I tried writing this post last night at 3 am and it devolved into a rambling mess. I have a cold, I couldn’t sleep, and thought if I could be productive that would help. Pro tip: you can write whenever, and you should, but be willing to proofread what you’ve written when you’re in altered mental states. Sometimes it’s brilliant, other times you’re trying to summon old gods into our universe to devour the non-believers. Check your work and save a life.
But to pass away my time while disease-stricken, I’ve been watching The Crown. Experience has taught me to not judge a show too fast (See Stranger Things), so I didn’t feel like I had enough information to talk about it confidently yet. But it did leave me feeling very British, and when I stopped, I was left thinking of quintessential British things. Sherlock Holmes came to mind, and after looking through my blog, I realized I had never written anything about the story. That’s odd, since I really enjoy the character and his adventures..
To a point.
As of now, there are perhaps two dominant reimagining of the character: Sherlock on BBC, and Elementary on CBS. Two shows with very different feels. You know what that means – we get to ask which is better and which is worse, and I think the answer could surprise you. Join me on our newest investigation into the modern Sherlock Holmes and how the two shows are not created equal. Now, the game is afoot (I’ve always wanted to say that).
In a situation like this, Holmes would dance around a subject and try to get his fellows to arrive at their own conclusions. If this post is going to be about him, perhaps we can do something similar.
See, I’ve watched all ten episodes of Sherlock, and I like it. But the show is not perfect for some reasons I’ve mentioned before and some new ones we’ve yet to cover.
First and foremost, let’s briefly talk about what we’ve already mentioned. For those who read my thing on Gay Animes, you’ll remember I spoke briefly about “Queer Baiting”. Well, this show is the Mastermind of the gay bait and switch, and it makes the show hard to watch. There are way too many instances of Holmes and Watson sitting together somewhere talking about being not gay but how they’re fine with it, while also saying, in a coy way, that they would never think of gently kissing the other in order to feel something other than the constant churning of logic or the fears of a war torn past…
Sorry, I got off track.
But that’s what I mean, the show is full of lead on moments, and they go nowhere. It’s all tried and true heteronormative. All of it. That’s not inherently bad if you’re bringing something new to the occasion, all relationships are new and unique in their own ways, but there in lies the main heart of Sherlock’s problem. It’s much too safe. No risks are taken, the formula never deviates or tries anything new or interesting. Characters appear as they always have from the stories, sometimes verbatim. Again, not always bad, but the thing about an adaptation is that some elements are going to work well in one medium and not as well in another.
Some of the characters don’t make the transition into the new setting as well as they could have. Sherlock and Watson in particular suffer from this strange condition. Sherlock gets to prance about and be a jerk to everyone, offending people and disregarding their feelings and everyone just has to deal with him. Fuck they praise him for it. Watson can hardly hold still for thirty seconds without a “brilliant” or “that’s amazing” to inflate Sherlock’s ego, and it get’s annoying watching him trample people beneath his super brain while they shrug. “That’s just who he is. We can’t expect him to change. It’s the legendary Sherlock Holmes, who are we but worms beneath his mammoth intellect?”
Better than this.
Ratiocination had its place in history, with Poe and other writers, but that time has passed. What’s more, racism and xenophobia also has its place in the past, which doesn’t stop Sherlock from relying on old stereotypes to draw plot from. Anyone who lives there would tell you London is a diverse city with many walks of life. Yet the most important characters are the straight white men, strolling in with their long, black coats to save the day. Every other culture is portrayed in ways that were a much better fit for some Penny Dreadful at the turn of the century. Japan has ninjas, the Middle East is full of terrorists, Eastern Europe is still the Soviet Union, and Gays are some underground denizens of deviancy thinking of nothing other than sex and corruption.
“But ho, good sir,” I hear you scribbling with your quill and ink, “What of the seductress, Ms. Irene Adler? As one will clearly note, she is shown to fancy individuals of both genders equally. Therein lies your diversity, my good man.” By jove, you are a most exceptional idiot, sir. Adler is written in the hand of someone who’s never been gay, never known anyone to be gay, and is fighting against their Christian teachings to portray a character that is homosexual without talking about the nature of evil or the Karma Sutra. Turns out, they fail. Her character is a one-trick pony – and the trick isn’t even all that good. Letting her walk around naked does not a good character make. Otherwise, the porn industry would be the heights of literature.
The culprit, dear reader, is none other than Moffat himself, and its apparent when you compare the later works of Doctor Who with the show in question. What was once a celebration of diversity and new stories has become a jerk off of the genius of the Doctor in all situations – an endless stream of man-pain flowing with the river of evil aliens with little depth. It’s safe. It’s samey. It can be boring. I like it because it’s shot well. Moffat doesn’t know how to make characters, but he knows how to work a camera. Plus, the cases they come up with, when they’re good, are pretty compelling.
And Moriarty is fun. A little uninspired and over the top, but its different from what we’ve seen before. But it’s not enough for me to admit that the show is good. It would make me a liar.
It’s Elementary My Dear
So is it impossible to bring Sherlock into a more contemporary time? Is the character outdated to the point of not being relevant anymore? In some ways, yes, but all hope is not lost. CBS, in this instance, has an answer.
Elementary is the other major reimagining of the character and cast, and I feel it to be a much better caliber of show. The budget isn’t as big, it’s not shot as well as Sherlock and lacks some of the drama, but makes up for it in realism and sympathetic characters, rather than old and worn monoliths who are impossible to relate to.
If you haven’t had the chance to watch it, Sherlock is living in exile from London after a stint of drugs and an overbearing father. Living in NYC, he attempts to help the police there on a good word from said father. To keep him off the blow, Lucy Liu stars as a new kind of Watson, a surgeon turned addiction sponsor with a tragic past trying to find a new spark in her life.
Now this is interesting stuff, characters are new and CBS is willing to take risks. They might not have panned out, that’s always the case with an adaptation, but here, I think they really pay off. The stories they get to tell are new and compelling, and the setting really lets the city that never sleeps breath with life. Characters and stories are diverse, people are people and not just placeholders for race or sex or orientation. It’s NYC, fuck, almost anything goes, and Elementary isn’t afraid to show that.
And perhaps most interestingly to me, Sherlock doesn’t get off the hook for anything. Intellect can never be an insulation to relationships, and thus, when Sherlock decides to be reclusive and petty with people’s feelings, he’s rightly punished by the cast. Through this, his character changes and shifts in interesting ways, and it makes Sherlock feel like someone real that could be living in the world, rather than just out of a book from where the newest and coolest tech was this whole electric light business. If you’re going to make something modern, this is the way to do it.
And when there are assets from the old works, they get a new life as well. Hell(spoilers), Irene and Moriarty are the same person, so it’s a woman that becomes the nemesis. Now you have a whole new story to tell about the two of them – how they were ex-lovers drawn to each other for reasons they can’t explain, each withholding powerful secrets from the other. That’s what I’m talking about! That’s something I can get behind. New and fresh and compelling, and perhaps even better than Irene walking around naked. Shocker, I know, but there you have it.
Again, watch both. As I said before, it’s more important that you form your own opinions about the shows. People love Sherlock despite the things I’ve said. I’m sure people will differ some, but that’s okay. The internet always allows for polite and thoughtful discourse, right?
I invite you to let me know what you think about the two shows. Stay sharp, questions everything. I’d give Sherlock three God Save the Queens out of five. Elementary gets eight deer stalkers out of ten. Jolly good show, well done. Case Closed.