have him sleeping with hookers as a distraction, but they strongly have implied he had a relationship that went bad in the past that drove him from London and to take drugs (my guess is it will be Irene Adler, who returns later).
By doing this, they've done harm not just to the Sherlock Holmes legend, but part of what made him so interesting and unique.  He's not a sex obsessed 20 something with scuzzy hair, tattoos and no shave.  He's a thinking machine who simply has no interest in sex or women, or relationships at any level.  They are distractions from his real interest, which is to save himself from boredom (something Sherlock handles very well).
Yet the hipster writers and entertainment types who came up with Elementary apparently either cannot conceive of someone like that, or think it simply wouldn't relate to modern viewers, so they abandoned that key, fascinating part of Holmes' character.
And it gets worse.  One of the more obnoxious things that the two major efforts to bring Batman to movies is that they had to fix him.  The last Burton-era Batman film with George Clooney was all about a psychologist helping Bruce get past his pain so he isn't so obsessed with fighting crime and can retire from being Batman.  The latest Batman film is all about how Alfred so desperately wants Bruce to just have a nice life and forget being Batman, and ends with him doing just that, getting over his pain and finding a nice life with an amoral cat burglar he has nothing in common with other than nightwear.
You don't fix literary heroes like that.  It not only makes them boring, it makes them stop being what people care about.  And this show is all about Watson fixing Holmes.  She psychoanalyzes his behavior, she gets him to share about his feelings, and Holmes gets all pensive and thoughtful like he's having a breakthrough.
That's just trash.  Not only does nobody except apparently the writers give a crap about Sherlock Holmes' psychology, it ruins the character.  If you fix Sherlock Holmes, you obliterate Sherlock Holmes.  If he just becomes a stable, normal guy, he's ruined, its like doing a lobotomy on a genius to make him regular.  That's just unacceptable.
There are bright parts though.  The writers are getting better at showing Holmes thinking, and they don't go to the ridiculous extremes that Sherlock sometimes does (solving a code, in his head, that nobody else in the world could, in less than 30 seconds, for instance).  And the cops are smart, and good at what they do.  Most of Doyle's portrayal of the police was of them being dolts and cretins, barely able to lift their head, knuckles dragging as they drool on the evidence.  These guys are professional and very capapble, although their reliance on Holmes makes sense.
So I am not a fan, but its not as bad as it was, and has some promise.
A show that I am a fan of is Vegas with Michael Chiklis as a mobbed up casino boss and Dennis Quaid as a rancher and reluctant Sheriff of Las Vegas county.  The setting is 60s Vegas, there are mobsters and casinos and desert and corruption and strong jawed heroes and so on.  The good guys are smart and good, the bad guys are bad but interesting, subtle, and deeper than just a mob caricature.
I recommend Vegas, particularly if you're looking for a filler between Longmire seasons.  Quaid's gruff cowboy sheriff throwback is a terrific and intense guy to watch, and Chiklis' smooth, clever mobster who you can't quite figure out is great fun.
And Vegas is based on real events with real people.  Sheriff Lamb is a real guy.  The events that are depicted are real as well.  The mysteries are probably mostly fictional, but its following actual events as Las Vegas shook its self free of mob control in the era depicted in the movie Casino.
Another show similar to this is Magic City.  This is a show about a Hotel owner in 1950s Miami up against the mob and unions trying to run a good resort without being taken over.  I liked the show okay but it didn't stick with me, and I am not exactly sure why.  I think part of the problem is that its a bit too limited in scope, so there's not much future for the concept, and a lot of it is that the bad guys are kind of boring and wooden.  They're just growling evil corrupt mobsters, they don't have any style or cleverness to them.  I'll give it a few more shots to see if there's more to it than I think.


Anonymous said...

I like "Elementary" okay. It is getting a bit better. "Sherlock" is pretty good, but it does defy reality in too many ways. I've also been watching Agatha Christie based shows; namely "Poirot" and "Miss Marple". Not as frenetic, but still enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

I am also enjoying the series "Elementary". I think comparisons with the BBC "Sherlock" series are a bit unfair. The BBC series has higher production values and the 90 minute episodes allow for much better storylines. I might even buy the series on DVD when it comes out (after I buy season 3 of "Sherlock").

Christopher R Taylor said...

Elementary's problems aren't expense or length of show, but writing issues.