Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Sherlock Holmes of Today - Part II

Now it's time for the television shows! As I mentioned in Part I, there's two to cover. Both modernize the classic character, but that's about where the similarities end, even though one practically copies the other.

I'll save the best for last, (If you're one of those people who eat dessert first, just scroll down until you see awesomeness! Do what you want!) and start with the American one. It's Elementary. No, really, that's what it's called.

Tagline? "New Holmes. New Watson. New York."

 After the amazing success of BBC's Sherlock, the Americans, who can't be original to save their lives, wanted to start up a US version. They received "no" for an answer, so they decided to just do a copy, but make enough changes so the shows would be obviously different. Remember three sentences ago when I said Americans can't be original to save their lives? It's a CBS drama, and they made Watson a woman. I rest my case.

Lucy Liu is Joan Watson, to be exact. And Jonny Lee Miller was cast as the famous detective, who recently both moved to NYC, and gave up drinking and using drugs. Joan is a "sober companion," hired my Sherlock's father to keep him on the straight-and-narrow. Holmes consults with the NYPD on their most baffling cases, and Watson accompanies him to crime scenes and such, and of course, eventually becomes helpful. As soon as her work keeping Sherlock clean and sober is over... well, let's just say we all know she won't be leaving.

Now Watson's being turned into a woman was a little hard to swallow, but Lucy Liu really isn't bad. I just don't think of her as Watson, and problem solved. And Jonny Lee Miller actually makes a rather good Sherlock. His being British is very helpful, and he is plenty smart, insensitive, and annoying... in a way that makes him fun to watch. I credit him with making the show work.

...but if you look at this picture and immediately think "Watson and Sherlock"... you should seek help.

As you know, CBS crime dramas are all very similar, but usually with one unique feature. Elementary plays by those rules very well. There's always an interesting crime to solve, and not too much time is spent in the drama department. It's classic CBS... with Sherlock Holmes! If CBS dramas aren't your cup of tea, I doubt this would win you over, but if you don't mind a little formula -- as long as it's well done -- it's worth a viewing.

No matter how much I like Elementary though, when compared to Sherlock, it crumbles away into nothing and is shown for the cheap imitation it is.

I now give you... the real deal.


The BBC drama Sherlock has only had two seasons so far, and each season consisted of only three episodes. Of course, each episode is twice as long as any American show; an hour and a half instead of forty-five minutes, and every mystery is absolutely rich with intricacies. And as everyone knows, when something is rich, you consume it in small servings. Even though you never want to.

Creators and writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also plays Sherlock's nosy brother Mycroft) know how to update things right. Sherlock is set in modern day London where Dr. John Watson has just come back Afghanistan. He's introduced to Sherlock Holmes because they both need a flatmate, and next thing you know, they've moved into 221B Baker Street, and John is tagging along with Sherlock in his adventures as a "consulting detective." John's therapist thinks he has post traumatic stress disorder, but the fact is that the opposite is true. John misses the danger of war, and working with Sherlock is exactly what he needs. And Sherlock soon discovers that John can be very helpful to him as well.

For instance, John becomes very good at handing him things.

What I love about this show is... everything. Ok, one of the things about this show that makes me very happy is the respect shown for Arthur Conan Doyle's original work. There's tons of great wink-wink nudge-nudge references to classic Holmes stories, and the mysteries themselves are modernized takes on original classic stories, insuring that we simultaneously still respect Conan Doyles's genius, while also appreciating the awesome and clever ways the stories have been reworked. The words "loosely adapted" do not, in this case, make me want to run away screaming.

In Part I, I said that Downey Jr. and Law's interpretation of Holmes and Watson's relationship was my favorite bit of the movies, and I said they balanced each other. Well. Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, and Martin Freeman's Watson COMPLETE each other. With perfection. There's no other way to say it. The way these two bounce off each other with Moffat-penned wit, and that chemistry that cannot be faked produces a special kind of  indescribable enjoyment you can't find anywhere else.

Above: Two brilliant actors, and one smiley face.

Alone, on their own merit, they are just as good. Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are both spectacular actors, and fortunately will probably soon be getting the recognition they deserve. But this series really shows off their acting skill. The pitch-perfect writing helps I'm sure, but finding and portraying the right balance of Sherlock's more human side, and, well, less human side has got to be hard. (Not to even mention his warp-speed speaking pace!) But when the moment dictates that we should either love or hate Sherlock, I have no problem with happily complying. Watson, we're always supposed to love, and that's easy, but Freeman also gets a wide variety of emotional scenes that he plays impressively. Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft are regulars, and good additions to the show. Moriarty and Irene Adler get their time to shine too, and shine they certainly do. Even the cops and detectives Sherlock works with are not wasted characters.

Cumberbatch and Freeman are hands down the best Holmes, best Watson, together, simply the best, in every way possible. They are better than CBS and they are better than Robert Downey Jr., and I'm not sorry to say it. Those versions have their merits of course, and I do enjoy them all, just differently. It never fails to make me happy when anyone says "ok, Sherlock, let's go" or, "how did you deduce that, Sherlock?" and it comes out without a trace of sarcasm. It's the little things.

I don't want to start comparing shows to movies by giving out star ratings to these shows, and I think you've got the gist of what I think anyway. When it comes to TV, it's usually, "watch it" or "don't watch it," -- and in that case, Elementary and the much superior Sherlock would both get the same rating -- but there is a third category, and Sherlock is one of a few shows that fits in it; "watch it over and over." Yes, I am Sherlocked.
Watch at once, if convenient. If inconvenient, watch anyway. Could be....

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Sherlock Holmes of Today - Part I

Sherlock Holmes is everywhere these days. You've heard of the Robert Downey Jr. movies. You've probably seen them too. There's also a generic CBS crime drama that centers around the character. And a BBC series that has had two seasons and six episodes of pure brilliance so far. Now quick, guess which one I like best. No prize; it should be obvious.

So this post is part one of a review special that features one film franchise, two TV shows, and one iconic character.

First up is the franchise. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. And the unique thing about these films is that they are actually set in the "correct" time period, though that does not mean they've escaped updating.

Boom. Sherlock and Watson. They look the part, don't they?

Downey Jr. plays himself-- I mean, Sherlock Holmes the too-smart-for-his-britches British detective who solves London's most baffling cases using finely tuned deductive reasoning and observation skills. Jude Law is Dr. John Watson his ever-patient assistant in crime solving and flat-mate. Er, not flat-mate. John is moving out and leaving the exciting life of catching bad guys to get married to a lovely lady and settle down. Holmes isn't so keen on this idea, and does everything he can to coerce Watson into joining him on one last case. A creepy one that involves witch-craft, and apparent magic, and Mark Strong rising from the dead.

Oh yeah, and Irene Adler also shows up, in the form of Rachel McAdams.

Now, even though this film is set in the late 18oo's, it still feels like an updated version of Sherlock Holmes... just in every way except the date. Not that I can really use that as a flaw. I doubt anyone was trying for an authentic feel here. If they were, they would have cut back a little on the slow-motion explosions and stylized special effects. Or cast a Brit as Holmes. No, I'm pretty sure they were going for exactly what they achieved, and what they achieved is not bad, if slightly alarming when spoken aloud; Sherlock Holmes as an action star. And in that case, Downey Jr. was a great choice for the role. He's an old-fashioned Tony Stark, quipping and spurting out deductions as fast as we can take them.

And fortunately he does lots and lots of deducing. The mystery is intriguing, and a refreshing change - being a how-done-it instead of the usual who-done-it - and the plot unfolds in a fast-paced, fun style. But what I enjoy most about this version of Sherlock, is the relationship and chemistry between Holmes and Watson. And my favorite side of the duo is the good doctor's. Jude Law and his charming and classic rendition of Watson balances Downey Jr.'s more modern Holmes very nicely.

Above: The reasons this movie worked.

And in general, the sequel, A Game of Shadows does everything the same.

But is "the same" a good thing or a bad thing? And what about that "in general" part? I'll start with that. Basically, the amount of slow-motion stylized action sequences are doubled, and some ridiculous additions are made. Like someone being thrown from a moving train, landing safely in freezing water, and not seeming to be disturbed by it that much. Or Holmes disguising himself as a woman very badly and getting away with it. Silly. They also added super-villain Moriarty, but he was ultimately underwhelming.

Now, "the same." Creatively, that spark of freshness was just a little dull. (Eh, same old, same old...) But Downey Jr. and Law together were also the same, and that is a definite good thing. (Yay, consistency!) And since they have always been the best element of the franchise, the sequel was adequate enough, and I was, for the most part, satisfied.

Above: The reasons THIS movie worked.

To the original film, I give 3.5 stars, and to the sequel, 3.

Next up: A Sherlock Holmes television show special. Stay tuned.