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Emma 2009

Re: Sherlock and Elementary

Some commentary in reaction to this link

The original poster does a great job of breaking down the good and bad of these two shows. As a fan primarily of the original stories by Conan Doyle (and the Jeremy Brett television series from 1984-1994, and the Clive Merrison BBD radio series from the 90s), I engage a bit differently from what I have observed of the “typical” Sherlock of Elementary fan. So, here’s the original points, and my responses.

Flaws of Sherlock:

1) Women and people of color are shown as props or plot devices

Totally agree…except as a quarter Chinese, quarter Japanese, quarter Bohemian, quarter German person, I really dislike being called a “person of color.” What color, exactly, am I? I understand not wanting to continue marginalization with “non-white,” but to some extent, I’d rather be called “non-white” than something that belongs in a crayon box.

Personal tic, but it does quite bother me.

Not as much as the treatment of race and gender on Sherlock, though. Ugh, Blind Banker, why do you suck so much?

2) Of the six big cases shown in the series, Moriarty is responsible for or connected to five of them. The episode featuring a case that had nothing to do with him also had him appear in a cameo.

The obsession Sherlock Holmes adaptations have with Moriarty is almost as frustrating as the obsession they have with a) Irene Adler, and b) the supernatural. All of these have their place in the canon, but they are roughly 2% of the canon, each. It’s like these adaptations have nothing new to say about the characters except “oooh, they’re in modern day” or “ooh, there’s explosions.”

3) Often comes across as an exercise in self-congratulation by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss

Moffat does not seem to be very good at relating to fandom in a non-inflammatory way. Gatiss is a lot more professional. I don’t really get the self-congratulation so much as fanboyism on both their parts - and as a Sherlock Holmes fanboy, I don’t so much have a problem with it as with their structural writing issues.

4) Queerbaiting.

Um, yes. I totally get wanting to address it - but why is it a joke every time?

5) Seriously though the only people on this show who aren’t white are either background characters or racists stereotypes.

Yup. Though we already covered this. And it should be mentioned that the female white characters don’t get a lot more respect or screentime.

6) Three-episode series, punctuated by more than a year’s hiatus, creates a lot of buildup and runs the risk of not being able to deliver a satisfying payoff.

This is exacerbated by the fact that Moffat and Gatiss refuse to commit either to the episodic, television format or the feature film format. If the former, shrink the episode length and pad the count (and stop having such long breaks, in-demand actors or not); if the latter, expand to 1.75 or 2 hours and stop having hour-long stories with a lot of padding. Even the best of the episodes does not have a strong feature structure. And get rid of the cliffhangers. If you create a quality product, people will want to watch more. If you do not, all the cliffhangers in the world will not save you.

7) Develops the plot around the characters, instead of using the plot to develop the characters.

I’m not quite sure what this complaint is. I do think the plots are really thin, often moronic, and unnecessarily grim for grim’s sake (instead of using the grim to tell a meaningful story about the brokenness of the world).

8) The fans

Freaking yes. The Sherlock fandom tends to be ignorant, cruel, nasty, immature, and extraordinarily hateful. Ask any Elementary fan. Or someone who isn’t white but likes the series, but maybe mentioned that the Blind Banker is racist and sexist.

Benefits of Sherlock

1) Benedict Cumberbatch is well-suited to the role of Sherlock Holmes

Yes. I would also add that Martin Freeman is really well-suited to the role of Dr. Watson. And their relationship is really nicely developed.

2) Producing each series as three telefilms allows for high production values and more focused attention, resulting in an overall higher-quality product

Yes…ish. I do admire Paul McGuigan’s work, but was not nearly as impressed with the other two director’s (the fact that they were paired with Steve Thompson’s writing often didn’t help, though The Reichenbach Fall wasn’t nearly as execrable as The Blind Banker). And McGuigan can be a little annoying (see The Hounds of Baskerville and the ridiculous flashlights at the camera repetition). We’ll have to wait and see about the new directors for series 3. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned above, the length of the episodes really leaves a lot to be desired in the way it highlights the thinness of the plots.

3) The stylistic choice of showing Holmes’ deductions onscreen makes it easier for the plot to continue moving without Holmes needing to explain what he’s worked out to the audience.

4) Showing text messages onscreen is a good adaptation of the stories’ tendency to have letters inserted in the text.

And telegrams. The Victorians were as obsessed with quick, cheap communication as we were (see also The Victorian Internet and Going Postal).

But yes, I agree that the style of the series is often very intelligent.

5) The meta jokes about the deerstalker cap being an invention of the fandom, just like it was in real life

If by “fandom” you mean “Sidney Freaking Awesome Paget” But I do agree that the interaction with Holmes fandom both in and out of universe shows a very good understanding of what makes Holmes cool, and the history of the character and fandom. It’s why I don’t mind Moffat and Gatiss being huge fanboys - I am too.

6) Molly Hooper, all-inclusive

Yes. I adore Molly. Also, I’m a secret Holmes/Molly shipper. It’s all their fault!

7) Andrew Scott is a really good Moriarty

Er, I beg to differ. I find that kind of histrionics quite dull. Especially since all of Moffat’s villains are like that (see also: Doctor Who, Tintin).

8) Fun to watch

Absolutely. Sometimes an absolute joy to watch. Sometimes like poking my eye out (Blind Banker!). Sometimes just fun.

Flaws of Elementary:

1) Product placement

Yeah. I like the Surface, but it does feel awfully forced sometimes. It’s also perhaps a way to avoid Sherlock’s reliance on the smartphone, though.

2) Ms. Watson vs Dr. Watson

Um, not quite sure. I think they’re trying to show the distance Watson has put between herself and her past. I will be super happy if they have her come back to medecine, though, as some part of her life.

3) On CBS

Since I really don’t watch television, I’m guessing this means…um…case of the week? Formulaic? I don’t really know what the deal is with CBS vs the other networks (though they do have lots of sitcoms and crime/lawyer shows).

4) Murder of the week storylines are often forgetten in favor of the far more interesting character arcs for the main cast.

That’s a flaw?

5) Airs at the same time as Hannibal

Not a flaw at all, for me.

Benefits of Elementary:

1) Diverse cast!

I absolutely agree. And as an Asian-American, I really love Watson (one of my favorite characters in the original stories) being someone who represents people like me.

2) The dashing, intelligent, romantic Watson of Doyle’s stories comes across masterfully, as opposed to many previous adaptations that show Watson as just being there to bumble and occasionally tell Holmes how smart he is.

Yeah. Pretty much. :) Surprisingly so, since if I were casting the two leads blind, I would have pegged Liu as Holmes and Miller as Watson - just the types of characters and general sense I got from them - but they’ve done an amazing job. Liu is the warmest I’ve ever seen her, and Miller is coldly analytical without losing the brilliant vulnerability which draws me to him as an actor.

Though I also think Freeman does a really great job with this aspect of Watson.

Finally…er…when was the last time we had a bumbling Watson? Every time there’s a new Holmes adaptation, people are all like “Yo, Watson’s not a doofus like he always is,” but the last time he was a doofus was The Great Mouse Detective. I agree that it’s still a huge public perception problem - but I would say we should fight the perception, not bash other adaptations that are contemporary that have all worked towards the same goal. Jeremy Brett, Sherlock, Elementary, even the Robert Downey Jr films, they’ve all rejected Watson-as-bungler and replaced him with Watson-as-co-hero.

3) A full season order puts the burden of keeping me invested on the production team, not the audience. They do a good job of keeping me invested.

In other words, it’s a normal, good television show. Yup yup. :)

4) Jonny Lee Miller is incredible as Holmes

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Surprisingly so - which makes it the second time Miller has suprised me with awesome (the first time being Mr. Knightley in Emma). Furthermore, his aquiline features, receding hairline, and sharp chin really make him the first Holmes of my generation that looks like Paget’s Holmes. Basil Rathbone in the 40s did it, but Brett, for all his brilliance, did not look like Holmes, and Cumberbatch is nowhere close.

5) The relationship between the characters are so well-done that I almost don’t even need to see them solving murders.


6) Directly acknowledges that Doyle’s Holmes was an addict, plays with that idea, and shows it as a struggle Holmes deals with.

A brilliant look at addiction, without sugar-coating it or over-grimming it.

7) Features a male-female best friend pair who are not pining for one another. It’s not “will they or won’t they.” They just straight-up won’t.

Yes. I am so engaged with Holmes and Watson’s friendship. It seriously is what keeps me coming back.

8) Every moment when Holmes wakes up Watson and is already carrying breakfast or an outfit or just sitting in a chair in her room makes me crack up, because it is clear that he got whatever news he needs to share some time ago and has waited as long as he can for her to wake up on her own.

Holmes and Watson, every part, make me happy. Except for Holmes’ sex things. But whatevs. I do love the way it references the way Holmes in the originals would burst into Watson’s room and say “hey, Watson, we have a case, the game’s afoot.”

9) 20 episodes in, still hasn’t managed to disappoint me.

Yes. In fact, it’s gotten significantly better. The pilot was really kind of lame, but it got a lot better with episode two, and by the middle of the season it was just a cracking show. They haven’t quite reached the highs of Sherlock for me as a Holmes fan (though “I am better with you, Watson” and “I am a man of detail, and it matters to me” have gotten within a hair of it, and might even count), they’ve never reached the lows of that show either.

10) Holmes seems like a person, albeit a very smart one, and not a machine.

Well, he’s definitely still an eccentric, and even the original Holmes was called “an automaton,” but I totally agree. From the very first episode, when Holmes says “Sometimes I hate it when I’m right” when his correctness means someone has been murdered violently, I was overjoyed that this Holmes, while he still lives for his work, does not treat humans as things. He doesn’t connect with them, but he has a passion for justice and the right thing that Cumberbatch’s “high functioning sociopath” can’t comprehend - but is very familiar to fans of Brett or Conan Doyle.

11) Allows characters to develop within a story instead of allowing stories to develop around characters

Erm…still not sure what that means. After all, the mystery-of-the-weeks are sometimes much thinner than Sherlock’s, though the shorter runtime means it doesn’t distract nearly as much.

12) Moriarty plays a role in the story’s development, but isn’t involved in every single crime. Remember, Moriarty was only in one of the original Holmes stories!

So much this.

13) References to Holmes’ beekeeping

And the hundreds of other canon references. My favorite is the brilliant adaptation of Charles Augustus Milverton, and Holmes’ hatred of blackmailers.

This is a bit biased towards Elementary, mostly because the Sherlock fandom really needs no encouragement. I do like both shows a lot, even though my heart belongs first and foremost to the books, then Brett, then these two.

We are living in a Renaissance of Holmes on screen. I am so glad to have lived to see this.


Aw, thanks! I do recommend both, really (and the Jeremy Brett series, and the original short stories, obviously). The Sherlock fandom really is horrible, though. I mean, I liked Mark Strong, and wasn't super happy when JLM took the Knightley role, but I was willing to give him a chance. And I'm so glad I did! I wish Sherlock fans were more aware of things like that.

Cumberbatch - I like what I've heard of him through interviews - after all, everyone has things they don't like. And in general, I'm more interested in the work an actor does than their opinions. :) But I can totally see why that would turn you off - I myself was more than a bit irritated with certain actors who disparage Jane Austen films. :)
I am only a casual 'Sherlock' fan, so I can only comment on this:

6) Three-episode series, punctuated by more than a year’s hiatus, creates a lot of buildup and runs the risk of not being able to deliver a satisfying payoff.

Yes! Yegads but that has made me crazy! Do they want me to watch this show or don't they?!

As to #8 The fans, aren't all fans like that to some extent? LOL!

Sadly, Sherlock fans are quantitatively and qualitatively worse (that is, more of them are jerks than normal). The amount of drama and hysteria and craziness and cruelty to people in and outside of the fandom is simply ridiculous.
Wow, that's quite saying something! Thanks for the warning.
That hasn't been my experience at all. Some of my best friends are "Sherlock" fans. Literally. :-) I'm a fan myself, though I'm not really caught up in the fandom, so maybe I haven't experienced the full craziness. But I do know quite a few nice fans of the show.
I am glad to hear it. I do like the show a lot, and would probably consider myself a "fan," but my experience with the fandom has led to way more exposure (both directly and merely observation) of some of the nastiest, stupid, mean, cruel, and downright scary behavior - in far greater proportion than any other fandom (and I was in Buffy fandom...and any Whedon fandom has its share of really out-there folk).
Cons of Sherlock:

to some extent, I’d rather be called “non-white” than something that belongs in a crayon box.

Oh, hmm. In the (mostly white) anti-racist circles I frequent, "people of color" has become pretty much the universal non-problematic way of referring to people who are not white. I guess it's a bit like the controversy over calling people American Indians versus Native Americans versus First Nations versus I-don't-know-what: you're never going to find one term that pleases everybody. (It's almost as if race were some sort of artificial category arbitrarily imposed upon people who actually have wildly different understandings of what the category actually means, or something.)

2) Basically, please stop leaning on the Moriarty crutch, already.

6) I think this actually is a standard episodic format for British television dramas - the kind which are primarily targeted at a British audience, rather than an international one, anyway. Mystery shows like Foyle's War and Inspector Morse/Inspector Lewis generally have three or four episodes per season, and the episodes are generally 90/100 minutes long. So while the format might not be best for Moffat and his team, it is an established set-up they're working off of.

Pros of Sherlock:

1) Seconded on Freeman as Watson.

3) what was your answer to this one?

7) Still haven't seen the Reichenbach Fall, but what I have seen of their Moriarty so far has been pretty "meh."

Haven't seen any of Elementary yet (it started just around the time I began grad school), though I'm excited to do so once life calms down a bit. As a consequence, not much to comment on the show, positive or negative, except that this discussion has raised my excitement for it. Oh, and also this:

Pros of Elementary:

Finally…er…when was the last time we had a bumbling Watson?

Heh, this reminds me of the "these aren't your cute, cuddly, Hallmark brand of fairies" phenomenon - which dates back at least as far as the 1940s, if not earlier.
I think my problem is that 1) I don't fit well with most of the anti-racist demographic, socially or politically; 2) the phrasing is really clumsy (I seriously feel like I'm being called a crayon); 3) the meaning is the same - we're still non-whites, and if you're not going to specify (because Asian problems are not the same as African problems - and East Asian problems are not the same as South Asian problems), I don't see how the less obvious but still white-centric phrase is any better.

You are right that people are never going to agree - and when talking to non-whites who prefer people of color, I will attempt to be polite and use that term. But for myself (and on my blog :), I will express my dislike of the term freely.

Leaning on the Moriarty crutch is pretty fail in the first place, since you already have a problem writing for someone as smart as Holmes, why do you think you can write for someone his equal? See also: A Game of Morons, where instead of two brilliant adversaries, we have two pompous windbags who spout idiocy.

You make a good point about the 90 minute format - but it's somewhat uncommon in the shows that tend to be crossover US/UK hits. And I think Foyle's War, from what I've seen, is much better suited in the way it tells those longer stories. Sherlock is just short stories stretched and padded (often not even with stuff happening, but just wasteful cinematic tricks) to a semi-theatrical length.

I lumped 3 and 4 together under "style" and said they were both good.

Moriarty is just the typical way theatrical/unbelievable psycho who loves to make devil's bargains and brag about his cleverness without actually being clever. Also he likes to talk about how not caring if people live or die or are in pain or not makes him smart...which...um...that makes no sense. Show me your villains being smart, people, not just talking about it. Elementary poked fun at this trope of monologuing over action. Score another one for Elementary.

Nice point about fairies, too (I assume that's your complaint against people who use "Fae" instead of Fairy). But really - post-Nigel Bruce (who is his own essay), every Sherlock Holmes version has felt the need to say "Our Watson is smart." Which is good...but don't treat it like you're the only one doing it.
But for myself (and on my blog :), I will express my dislike of the term freely.

Of course. I did not at all mean to suggest that I think you're in the wrong on this point; only remarking because I've never encountered this particular perspective before, and just well, this shit is really complicated.

See also: A Game of Morons, where instead of two brilliant adversaries, we have two pompous windbags who spout idiocy.

Ha, pretty much.

I think you're most likely right that the feature-length format is more of a liability for Sherlock than an asset. In your post though, you seemed to be suggesting that it was a very unorthodox format, which would imply that Moffat and co. dreamed up the whole unwieldy thing, which struck me as a bit unfair. I don't even know if it was their idea to make it the episodes ninety minutes long, or if that part came from the BBC. None of that makes it a less unfortunate choice, though.

I lumped 3 and 4 together under "style" and said they were both good.

Ah, I see.

Nice point about fairies, too (I assume that's your complaint against people who use "Fae" instead of Fairy)

It's not my point, actually, I cribbed it from someone on ferretbrain, probably Dan Hemmens. Whoever it was pointed out that a lot of stories about fairies in the past decade or two have felt the need to include a disclaimer at some point that the fairies in this book are dark and dangerous and amoral, not the cute and cuddly fairies you're used to. (Even Pratchett got in on the act, although he did it with elves.) And the question is, are there really that many contemporary stories of fairies as beings of pure sweetness and light? My only contribution was in discovering that use ofexactly this type of disclaimer goes at least as far back as T H White's Sword in the Stone.
It is indeed complicated - sorry if I jumped on you. I appreciate people pointing out that complication - too many people from all kinds of political backgrounds just assume that racial stuff is easy - either colorblind or PC or what have you - and all approaches miss huge chunks of people and perspectives.

Ah - I'm not sure if Moffat and co dreamed it up - so good call there - but I'm fairly certain they have a choice as to what they can do with it. They could have chosen to do the 6 one-hours, or the 4 one-hour two-parters, or any of the other formats, all of which I think would have been better suited to Sherlock Holmes. Though being Doctor Who vets, I'm sure they wanted to do something different structurally.

But if that's the case, I really wish they'd gone with the feature structure, instead of letting the beats follow the tv structure, leaving large sections to be filled up, and never providing the same amount of payoff that something that length should provide. Except for maybe Scandal in Belgravia. That one is perhaps the best structured (and even that one has so many wasted moments).

Well, there is the Disney Fairies brand, which is still going quite strong (and honestly, I actually enjoy the Tinker Bell DVDs, mostly because I'm an embarrassing Peter Pan sucker - not actually the Disney Peter Pan, but Barrie's original and the 2003 live-action film).

No worries - I appreciate getting a fresh perspective on the topic.

I'm still not sure what format would work best for a show like Sherlock, maybe because my viewings have been so sporadic. About as much as I have been able to notice is that the current structure does tend to drag quite a bit, with "Scandal in Belgravia" being, as you say, a sort-of exception.

You'd be right on track with my Mom, then, as she's also a major Peter Pan fan, although her favorite is Hook from the 1990s with Robin Williams, and I think Dustin Hoffman as Hook (don't quote me on that). I think she hasn't read the original Barrie in a while, and the last time she did, she found it pretty weird.

But as far as fairies go, yeah, there's Disney, but even so, with so many authors writing about fairies being all "dark man, dark" pretty consistently ever since Gaiman, trying to pass off what they're doing as original and edgy starts to become a little suspect.

Heck, even Tinkerbell has a pretty huge nasty and conniving streak which doesn't sit too well with the light and twinkly view of fairies.
I think that in general, a 42-60 minute slot works best for adapting stories of Sherlock Holmes length. Just the scope of the cases tends to be better for that type of length. Moriarty could be adapted to a good novel - which I'd say is either 2 hours, or 2 one-and-a-half episode lengths - but you'd have to do it very well, and most people really don't. I'm hoping that Elementary is an exception, but probably not.

Hook's not my favorite, but it does have its moments. Original Barrie has the mother of all Oedipus complexes (pun semi-intended :)

Disney Tink is pretty much just "nice teen girl" - not an angel, but not at all trying for "historical" or grimdark fairy. I do like me some dark fairies, and don't even mind "fae," but I don't like people pretending they're being new. :)