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....

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen Elementary at all, though I do like some CBS procedurals (I love NCIS). But I did see the pilot ep of Sherlock and I really dug it -- just haven't had means or opportunity to watch the rest yet, though I certainly have the motive. One day soon!

    Have you ever seen the Granada TV series from the 80s starring Jeremy Brett? They're my faves, and I totally recommend them.