Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is the net building better Sherlockians?

Penn Gillette has an opinion that comes up on his podcast from time to time that makes me wonder about its Sherlockian application. Penn contends that the internet has made better jugglers. The internet has nothing to do with the act of juggling, 'tis true, but the way it brings ideas to people who might not have seen them previously is doing marvelous things. The example he gives is a pair of sisters in a part of Russia who would never have been around any jugglers, have been able to see any jugglers perform in person, but thanks to YouTube and what they saw there, developed their skills on their own and became two of the best jugglers in the world today.

When I first encountered the works of Sherlock Holmes fandom, it was because my French class took a field trip to Chicago and I found a collection of Sherlockian scholarship in a bookstore there. From there, I found the fandom and connected, but the chain of probability was pretty slim. I had to take French. I had to go on the field trip. I had to go to that bookstore, and once there, I had to see that book. Can you imagine how many potentially amazing Sherlock Holmes fans missed out on such a chance that same year?

Our new interconnectedness means finding the fandom of Sherlock Holmes is easier than ever, and it also adds a new factor: creating a fandom of Sherlock Holmes is easier than ever. If I just want to start writing articles expressing my love of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, I can just start putting them out there and let Sherlock Holmes fans find me. I dearly love how the Baker Street Babes sprung to life without seeking the blessing of any existing parts of the cult.

The only thing is, as easy as it is to find some tentacle of Sherlock Holmes fandom, seeing it all, truly capturing the big picture, is now nearly impossible. Wessex Press is going to try to capture a bit of that magic with their volume The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age: Essays on Sherlockiana by Online Fandom concieved by the Babes. It's probably the book that I'm most looking forward to in the coming year. (Well, once Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes comes out next month!)

As this blog is really an extension of an ongoing Sherlockian commentary that started in a monthly newsletter in 1983, I don't really consider it a part of the new age of online Sherlockian fandom. There are far too many cranky old guy notions floating around my Sherlockian brain, so I'm always delighted to see fresh work from new folk. (Despite that sentence, Elementary is still a load of crap. Seriously.) Some of the research and theorizing on tumblr about Sherlock's survival of the Reichenbach fall on Sherlock's final episode was both brilliant and impressive in its detail.

The new age of internet-triggered Sherlockians is already producing good work, and hopefully the Penn Gillette theory will prove true about our little hobby as well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And the reply is . . . ?

The second morning after Christmas is nigh upon us, the time which Dr. Watson called upon Sherlock Holmes with the intent of wishing him the compliments of the season. Just like that. No quotation marks around "compliments of the season," no indication that Watson was intending to use just those words. And yet Sherlock Holmes fans have been using "Compliments of the Season" as their chosen holiday greeting since "The Blue Carbuncle" was originally published.

Had Fox News instituted its silly "War on Christmas" agenda in 1892, Conan Doyle would surely have been pilloried for not having Watson specifically wish Holmes a hearty, "Merry Christmas!" Or not. We really don't know exactly what compliments Watson intended to wish Sherlock Holmes for the season. Happy Hannukah, Happy Christmas, Happy Solstice, Happy Boxing Day, Happy New Year's . . . so many to choose from. And yet, with all the research, all the time and care that Sherlockians have put into ferreting out details of Holmes and Watson's lives, we've allowed the vague, generality of "compliments of the season" to stand, decade after decade. And why not?

How many other fandoms have their own private all-purpose Christmas greeting, though? It's the sonic screwdriver of holiday wishes! A wonderful thing, really.

But it struck me this year that we have Watson's intentions, as unspecifically worded as they may be, we don't even come close to knowing Sherlock Holmes's reply. Especially as Watson never got to wish Holmes those compliments. But I think the answer is there, if we look closely enough.

With Watson, we have the intention but not the words. With Holmes, we have the opposite: the words but not the intentions.

"You are engaged, perhaps I interrupt you," Watson winds up saying, instead of his compliments.

"Not at all," replies Holmes. "I am glad to have a friend with whom to discuss my results."

Yes, Holmes is busy with a little intellectual puzzle. But his first reaction to Watson's interruption?

To invite Watson to join him.

And that isn't just Holmes being full of Christmas spirit for a few winter days. That spirit is the spirit of friendship that Sherlock Holmes always showed John H. Watson. Despite what this or that poor reading of Holmes and Watson comes through second-hand adaptations on occasion, Sherlock Holmes always treated Watson as a friend, the way men do at their best. And that is a spirit for the whole year 'round.

So if you're getting wished the compliments of the season, you can meet Watson with Watson, and wish some compliments right back. But there's also a Sherlock Holmes option to remember as well, a reply to compliments of the season as Sherlock himself would do . . . an invitation to come on in and join the adventure.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The eve of destruction.

Well, Happy Mayan Apocalypse Eve, everybody!

By the time you read this, the latest end of the world prophecy may either be disproven or you're perusing a saved copy of the blog on your fleeing spaceship. If the latter, thanks for carrying my final blog to strange new worlds and new civilizations. If the former, I'm very sorry . . . I guess this means CBS's Elementary is going to finish out its season.

But as I sit here, that Mayan sword of Damocles hanging over my head, I have to pause to reconsider all of the criticism I've heaped upon this latest attempt to recreate that character we know and love called "Sherlock Holmes." Like any attempt by man to create life in his own image, sometimes you just get a Frankenstein's monster. (And sometimes you use an actor who partnered with a great Holmes actor in a Frankenstein play.) So it goes. But it makes me wonder . . . if the burgomeister of Frankenstein Village had a blog, would he have just sat in his basement and bitched online about the monster being created up the mountain, instead of getting out the torches and townsfolk? And it's a timely question. Why?

As the Mayan doomsday bears down on us, every good Sherlockian must ask him or her self this all important question: Did I do enough to battle this monument to misunderstanding Sherlock Holmes that CBS called Elementary? Will I get to spend the after-apocalypse in the Celestial 221B, or be damned to the Icy Silence of the Diogenes Club, where those who accepted false Sherlocks must keep their opinions to themselves for eternity, having invalidated their views on Brett, Rathbone, and Downey with their one last, horrific misjudgement? Is it mere coincidence that Elementary is showing on apocalypse eve?

Yes, Elementary is on tonight, rerunning the third episode. Yes, the one where Mr. Elementary spray paints a TV news camera instead of simply going, "Stop! Don't shoot!" Not cool, Mr. Elementary, not cool! But, much like the movie series Twilight, one could say Elementary just got better and better since that episode and the ones before it. And like Twilight movies, that's a very low bar for passing judgement.

Is Elementary anywhere close to the quality of Monk or House, our two other American Sherlock-based shows, at this point in its run? How about C.S.I. or Law and Order? Sure, it may not pass the Sherlock Holmes standard -- that guy has been being adapted for a hundred years. But how about within the category of its peers (which kindly leaves out all those good BBC shows, like Luther or that one that begins with an "S")? Well, the Mayan apocalypse is here, isn't it? At that really answers the question for us.

There are a lot of theories about the Mayan calendar and this 2012 thing, but here's the one that now makes the most sense: The Mayans were ahead of their time on a lot of things, one of which was making TV listings for shows that weren't even on yet, and somehow archeologists, not realizing that the Mayans had marvelous powers of predicting TV shows, misinterpreted the TV listings to be a calendar. And when the Mayans got done with the evening of December 20th, apparently, they looked at each other and went, "Do you really want to list at least fourteen more episodes of Elementary, not including reruns?"

And they quit, then and there. So when you see the rising sun each new morn and our world is still here, you can happily say to yourself, "Huh. It must have been TV listings after all! Those amazing Mayans and their standards of quality television!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Balls of history. Well, one at least.

As a Sherlockian of limited travel budget (and, as career whimsies would have it, limited opportunity this year), I find it interesting to see what events really cause me to have great regrets at not being able to attend.

There are the old favorites of course. Minneapolis in August of this year, for example, is going to be a killer to miss. The local group and the university collections combine to make something that is without peer every few years. There are events especially full of old friends. (Most of whom probably think I've deserted them these days.) And then there are the occasional first-time moments in history that are kind of like missing Ronald Knox's original delivery of his paper "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" or Christopher Morley's first gathering of puzzle winners.

The "Daintiest Thing Under a Bonnet" charity ball may be just one more event in a crowded New York weekend full of events to some. Sherlock Holmes's birthday has been well-celebrated in New York City for decades. But this one is something special, for a lot of reasons.

1.) It's a ball. I can't remember the last time Sherlockians had a ball. (Yes, they "have a ball" in the colloquial sense every time they gather. But not a "ball" ball. The dance kind. And I hope there's dancing. Sherlockians have always needed to dance more.)

2.) It's a charity thing with all the proceeds going to something that is in no way self-serving, the Wounded Warrior Project. It has Watsonian connotations, yes, but unlike the many libraries, educational programs, or travel fundage charities Sherlockian functions usually support, this is pure, unquestionably selfless charity, with no thought to benefitting our fandom long-term.

3.) The Baker Street Babes, who have only been in existence since May of 2011, are making a huge, very visible move into the B.S.I. weekend. Less than two years after they first formed. Think about that one for a minute, those of you who might like to discount them as mere fangirls of the wisp. We had swollen ranks of new fans back in Jeremy Brett's prime, but did they manage any sort of organized presence at the Big Weekend in NYC? Not even close.

The Baker Street Babes continue to impress. I only hope they don't let the momentum of their irresistible force be absorbed by the unmovable object that is the historically existing Sherlockian establishment when they collide this January. The new ideas, events, and cookies they have added to the culture of Sherlock Holmes fandom has only just begun, and I am very excited to see what they're going to come up with next.

It just may be from a distance for a little while . . . .

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another week of Mr. Elementary

Loud pop music. High-tech jewel thieves. Twin blonde beauties in shirts that barely cover a certain body part that Watson seems to be checking out as one walks away. This week’s episode of Elementary began as the best episode to date. Or at least the most attractive.

Oddly, as out-of-character as it seems, a Sherlock Holmes who likes three-ways has been done before . . . but not in anything anyone respects . . . and here it is again. Where BBC’s Sherlock purposefully pays tribute to movie Sherlocks past, Elementary seems to stumble into references to really bad made-for-TV Holmes films.

It’s still not Sherlock Holmes. The character Jonny Lee Miller plays is still a punk who likes to spout facts constantly, rather than saving his discoveries for the best dramatic effect. (Amazing that a television show that should seek out drama doesn’t use that.)

And it’s still not Dr. Watson. Lucy Liu playing the every(wo)man at Holmes’s side is like a halogen headlight being subdued enough to use as a household flashlight. The power she’s wielded on screens big and small for so many years is something a fan of hers just wants to see come blasting out -- I still contend she’s a better Sherlock Holmes actor than her partner. Allowed to go for it, she could turn Miller’s character into a petulant Watson in seconds.

But Elementary is evolving. This week, Mr. Elementary quit hanging around those dingy NYPD precinct houses quite so much, which was a marked improvement. (Not to mention those twin blondes in the opening.) Night-time outdoors scenes were prettier. 
Mr. Elementary keeping a recovered valuable smacks of the real Sherlock Holmes for one second, then Watson’s brother shows up, non-drunken, the next, as the show flirts with Canon then ditches it again. But is this show's evolution going to cause a full-fledged Sherlock Holmes to eventually emerge, months or years from now? Or is it going to continue to dog-paddle around the hack end of the pool?

"The rabbit is a . . . ma . . . zing," says Mr. Elementary, and he's still not being written as the quotable clever detective we're supposed to take him to be. Of course, it's hard to be quotable when you just won't quit talking. The crimes on Elementary have the same diarrhea-stream overabundance. A lovely, big-time jewel robbery isn't enough crime to carry a whole episode. The corpse of a decaying murder victim has to turn up, of course. 

The basic mandate of writing for Elementary seems to be "just keep things moving as fast as possible so no one has time to actually think about what is happening." Too fast for character development. Too fast for any depth of emotional engagement. And then, all at once, the latest episode is over. That horn that blares to mark the end of a football game should sound, just to rouse its viewers when the show is over.

And once Watson's mom speaks wisely of how happy Mr. Elementary makes her, this week's episode faded out, heading full-cheese-ahead in that direction that seemed inevitably there from day one. 

Sad to see so many production dollars wasted on something so not Sherlock Holmes at a time when the character is at a peak. To think we actually could have gotten a trifecta of Sherlocks out of all this would have been . . . well, beyond belief.

Sadly, it still seems to be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spock and Sherlock 2012

Trivia time: Can you name a movie of the last few years that featured, not one, but three people who claimed Sherlock Holmes as an ancestor?

I'll wait here for a moment, if you want to think about it.

If you came up with the title, chances are that you are one of those folks we might call the "Sherlekkie."

And as much as that looks like a mispelling of some rare Holmes fan who's really into Conan Doyle's second wife, Jean Leckie, it's not. The movie that's answers the trivia question is the 2009 Star Trek, which feature the Leonard Nimoy version of Mr. Spock, who once quoted Holmes as "an ancestor of mine" in a previous movie, as well as the younger version of himself played by Zachary Quinto. Since the two Spocks came to exist together in the same timeline, they count as two people but both share that same ancestor. And since Spock's mother, Amanda Grayson (played by Winona Ryder), was obviously the source of his human genetics, she too qualifies as a descendant of Sherlock Holmes.

Geeky enough for you?

Tying Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek together goes back as far as Star Trek itself. Mr. Spock's Vulcan logic found its natural predecessor in Sherlock Holmes's powers of deduction, and fans of one have long been, quite naturally, fans of the other. Even Spock's attempted Star Trek: The Next Generation replacement character, Mr. Data, went so far as to don deerstalker and Invernesse cloak at least once.

One of the great dismays of my Sherlockian life was the demise of a great little fanzine called The Holmesian Federation that centered on crossing over Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but wandered into many another fandom as well (the apparent source of its demise due to a copyright infringement case). With Star Trek proving to have seemingly as much long-term viability as Sherlock Holmes these days, it's a real shame that tradition couldn't have continued.

Of course, with the wide open world of the internet, who's to say it won't or hasn't.

And consider this little notion: Mr. Spock said, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, just said, "An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. If we did not fire those torpedoes, another ship did."

Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would dearly love to see fanfic crossing over Zachary Quinto's Spock with Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes (Despite the inevitable, "Hey, you look like that villain Gary Mitchell!" that's sure to be coming from the May movie). After all, Cumberbatch's Holmes used the "improbable/impossible" line in "The Hounds of Baskerville," so he could be the ancestor of Spock's instead of Victorian Sherlock Holmes . . . except for that one small thing.

Watson calls Sherlock "Spock" in that same episode, which creates an inter-fiction paradox that seems inescapable. Unless, of course, we can convince ourselves that Watson was comparing Sherlock to Dr. Spock the popular baby doctor of decades past. Finally! A use for that Mr. Spock/Dr. Spock confusion that has plagued Trekkies for years!

And if the Quinto Spock can be an ancestor of Cumberbatch Sherlock . . . and the Benedict Cumberbatch villain of the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness has those Cumberbatch looks that definitely make him, too, a descendant of Cumberbatch Holmes (Re-read The Hound of the Baskervilles -- it's that Sir Hugo/Stapleton thing all over again!) . . . well, can you spell "Sherlekkie geekgasm?" (There's a spelling bee nightmare.)

Two more descendents of Sherlock in the same movie! Is this a great world, or what?

The return of Shirelock Helms

As much as a Sherlockian might oft be seen as the fan of single interest, we all have our little side fancies that pull us away at times. Sometimes we try to take them down a Holmes-ish path, but even that is perhaps justifying our straying from the true Baker Street path. So I hope you'll understand my less frequent blogging this past week when I tell you this:

Shirelock Helms and I crossed paths again a week ago Saturday, and I've fallen prey to that dangerously addictive habit that I like to experiment with from time to time, the massive multi-player online role-playing game.

Yes, Shirelock is one of my toons in The World of Warcraft.

Of course, having come up with this Warcraft character some eight years ago in January of 2005 (All Sherlocks and Shirelocks must be born in January!), I'm feeling pretty prescient about tying the Shire to Sherlock, now that my favorite Watson is playing the hobbit.

But it's all just balm for my guilt at paying more attention to Warcraft than Sherlock this week, but after the long autumn of Elementary, I'm sure more than a few folks would say I should take the distraction. 'Tis the holiday season and all, a time for peace and joy and reading "The Blue Carbuncle," and not beating up televised punching bags.

And if one wants to wander off-topic but still be tied to Sherlock, there's always . . .

          . . . something I'll be putting in an entirely different blog post.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Zombies, zombies, everywhere.

We have entered an age of zombies.

TV, movies, zombie walks, zombie 5K runs . . . the shambling undead have struck a nerve with modern man (and woman). If you consider the theme of most reality TV shows, you can quickly find a clue to what the attraction: they're the one sort of human that everyone can look down on. They're stupid. They're ugly. They stink. No matter how badly you've let yourself go, you've still got one up on zombies.

Once upon a time, however, we enjoyed fictions of the sort of human we could look up to, and Sherlock Holmes was right up there with the best of them. Classy, intelligent, successful. The guy was just cool, living in what was at the time, the great center of English-speaking culture. 

But in the age of zombies, do we also need a zombie Sherlock Holmes?

I'm not sure whether that phrase "zombie Sherlock Holmes" means "Sherlock Holmes for the zombies"" or "Sherlock Holmes who is a zombie." Or both, which is entirely possible.

A shabby, hobo-fashionista who dogged moves through a shabby and grim metropolis, letting Pop-up Video facts fall endlessly from his scruffy mouth, providing weekly entertainment to mindless masses whose numbers provoke horror in those with the light of sentience left in their eyes.

If you've ever watched AMC's The Walking Dead, you know the kind of grim persistence a zombie Earth creates in the survivors. And as the strange experiment we call "watching Elementary" continues, I'm noticing a similar headspace coming on for some of us among the Sherlockian faithful.

 Keeping up with all things Sherlock has always had moments of biting the bullet and enduring a film that wasn't quite up to modern standards, or some strange foreign thing with Holmes dealing with intestinal issues. But they were always isolated occurrences, single events that were survived and then done. But this week-in and week-out listening to a person who is so far from Sherlock Holmes being called by that name, seeing a Watson whose designation as "companion" seems to have little to do with actually accompanying that person, and a cast of supporting characters with no continuity in the lore of the original Holmes, or even in their own fictional reality . . . it wears at the spirit like the Highlander of flu bugs.

Sure, we could ignore this zombie infestation of Sherlock Holmes culture. We could pretend Sherlock Holmes will still be Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone when this is all over. But Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch have already upset that apple cart, in productions that both added their own very nice touches to the legend. The times are a-changing.

Best pay attention, despite the unpleasantness. Because the zombies always get the ones who aren't looking first.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A real pair of stars' trek.

This week the teaser poster came out for May's Star Trek: Into Darkness, and the general feeling is that the single well-coated figure standing amidst devastation with all London laid out before him is Benedict Cumberbatch's character in the movie. If his villain turn is even close to what it potentially could be, our British Sherlock's star is going to be glowing brightly by June.

And with pre-release buzz for the first part of The Hobbit at a raging high, Martin Freeman, our British Watson (is there any other kind, really?) is already going nova. A delay of the third season of Sherlock to allow for these two stars' schedules is horrible news for one and all, but who can begrudge two such fine actors all the success in the world.

But who says we can't have it all? The third season of the series is contracted and sure to happen, but after that? The series is over, right?

Yes. The television series.

If someone in movieland isn't bright enough to put the pieces together and see what money could be made by putting Cumberbatch and Freeman together in a certain pair of roles, Hollywood must not be as interested in making money as they're known for being.

Between BBC and Moffat and Gatiss and whoever, couldn't somebody work out a way to bring Sherlock to the big screen, with all the budget and creativity such a venture would deserve?

My lord, that could even redeem a certain CBS show about certain supposed characters in the modern day, were American theater-goers (and later, DVD viewers) be given a full chance to see what a modern day Sherlock Holmes can really be done like!

Cumberbatch and Freeman get the continued success their talents deserve, we get more Sherlock . . . it's the sort of thing the phrase "win-win" was invented for.

So wish the boys well in their movie turns. They're still fairly young, and hopefully have plenty of Holmes and Watson left in them, on whatever stage life provides.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Just a show. La la la.

"If you're wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts (la la la), then repeat to yourself, 'It's just a show, I should really just relax . . ."
Those lyrics, written by Joel Hodgson and Josh Weinstein for Mystery Science Theater 3000, are always a happy reminder of one of the basic commandments of enjoying movies, television, and fiction of any media type. But as anyone who has seen a movie whose characters work in your very own profession knows, it can be a very had mantra to live by. If you're a plumber and the characters are slapping pipes together in some manner that would never work in reality, you're going to have a much harder time with the "relax" part than someone who doesn't know a thing about pipefitting.

As a regular moviegoer, that fine line that demarcates an individual's suspension of disbelief has always fascinated me. And it isn't just in movies that the line fascinates me. The act of writing "tongue in cheek" is always an interesting exercise in playing on the border of reality and fiction, as one writes something as if it's their true belief, yet is obviously pulling the reader's leg. Sherlockian scholarship has always been chock-full of such essays (including a notable recent piece by Lyndsay Faye at on the difference between a fandom and the Baker Street Irregulars of New York), and I have written more than a few myself.

One of the things I love most about Sherlock Holmes's long and storied fandom is that, in it's own way "it's just a show." There's a meta-fandom element to Sherlockiana that is where I've always had the best time. There are enough serious parts to our lives. Our hobbies are the places where we relax, kick back, and let the wine and words flow freely.

At least for most of us. As with professional wrestling, there will always be some fans that think the show is real, and that the wrestlers really have melodramatic feuds being played out in the ring. New folks, just walking into the arena, are always sure to make that mistake at first, but they usually get the in on the fun before too long.

So let's get back to my favorite topic this year, CBS's Elementary, and the seething rage that often gets played out on these blog post pages. Elementary is just a show, right? How can a person get so incredibly worked up about a silly Thursday night detective show, when he should really just relax? (La la la.)

Well, the thing to remember is this: when you come right down to it, a blog is just a show as well. It's kind of a lame reality show, with truthful moments edited and tweaked for maximum effect, but in the end, it's just a show. You can take it or leave it, and it really doesn't have anything to do with our everyday duties to society and keeping reality functioning smoothly. (You are keeping up with your duties to society, aren't you? Tsk, tsk.)

I do, really and truly, believe that Elementary is a mistake of a TV show. Does that keep me up at night? No. Do I enjoy poking it with a stick? Yes.

We can't fire missiles at cars that cut us off during rush hour. We can, thankfully, lob verbal hand grenades at silly TV shows, especially if we're objective enough to see how silly that we can be in doing so. Too many folks with media platforms these days take themselves too seriously and then get upset when their fictional realities don't play out in real life. But the Sherlockian world, with its convictions upon things like "Conan Doyle was Watson's literary agent," is a handy place to occasionally go on a pointless crusade just to blow off steam.

And boy, am I steaming about that Elementary . . . yeah, it's just a show, but then, aren't we all? (La la la.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Sherlock Christmas in Peoria.

Ah, I am a happy Sherlockian tonight.

Not very far up Knoxville Avenue from me, here in good old Peoria, Illinois, the Richwoods Christian Church put on its Christmas play tonight. The very talented lady who directed the production, Melissa Anderson, made sure there was a reminder on the Sherlock Peoria Facebook page today, and for that, and the play, I am very grateful.

The Greatest Mystery of All, a Kids Rock Christmas play, was presented for one night only, tonight at 7:00 before an audience of around five or six hundred people, with a cast of a hundred or more. And what do you do with a Christmas play cast that large? Well, you have kids singing Christmas carols in voices that range from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special to the Little Rascals. You have Mary and Joseph and the whole nativity cast. And then, if you're the coolest children's play director on Earth, you have Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mycroft, Irene Adler, all three Violets, Scotland Yard, the Baker Street Irregulars, Professor Moriarty, and . . . Watson's little brother Nigel.

It was a Sherlockian's dream.

Literally, it was a Sherlockian's dream. The play begins with a fellow named Andrew and his friend Stephanie watching the end of the Jeremy Brett adaptation of "Blue Carbuncle." Stephanie goes off to watch Mission Impossible, and Andrew falls asleep reading the story of Jesus's birth. And then dreams he is Billy the page, with Stephanie as Mrs. Hudson (but secretly Jane Carter, a Mission: Impossible team organizer). They, and the whole boatload of Sherlock Holmes characters, wind up back in time, in Nazareth to investigate the mystery of the son of God being born on Earth.

(Which is an especially odd coincidence for me, as an advance copy of Len Bailey's Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye just came in the mail last week, in which "the world's greatest detective tackles the Bible's ultimate mysteries." A lot of mysterious ways going on here lately, let me tell you.)

Anyway, what followed was a whole lot of fun. Only in a Sherlockian's bad popcorn dream could Watson have an unexplained, non-Canonical little brother named Nigel (who looked a lot like the Watson of the movie Young Sherlock Holmes), and Irene Adler lead a female investigative team made up of Violet Hunter, Violet Morton, and Violet Westbury. Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade provided great comedy, often being outshone by their constables Turner and Grant, and when Mary and Joseph were being tailed by Holmes's crew, who was being tailed by Adler's crew, who had Scotland Yard behind them, and with a gang of angels and the Baker Street Irregulars in the mix as well . . . great comedy.

But just the right Christmas songs at just the right points in the traditional nativity tale always brought the pageant back to it's central theme, even if marshalling the pre-K kids' talents was literally a show-stopper as one might expect, and the revelation that Mycroft had connections in places higher than previously thought helped bring a perfect dovetailed solution to this dreamy mix of two Canons.

All in all, it was a splendid evening full of surprises for the Holmes fan lucky enough to get to see it, and a great introduction to the classic Holmes (background on all the characters filled the back half of the program) for all the kids involved. As I said, I am very grateful that I got the chance to see it and share an evening out with the good Carter, who, it must be said, is quite the fan of Christmas.

And for those who keep records of such things, and I know there are some out there: Sherlock Holmes was played by Elijah Wilkes and Dr. Watson was played by Julien Rouleau. You can now add their names to that incredibly long roster of thespians who have taken those classic roles. The name of the play was The Greatest Mystery of All, and there was no mystery about its entertainment value.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just another Thursday night rant. Sigh.

Okay, this is just getting ridiculous.

Live-tweeting Elementary can be some fast-paced fun, but a.) you have to watch the show, and b.) you have to pay attention to what is happening on the show. And if you're paying attention to Elementary with an active mind, well, disbelief comes very quickly.

Not disbelief that Jonny Lee Miller's character is Sherlock Holmes . . . no, we crossed that bridge long ago. Disbelief that anyone is actually falling for this burlesque of actual intelligence.

Having written the book on Holmes's methods, obscure as it now is, I feel I have some small background in talking about how Sherlock Holmes does what he does. And I can also tell you how the guy in Elementary who is plainly not Sherlock Holmes does what he does.

He takes some common bit of everyday knowledge, like what a safe deposit box key looks like, and then just rattles it out before anyone else in the room can say, "Hey, that's a safe deposit box key!" If you talk constantly, giving no one else a chance to talk, use larger-than-necessary words to describe things  (Or just weird alternate verbalizations . . . can Mr. Elementary say "Sponge Bob Squarepants" like a normal person? No, he has to say something like "yellow undersea sponge man."), and speak with an English accent, well, of course you sound like the smartest person in the room. But it doesn't mean you are.

The entire New York Police Department seems to be just background for Mr. Elementary. Captain Gregson and the crew are just there so he's not talking to the air. He wanders their precinct house at all hours, going through their evidence, wanders their crime scenes freely, does everything a cop would do, but doesn't get paid or have a desk. The criminal justice system magically cooperates with his every whim and weak chains of evidence. Elementary is, at the end of the day, a bigger fantasy than one of those vampire or demon-hunter shows on the CW, despite its ongoing urban grit.

And this week, Elementary made the bold plot move of bringing in a male Watson figure to make up for the fact that their female Watson figure doesn't seem to be having any chemistry with their over-talkative twitch-aholic. I'm hoping he's really Moriarty. But then again, I can't imagine this show getting that clever.

There was a time, some years ago, when I couldn't believe that Americans were actually accepting an obvious knucklehead as their president. At the time, I thought that the disillusionment I felt was just a bad feeling that would pass, as it did when the occupant of the Oval Office changed. Now I realize that it was the universe preparing me for what America would accept with the name "Sherlock Holmes" slapped on it.

And it just keeps coming. Next week, Mr. Elementary spends the episode in the toilet.

Seriously. And I can't wait for the flush.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Make that a bat-stalker cap!

One of my regular YouTube visits is the series "Epic Rap Battles of History," so you can imagine my delight to find Sherlock Holmes putting in an appearance this week. Sherlock's relationship with Batman goes back for decades, the Caped Crusader even being a student of Holmes at one point, but this is definitely the first time they have gone deerstalker-to-cowl in a rap showdown.

The bouts of "Epic Rap Battles of History" are never conclusive, with "Who won?" being the video-ending announcement of each episode, but it does raise the question: Sherlock Holmes versus Batman . . . who would win?

Well, for starters, any encounter between Sherlock and the Batman has to start one way, and one way only: Sherlock Holmes is called upon to find out who the masked vigilante is that is wreaking lawless violence upon Gotham City. Batman has no motivation to look Sherlock up . . . he's a law-abiding citizen of a foreign land. So the initial encounter, prep time, etc., has to go to Holmes.

And you know Sherlock Holmes . . . his first encounter with Batman would be in Wayne Manor, where he'd go to have a little conversation with Bruce Wayne. Not accusing, not on that first trip, just some fact-finding and a little verbal jousting. Confirming his suspicions.

At that point, it goes one of two ways.

Outcome #1: Sherlock Holmes confronts the Batman. Setting up some ruse to draw the Batman out at night, Sherlock announces to Bats that he knows he's Bruce Wayne, then runs down the evidence that conclusively proves it. Of course, during the investigation, Holmes has decided that Gotham City needs the Batman, and with Watson in full agreement, lets Batman know that he and Watson are sworn to secrecy and returning to London.

Outcome #2: Sherlock Holmes confronts Bruce Wayne. Catching Bruce Wayne at some daylight event, Sherlock reveals Wayne's batty alter-ego and presents his evidence to a crowd of reporters, police, and civic leaders. Commissioner Gordon is on hand to take Wayne into custody, and the tale goes on from there.

Sherlock Holmes beats Batman every time. I'm not saying Batman isn't a smart guy. I'm not saying he doesn't have massive resources in a straight-up fight. But here's the thing:

Sherlock Holmes has the complete advantage in a run-in with Batman. Batman has a secret to hide. Sherlock Holmes's greatest skill is unravelling secrets. While Batman has to spend all that time preparing for physical encounters with foes -- gator-men, maniacs, and sci-fi steroid abusers, Holmes gets to walk the daylight world, looking at things, talking to people, and further developing his skills at just one thing: detection.

Batman doesn't kill people. Batman doesn't beat people up just for snooping around Bruce Wayne. He really has no defense against Sherlock Holmes. And no reason for offense against Holmes, either.

But gut feeling on "Epic Rap Battles of History," despite the ending "Who won?" is always that the last person to rap won the battle. In the case of this week's video, it was Sherlock Holmes.

Which makes complete sense.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The hour of standing up for Sherlock, part two.

WARNING: The following seemingly dull blog on stats ends with a "Bwah-ha-ha!" Keep reading through the seemingly dull numbers part to find out why. Thanks. Sorry to interrupt your blog-reading.

Sometimes, one has to run the numbers to get a proper perspective.

On Thursday night, November 15, 10.7 million viewers watched Elementary on CBS. The network's viewership started at 17.4 million with the very popular comedy The Big Bang Theory, then declined as the evening went on. CBS had, what is considered by the networks, to be a very good night for television.

The population of the United States of America on that same evening was roughly 314.8 million. Which means that even though Elementary, warts and all, is reaching more people with its "Sherlock Holmes" than almost any other pastiche, it's still hitting only about three percent of the population. And that's just in its country of origin. The numbers are probably less elsewhere.

But here's where it gets interesting: Last year's Super Bowl brought in ten times as many viewers with a  record 111.3 million in its audience on NBC. And when that show was done, an average of 37.6 million of those people left their televisions set to NBC to watch The Voice, the show that came on after it.

Elementary, the lucky winner of this year's post-Super Bowl time slot, stands a chance at tripling its viewership on that single night, without any other efforts to promote the show. Of course, you know that CBS is not going to let the slot alone do the work. We're probably going to hear the name "Sherlock Holmes" mentioned multiple times in a Super Bowl telecast for the very first time. Is that enough to make a Sherlockian who usually disdains football watch the big game? Probably not. But when the game is over . . . ah! When the game is over . . .

As I've mentioned in this blog before, the night of Sunday, February 3, 2013 is going to be a big opportunity for fans of Sherlock Holmes. Once the Super Bowl is over and Elementary comes on, being on Twitter and tweeting with the hashtag "#Elementary" is going to get your Sherlock-related tweets seen by a bigger audience than any other time on Twitter. The universe has handed Sherlock Holmes fans a megaphone, and it would be a shame not to use it.

As most folks who read this blog know, personally, I think it's a megaphone to be used to point out the differences between Mr. Elementary, as I like to call Jonny Lee Miller's character, and Sherlock Holmes as we know him. But that's not your only option. If you think Mary Russell was a better female partner for Sherlock Holmes than Joan Watson, she could be the focus of your tweets. If you think Basil Rathbone had the kind of class Miller is going to have to work a little harder to achieve, you can go on a Rathbone-loving rampage. And if you truly, truly love this little TV show they call Elementary, as some very special Sherlock Holmes fans seem to do, here is your time to point out to the world exactly what makes Mr. Elementary the Holmes of your TV dreams.

I dare you.

Yes, you heard me, Elementary fans, I dare you. Show me, real time, what I'm missing about the most awful Sherlock Holmes of the modern era. (And yes, I'm including that guy that fought robots and dinosaurs. Don't know if even I believe Miller is worse than that, but I'm taunting here!) You surely aren't going to let some cad like me turn Elementary live-tweeting that night into something akin to the snarky tweet-storm that took place during Lindsay Lohan's Liz and Dick this past Sunday night, are you? Because NFL teams aren't going to be the only ones training for that night!

If you don't understand the Twitter thing, you still have two months to figure it out, hashtags and all, and if you're smart enough to love Sherlock Holmes outside of a CBS police procedural, you're certainly smart enough by half to use Twitter.

But with that said, are you smart enough to foil a master plan by some deranged anti-Elementary blogger to alter the new-viewer public perception of your favorite fall show? (Come now, it is your favorite, isn't it? Don't lie, now.) Because the hour of Sherlock is coming, my friends. It's coming.


BWAH-HA-HA-HA!!!! (See you Thursday.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A more insidious bad pastiche.

With a little extra holiday time on one's hands, I decided I would try reading a pastiche  that found its way into my library a while ago. Once you've been a Sherlock Holmes fan long enough, books about Holmes have a way of just showing up whether you want them or not, and this was one of those.

You know the drill: Apparently, Dr. Watson wrote about a hundred thousand manuscripts back in the day, then mailed them to random individuals who hid them away in attics, bank vaults, and old home improvements for later generations to find and publish. (We can assume from this that Watson never had children, or that he really hated those kids and didn't want to leave them anything of value.) And then someone who knows you discovers that book and gives it to you, because you like Sherlock Holmes.

But usually not that Sherlock Holmes.

The bad pastiche has been with Sherlock Holmes fans for almost as long as Sherlock Holmes himself. Easy self-publishing routes might mean there's more of it these days, but Sherlock Holmes fans have long been a resourceful and driven lot. We were self-publishing, even in nice, hardcover editions, before any other fandom. That, of course, didn't mean the contents were ever that much better.

So, to get to the point, I once more tried reading a random work of pastiche yesterday. And I just couldn't do it. The Watson was so dramatic in his voice. His use of random large words was so faux Victorian. And his Holmes . . . well, we all know how that goes.

But here's the thing. Reading a bad Holmes book is hard to do. You have to actually hold up the book with your hand and turn pages, simple actions, yes, but they require at least a minor force of will. And if the Sherlock story you are reading is unconvincing, dull, or otherwise just not the Holmes you were looking for, you lose the willpower to hold the book and turn the pages at some point.

And then you quit reading. You set the book down and life goes on. Bad Sherlock Holmes books never attain much popularity, simply because most human beings are not capable of the effort it takes to read them.

In reacquainting myself with this fact, I got one more perspective on a certain subject that I've written about quite a bit lately: bad television pastiche.

Bad television pastiche doesn't require any effort once you've turned the show on. You can relax and let the story play out without moving a muscle or taxing your brain with the act of reading, which doesn't come easily to everyone. You can actually do other things while watching a bad television pastiche, so even the most active of minds can stimulate itself to make up for any deficiencies that the TV show might lack. And unlike bad pastiche in book form, with televised pastiche, it takes an act of will to stop the thing from playing out. A small one, just as with reading a physical book, but an act of will nonetheless.

Or to put it in modern marketing terms: Books are opt-in once you start them. Television is opt-out.

If we could easily keep reading bad published pastiche, if a whole novel were as easy to get through as a single TV episode, we might grow to enjoy it somehow. The brain adapts. Stockholm syndrome, in its mildest form, takes over. If bad published pastiche were as easy to ingest as bad televised pastiche, can you imagine the number of fans Sherlock Holmes would have, with so many books out there? But their favorite Holmeses would be as diverse as humanity itself. So many bad pastiche Holmeses to choose from!

Unfortunately, where easy-viewing weekly television is concerned, our bad pastiche choices are somewhat limited. There's the one. And as to the final effect it's weekly parade will have on American culture's view of Sherlock Holmes, well, we shall see. We've never had a bad pastiche as insidious or well-marketed as this one before.

And it's showing up in a lot more homes that the book I picked up yesterday and tried to read.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Challenge to the viewer.

Back in 1938, Ellery Queen came up with a really cool idea.

He called it Challenge to the Reader, and within a single volume, gathered twenty-five of the greatest fictional detectives of the day, from Sherlock Holmes to Sam Spade, from Father Brown to Craig Kennedy. And then Ellery Queen (the two authors / mystery writer / fictional detective . . . however you view him) changed the names of all of the detectives in all of the stories. The challenge to the reader was to figure out which story featured which detective.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were called "Pharoah Jones" and "Dover," and the fact that their story was still called "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" makes the ploy fairly obvious to any real fan of Holmes. Inspector Lestrade still appears with Jones and Dover, as do the other characters. But Ellery Queen's concept was still pretty solid.

Imagine what would happen if we were to take the three big Sherlock Holmeses of the modern day in their assorted formats, Robert Downey Jr.'s theatrical Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch's mini-series Holmes, and Jonny Lee Miller's character in the weekly procedural Elementary, and changed all the names (and that peskily familiar "221B Baker Street" address).

What would we have left? Would we recognize the result as Sherlock Holmes?

Let's start with the Guy Ritchie movies. The Victorian era, consulting detective and the military man, the disguises, the pugilistic skills, the flair for the dramatic . . . if Robert Downey, Jr. didn't look like we think Holmes should look, we'd still know his character was heavily based on Sherlock Holmes. There would be accusations of Guy Ritchie stealing Doyle's lines, and the little homages to things like Rathbone films would start being written up online. As much as Ritchie liked to make Holmes an action movie star (and very successfully show) the main character was still recognizably Sherlock Holmes, and would have been no matter what you called him.

Gatiss and Moffat's BBC Sherlock is set in modern times, which would seem to move the characters a little farther from being recognize as Holmes and Watson if we were to change all the names. But the initial plot, so close to the barely-ever-filmed A Study in Scarlet, was very hard to miss. A long-time fan of Sherlock Holmes could not help but see the tribute to Conan Doyle in the criminal expert and the Afghanistan veteran, so lovingly laid out.

And then we come to Elementary on CBS. Change only the names "Sherlock Holmes" and "Watson," and suddenly you're in with a host of other CBS procedural shows. But were you to see Elementary with the main characters named something like "Esteban Cole" and "Joan Lawson," your first honest thought would very probably not be of Holmes but something like, "This is a really gritty version of Monk!" Without the branding of "Sherlock Holmes," Elementary would probably suffer next to CBS's The Mentalist, not to mention Monk, House, Psych, Perception, Person of Interest, C.S.I. and all those other Sherlock-ish shows that came before.

Using Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader as the basis for a little mental exercise with our modern video Holmes franchises, it quickly becomes apparent who was just using the name for a hook to draw viewers in, and who was actually interested in doing the work to try bringing a fully-realized modern version of Sherlock Holmes to a modern viewing public.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Worlds without a Doyle.

If you live in the modern world, your name is "Sherlock Holmes," and nobody ever comments on it, chances are that you live in a fictional universe.

At least a couple articles have shown up online of late dealing with this premise. The main character of CBS's Elementary roaming New York City without anyone going, "Hey, I loved your stories!" or "No shit, Sherlock!" just seems a little odd. After all, his name is supposed to be "Sherlock Holmes."

Something about Jonny Lee Miller telling people that his name is "Sherlock" without ever getting a response seems more off than Benedict Cumberbatch doing so, the latter residing in a modern London, with a modern-yet-familiar Watson, and a lot more updated Canonical details. But let's leave that for now.

The point that the articles I've seen bring up is that in the world of Elementary, since no one seems to remember any Sherlock Holmes stories, there must have been no Arthur Conan Doyle. It's an understandably short-sighted conclusion, after all, creating Sherlock Holmes is what put Doyle on the map, and to most people, that's all he ever did. Novels like The Lost World or The White Company, and short stories like The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard, just don't show up on their literary radar.

But Conan Doyle can easily exist in this world of Elementary (or BBC Sherlock) where Sherlock Holmes did not exist pre-Y2K. A writer of historical novels and science fiction who became a crusader for spiritualism -- while he might not have been as famous as he was in our history books, he surely would have found some place there. Wiping him from existence along with his creation really deprives us of an opportunity to consider what that marvelous fellow would be remembered for without Sherlock Holmes. Professor Challenger, perhaps?

It's great fun to see such a premise raised in media outside the little bubble of traditional Sherlockian publications, but it is definitely missing the follow-through a true Doyle fan would provide. We're probably not going to see the writers of Elementary do a Doyle-based, historically-linked episode. The Sherlock boys might get tempted to give Watson a modern agent named Doyle, since their Watson is a writer. A true fan of Conan Doyle, however, might  give the question of a Holmes-less Doyle a treatment to rival the alternate histories of Abraham Lincoln. (I still think that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith is the closest thing to Sherlockian scholarship outside of Sherlockiana that I've seen.)

And even beyond Doyle, it might prove an interesting exercise to consider ourselves in the worlds of Elementary or Sherlock. What might we fans be doing without the hundred years of Sherlock Holmes that led to either of those shows? (Neither of which would exist, of course. And as much as I'd like to be without Elementary, it seems a steep price to pay.)

One thing is for certain: Sherlock Holmes always seems to find some way to give us mental exercise. He's something like a god of intelligence that way. With or without his Moses, Conan Doyle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sherlock Holmes is not Aquaman.

Sherlock Holmes is not Aquaman.

An obvious statement, that. Any five-year-old could look at Sherlock Holmes, look at Aquaman, and tell you that Sherlock Holmes is not Aquaman.

So why are the creators of Elementary treating Sherlock Holmes like he's Aquaman?

Aquaman, for those of you in need of a refresher, is a superhero who lives in the same world as Superman and Batman. He swims very fast, is kinda strong, and talks to fishes. Sometimes Aquaman is the king of Atlantis, sometimes not. The one thing that has always been true of Aquaman, since his debut in 1941, is that his comic books have never been strong on sales.

As a result, every new creative team who has been handed the assignment of writing and drawing Aquaman comes at the assignment with the same attitude: Our Aquaman is going to be the version that makes Aquaman popular at last.

And Aquaman has been through a lot of changes as a result. He's been a king and a lone wolf. He's had a hook for a hand and a beard. He's had a hand made of water and magical powers. He's been a young man, an old man, and he's been a dead man. Married, single, friend of humanity, foe of "land-dwellers" (humanity), and more.

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Aquaman just don't get no respect.

And it kind of makes sense. Since Aquaman has never been as big a hit as Superman or Batman, everyone thinks they can re-create him and make their particular vision of him the one that sticks in the public mind.

And this is where the thing that separates Sherlock Holmes and Aquaman becomes quite plain. Arthur Conan Doyle got Sherlock Holmes right the first time. For a hundred years, other writers have not been trying to build a better Holmes . . . they've been trying to do as good as Doyle did to start with.

So when the creators of Elementary come along this year and basically try to re-create Holmes and Watson like they're two-dimensional comic book characters in need of another layer of personality, one can't be faulted for considering that they might just be making a mistake.

Because Sherlock Holmes is not Aquaman. Not even close.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Self-flagellation, a.k.a. watching Elementary.

Forgive me if this posting is slightly clunky. I wasn't in my right mind as I wrote it. I had Elementary on the tube (which is still a tube, sad to say), and the constant irritation did nothing for my wordsmithing.

Tonight, Mr. Elementary ditched Joan Watson to go work on a case. Does this show even pretend that its writers have read up on Sherlock Holmes?

You know, I can forgive all the innocents on Twitter that are just watching another detective show on CBS for just accepting this , and even liking it. There are fans of all kinds of really weak television programs  out there.  The idea that any long-time fan of Sherlock Holmes is happily accepting this nonsense as anything similar to Holmes just astounds me.

Due to the weekly nature of the show, and the fact that Mr. Elementary apparently has to be involved in murders every single week,  it really seems like NYC detectives Gregson and Bell are just letting Mr. E. do all of the work for them (as well as their forensic lab – because the human eye is now supposedly better at bullet analysis than computers) , but that has happened before. 

The strange part is the way Mr. Elementary follows Gregson around like he’s the ghost of his dead lover,  standing in the back of rooms,  instead of working with Watson.  It doesn’t seem to matter how much he irritates Gregson, the supposed police captain just takes it and lets the ex-drunk (or whatever he is) keep following him around. 

Watson, of course, has to have something to do on this show, and  is occupying herself wandering around investigating Mr. Elementary . . . supposedly helping him with his addiction.  And when Elementary and Watson have a verbal exchange about  intimating that the former might have just urinated in Watson’s bedroom . . . I just have to sigh. This has nothing at all to do with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, does it?

Watson’t current investigation is to find out who “Irene” is, and even Irene Adler isn’t living up to her true character in this show. Apparently she kept sending  Mr. #Elementary letters after he went to America.  When the real Irene went to America after her encounter with the real Holmes,  neither of them dragged it on with a long distance correspondence . . . but then,  nobody in this show is up to specs.

Mr. Elementary likes to dole out his investigation a little at a time, instead of saving it up for that dramatic conclusion that Sherlock Holmes liked to do. He’s just a little too in love with his own voice to wait until he’s got it all figured out.

And then there’s the Irene issue. At the end of last episode, they teased that there was an Irene in Holmes’s life that he reacts badly to a mention of. At the end of this episode, he says she died and he took her death badly.  Elementary just wasted one of the great characters of the Sherlock Holmes mythos. Off-screen, with a couple of comments. We all know they’re trying hard not to be the BBC Sherlock,  and Holmes’s father apparently has already replaced Mycroft (but stays off-screen), but to just  drop Irene with a few comments?

By Season Two, if there is a Season Two, this thing is going to bear  less resemblance to the original Sherlock Holmes than it did to start with,  as astounding as that might seem.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Justice for Elementary, part one.

I have decided that I really haven't done justice to CBS's Elementary.

And by "justice," I mean carefully scrutinizing the evidence and setting out the Sherlockian state's case for the charges of fraud that have been so rightfully laid against it. We fans of the true Sherlock really should pay attention to Elementary, as counter-intuitive as that may seem, just to prepare ourselves.

Prepare, my friends, because if the rabble who think Elementary has anything to do with the character of Sherlock Holmes aren't surrounding you already, one day they will. And you don't want to be caught unawares.

So tonight, I watched what I've been told is one of the show's "better" episodes, "Child Predator," which I first turned off after five minutes or so. That spray-painting the camera business seemed too over-the-top . . . the true Sherlock at least had enough respect for his official brethren not to commit his crimes in front of them. When the spray paint came out in BBC Sherlock, he even dashed from the scene, as would be appropriate.

But that's a minor quibble. Let's hit a couple of key points from this particular episode.

Mr. Elementary, as I have to call him, finds his Watson distracting and tells her never to talk. Then when he does decide she can talk, he compares her "chatter" to "white noise." Real Sherlock found John Watson's input to be a whetstone for sharpening his own analysis. Of course, John Watson was Sherlock's friend.

Mr. Elementary, while spending the evening focusing on an old serial-killer case, listens to a police scanner blaring NYC police chatter. Real Sherlock was always careful to focus all his attentions on the one thing he was working on. Mr. Elementary wasn't just using it for background noise, as later he refers to specific parts of it. Obviously, a mere child serial killer didn't rate his full attention.

Mr. Elementary says, "I don't care how I look. I don't care how I smell." That might work if he was attempting to emulate Robert Downey, Jr. And as John H. Watson (the one who writes about his friend Holmes) once put it, "He had contrived, with that cat-like love of personal cleanliness which was one of his characteristics, that his chin should be as smooth and his linen as perfect as if he were in Baker Street." Real Sherlock was neat, clean, and . . . gasp . . . shaved, even when camping in a stone hut on a moor in the 1800s.

There was the detail of his phrenology bust named "Angus" that I liked, but probably because it reminded me of Harry Dresden and his pet skull Bob. Or maybe Tom Hanks and that volleyball, Wilson. Of course, neither of those fellows was Sherlock Holmes either.

Another bit: Mr. Elementary enjoys the poet E.E. Cummings, who was conceived during the original Sherlock's great hiatus much like Nero Wolfe. E.E. Cummings wears a scarf like Mr. Elementary in the picture on his Wikipedia page and had a certain obnoxious love of lower case that probably appeals to an obnoxious sort like Mr. E. This fact does nothing to show the non-Sherlock-ness of Mr. Elementary, but just seems to be a random fact inserted into his character, as so many were.

It's really a pity that Elementary tends to lavish so much of its attention on Mr. Elementary, because Lucy Liu and Aidan Quinn came off a dull, but pretty window dressing in this particular episode, as if any personality showing on their part might lessen the brightness of the show's central egomaniac. At times it wasn't like he was smarter than them, it was like they were pretending to be stupid just to let him rattle off his latest string of facts. As much as I hate to bring up the competition, even the side characters I'm not fond of in BBC Sherlock have interesting personalities of their own. 

But I'm letting myself get carried away here . . . this was just one episode. The Sherlockian state has much more evidence to add  to its case.

And watching Elementary is going to be a long, long trial, to be sure. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Feeling up Sherlock.

They say that the average Christmas shopper is spending more money on themselves during their gift buying than ever, and I know Sherlockians are no different. Not all of us tend to wander non-book shops as randomly as we do when Christmas shopping, and as a result, Sherlock-related surprises pop up when we're off the beaten path.

For me, the latest trip brought the puzzle that is Lego Mini Figures, Series 5. This may be old news to many a Sherlockian collector, and I'd even heard about a Sherlock Holmes Lego Mini Figure a while back, but what I didn't realize was that it was one of sixteen figures all sold in an opaque packet that makes it impossible to identify which one is inside . . . unless on has a very sensitive sense of touch. It occured to me that Sherlock's magnifying glass might be the key item that would reveal which packet he was hiding in, and I made some tentative attempts at feeling around for the lens's rim.

After about five packets, I start feeling a little ridiculous and gave up the attempt. What did I need with one more little Sherlock totem, after all, even if he had Roger Moore sideburns? I had two Playmobil Sherlocks, in any case.

Later, though, I had to do a little internet research to see if there was an easier way to pick a Sherlock from all the snowboarders, Royal Guards, and lumberjacks. (Sounds a bit like a Monty Python sketch, doesn't it?) But as much as they got it down to technical specifics of bump patterns and package weights, it still all came back to feeling around for that magnifying glass.

And while I might, on a whim, shell out three bucks for a Lego Mini Figure of Sherlock Holmes, even though I'm hardly a collector any more, I think I'm drawing the line at spending all that time in a toy store feeling up Lego people for a one-out-of-sixteen shot at Sherlock.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mystrade? What the hell, go for it!

I've recently found myself cast as the hater thanks to CBS's Elementary. My friend Bill Mason wonders where my usual support for the fresh and innovative has gone. But I think I've found it again. This afternoon, following some tweets on London's "The Game Is On" event, I discovered "Mystrade" fanfic.

And just started laughing my ass off. I love it. Well, that it exists anyway . . .

Mystrade, if you're a slow-noticer like myself, has nothing to do with E*Trade, though it would be funny as hell for a talking baby to start doing commercials for it. Like "Brangelina" and "Bennifer," "Mystrade" is an abbreviation for a couple in love . . . Mycroft and Lestrade.

My first full-on encounter with slash fiction, as such stuff is called, was back in the eighties, when the good Carter and I headed down to the University of Illinois to hear Gene Roddenberry speak on Star Trek. The good Carter had been corresponding with a fellow Trekkie who lived near the school, and we were invited to the lady's house after Roddenberry's talk. Before the evening was over, we were ushered into a study whose walls were lined with nude artwork of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, both together and separately. Finding art of Mycroft and Lestrade nude and in bed together in the 2010s doesn't require anything more than a couple of mouse clicks.

The genre of Mystrade only started appearing after the BBC Sherlock presented the world with a Mycroft and Lestrade who were passably attractive. (Well, one of them might be more than "passable," but I'll leave that to the ladies, and gents, who are experts  in same.) Imagining the original Victorian Lestrade and Mycroft together is not really something anyone was readily diving into . . . though that might have changed these days -- you never know. Apparently Mycroft can either be the shy virgin of the couple or a predatorish "Stalkercroft" or even a vampire in Mystrade fiction, but he always was a versatile fellow. Lestrade is bisexual and perhaps had something with the younger Holmes as well (but . . .  dare I say it? . . . that's just getting weird!).

So why am I enthusiastically supporting Mystrade fiction while being a hater for the changes in CBS's Elementary? Well, at its heart, Lestrade and Mycroft being in love, strange as it may seem to the classicist, is a positive thing. And the end of the day, they get to have someone special in their lives. However, Sherlock Holmes breaking down and fleeing to America to have a hireling Watson look after him (and freezing up when he hears the name "Irene"?) . . . not so bright and cheery.

Call me a sunshine Sherlockian. I'll take the happy version every time.

The tedium of homicide

This morning I decided to perform that basic Sherlockian exercise of counting murders in the original sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. Or more specifically, the cases that started with Holmes investigating a murder. If you've ever done this, or read an article by someone who has, you know that the murder-to-non-murder ratio in Sherlock Holmes's caseload is about half.

Sure, sometimes a blackmail case ends in someone getting killed. Missing persons can turn up dead. And if you're a man whose life Holmes is trying to protect, your chances of being murdered increase over those if you just possessed a vagina. Sherlock Holmes, a true Sherlockian knows, was not a homicide investigator.

Legions of detectives inspired by Holmes have been homicide investigators, and for good reason. Homicide is to mystery what profanity is to stand-up comedy: the easiest way to get a reaction out of your audience. The less-skilled practitioner of the trade tends to take that easy route. But Conan Doyle, whose skills were far above most of those who followed, did not take that easier route.

One of the reasons we love Sherlock Holmes in those original stories is that certain reality of the cases. Sherlockians research Holmes as a historical character because he seems to live in the same world that we do. And the world we live in is not filled with weekly murder sprees, especially ones that tend to strike the wealthy. That key point has always been a point of amusement for poking fun at Jessica Fletcher of the old Murder, She Wrote TV series, where the little Maine town of Cabot Cove seemed to be an ongoing deathtrap for two hundred and sixty-four episodes.

Some of the greatest Sherlock Holmes mysteries came from questions like "Why did the people paying me because I had red hair stop paying me?" and "Should I take a governess job if they make me get my hair cut?" (Doyle seemed to like hair-related mysteries.) Neighbors or tenants wearing masks, odd employment opportunities, and the ever-popular missing jewels provided Holmes with puzzles that broke up the endless slog from corpse to corpse that other detectives favored.

But for Sherlock Holmes to be Sherlock Holmes, sometimes he has to investigate some quirky little life mystery that doesn't start with a dead body. Modern writers of the master detective should really look into that . . . just to set themselves apart from the pack, if nothing else. It takes a little more thought than homicide, but aren't such challenges always worth the effort?

Friday, November 9, 2012

What do you call a problem like Milleria?

Here's the thing: I find that I cannot seem to call the main character of CBS's Elementary by the name "Sherlock Holmes."

I discovered this last night as I tried live-tweeting the latest episode. The proper nouns "Sherlock" and "Holmes" would just not come off my keyboard together in reference to that guy. Whatever the reason, be it his wrong height, wrong face, wrong city, or wrong accent . . . I'm no Henry Higgins, but that speech pattern definitely hails from a non-Sherlock part of England . . . the label "Sherlock Holmes" just will not stick on Jonny Lee Miller in my mental connections.

But I had to call the main character of the show I was tweeting about something, so I soon settled on "Mr. #Elementary," which added the hashtag as well and saved me a few letters. But it made me start pondering: what do I call this guy?

Sherlocky Lee Holmes? (It is the actor's interpretation.)

El Kaburn? (Due to his treatment of stringed instruments.)

Hobo Sherlock Holmes? (C'mon, doesn't he look like a hobo?)

Chachi Holmes? (As in "Joanie Loves Chachi," an equally fine example of televised entertainment.)

Gregson's little buddy? (When Gregson is around, Mr. Elementary just seems "special" to me.)

Reichenbach Body Double Holmes? (Too long, but Benedict Cumberbatch has to have some way to have survived that fall, doesn't he?)

Elock Stones? (Weak JLM's old show mash-up.)

Future Severed Head? (C'mon, Joan, pull an O-ren Ishi on Oren Goodchild! That dual Oren thing is just weird, by the way.)

Barker from the Surrey Shore? (Oh, so perfect, given Miller's birthplace, but probably too Canonical for most folks to get.)

I really think I'm going to be sticking with "Mr. Elementary." It reminds me of "Mr. Mycroft," from the days when the Doyle copyrights kept F.H. Heard from doing outright pastiches. But if you get a better idea, let me know.

Because I'm still not calling that ragamuffin "Sherlock Holmes."

(Hey, wait a second . . . do you think he could actually be a grown-up Irregular posing as Holmes, and that Benedict Cumberbatch will show up in the third or fourth season and call him out? Oh, man, that would be a glorious day!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Loving things that suck.

Today’s blog is a public service for those Sherlockians out there who have suddenly found themselves enjoying poor quality Sherlock for the first time. Being regular consumers of a high quality brand name like that of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlockians sometimes get the notion that they are connoisseurs of finer things, and that their love for Sherlock Holmes equates to good taste in all things . . . especially with the Sherlock label.

But here’s the God’s honest truth: all of us . . . every single one . . . is going to love something that sucks now and then. I can’t even count the movies I’ve loved that no one else of my acquaintance ever seemed to find happiness in. (Did you even hear of the 1994 big screen release of Car 54 Where Are You?)  That’s how you know your love is true: When there’s a big smile on your face and a warm spot in your heart, whilst all around you boo and jeer . . . that’s when you’ve found your sweet spot.

But if you’ve never loved anything that was just a horrible example of its species, well, suddenly having the crowd turn on you can be a shock. An attack on that thing you love seems like an attack on you. Take this recent adaptation of interchanges I’ve seen on the Sherlockian web:

“This writer says that Elementary is a horrible Sherlock Holmes show!”

“Oh, yeah, well that writer is a doody-head!”

Yes, the ad hominum argument – the first sign you’ve hit a nerve in the person who loves something that sucks.

It’s hard to love something that sucks. You may feel alone, rejected . . . even kinda stupid. But we don’t all like the same things. And sometimes, little camper, you’re going to be in the minority, especially if something deep in your heart decides to go against reason and logic . . . which happens a lot.

Let’s try that conversation a different way:

“This writer says that Elementary is a really horrible Sherlock Holmes show! And it is! Really!”

“Yeah? Well, I like it. I think it’s GRRRREEAAATT!”

See the difference? Instead of starting a fight, this time the second speaker stood up for their position and went a little silly doing a Tony the Tiger impression. Who doesn’t like Tony the Tiger? Suddenly, instead of thinking about your beloved TV show and how much it sucks, speaker one is thinking, “I like Tony the Tiger!” and by association, they have positive feelings about you and your awful TV show.

It’s okay to like something that sucks. It really is. Everything you like in life isn’t going to be of the first quality, even in the land of Sherlock Holmes. But if it makes you happy, that’s the important thing. And if writing about how much that same thing sucks (an activity which kinda sucks) makes someone else happy, that’s their thing. It’s a big, big world.

But on February 3, 2013, in the hour past the Super Bowl, we all get to come together on Twitter and celebrate the real Sherlock Holmes under an #ELEMENTARY hashtag. Both people who like things that suck and people who like other things that suck. Even if you’re not on Twitter currently, you’ve got three or four months to figure it out. This could potentially be the greatest worldwide gathering of Sherlock Holmes fans in one venue ever. And guess what? That would not suck at all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The hour of standing up for Sherlock is at hand.

Two headlines showed up in my news feed today. Two headlines that said a lot.

"Why 'Elementary' fails Sherlock Holmes fandom," read the first, and the article that followed explained exactly that.

"'Elementary' lands post Super Bowl time slot on CBS," read the second, and that told me everything.

Those two headlines encapsulate what big problem with a lot of things these days. Instead of doing something right to begin with, hurriedly slap something together to get done quickly, then focus all the real effort on selling the resulting crap. Why spend time on initial design when marketing works just as well?

The "give it a chance" period for CBS's "Elementary" is over, and the "we'll watch whatever murder show is on CBS" crowd seems to be accepting it. And regardless of what Sherlock Holmes fans know to be true of this so very wrong re-creation of Holmes, we're stuck with it for the moment. No big deal, right?


CBS slotting it after the Super Bowl is the Sherlockian equivalent of that explosive blimp headed towards the big game in the old movie "Black Sunday." Super Bowl Sunday will not be a good day for the Sherlock Holmes fan. One of the worst incarnations of Sherlock Holmes in the mass market is about to be presented to the general public as the Sherlock Holmes.

"Maybe it will get people to read the original Conan Doyle tales!" some Mary Sherlockian Sunshine will inevitably pipe up. Really? Still holding out for that chestnut? It might get them to rent the Downey Jr. DVD and go, "Well, that ain't the same guy! And whar's thet purdy Asian gal?"

To paraphrase the one, true Holmes himself, "What do the public, the great unobservant public, who just leave the TV on after the Super Bowl, care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction." Well, they don't, really. But an estimated one hundred million men, women, and children, many of whom may be getting their first major exposure to the name "Sherlock Holmes," are going to be handed this shirtless, tattooed, dysfunctional cartoon. And do you know what that means?

Fans of original Sherlock and BBC "Sherlock" are going to be correcting boorish louts about the true nature of Holmes for decades. The ugly Americans visiting London is going to see Baker Street and get a lot uglier, as they start claiming, "This must have been where he got all drugged up before he had to come to New York to dry out!"

Suddenly, one knows what Charleton Heston was feeling at the end of "The Planet of the Apes" when he saw the half-buried Statue of Liberty: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!"

So what can we do, good Sherlockian? Sit still and take this avalanche of crap Sherlock? Join the apologist bandwagon and learn to like the taste of dung?

Oh, no.

There's this little thing they call Twitter out there. And on Super Bowl Sunday, when "Elementary" comes on the air, I say we take to the Twitterverse en masse with an #ELEMENTARY hashtag and tweet as loud as we can about the real Sherlock Holmes, whatever that means to you. Go ahead and watch the episode of "Elementary" while you do and correct its every not-Sherlock moment -- our small numbers aren't going to boost the ratings amid those mobs. But on Twitter, your tweet comments can stir up a little attention, especially if there's enough of us making enough noise.

With a few hours left of Guy Fawkes Day and a few hours until America's presidential election day, it's the perfect time to start talking about making some noise come Super Bowl Sunday. Whatever your view of Sherlock Holmes, that "Elementary" hour on Twitter will be your best time to express it, and I encourage you to do so, no matter what it is. CBS has opened a window to try to promote their show to a post-Super Bowl audience. I say we take to that window and give voice to what Sherlock Holmes really means to us.

Did anyone think it was over when CBS ordered a full season of "Elementary?" Did Basil Rathbone think it was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Did Conan Doyle think it was over when Sherlock Holmes jumped off Reichenbach Falls? Hell no! Nothing is over until we decide it is!

Who's with me? Let's go! (And if you don't go, you'll know I'll be back to rant on this subject more, perhaps with less movie paraphrasing, when I get done running down the street yelling.)

Our hour is coming, my friends. Be a shame not to use it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Must Sherlockiana be single-thread?

Nothing I love more in fan world than a Sherlockian symposium. No book. No club. No movie. No single event.

The Sherlockian symposium is what we have had instead of cons, given our relatively small numbers. Other fandoms hold cons with attendees in the thousands, while we hold ours with numbers in the lower hundreds, when we read triple digits at all. And as a result of such numbers, we're very used to limiting ourselves.

Sherlockian symposiums tend to feature one slate of speakers, with very rare exception. If a particular one isn't to your taste, you either sit through it or retire to your hotel room to watch some HBO. That last choice may be blasphemy to some, but to others of us it is standard operational procedure. (A full day in a banquet-room chair can be a long one.) Other fandoms hold cons with multiple tracks, where every hour holds choices . . . but are they only doing it because they're bigger than us?

Last night I had the privilege of organizing a chautauqua at the local UU church. A chautauqua is something right out of Sherlock Holmes's era, and the only reason it probably never appeared in the Canon is because it is wholly American, started in Lake Chautauqua, New York, at about the time Holmes first appeared in print. Gathering together speakers, entertainers, and educators of all stripes, the chautauqua brought days of new thoughts to local communities before radio and television came along to kill the movement.

For last night's chautauqua, I simply asked people what they were passionate about, and asked them to discuss/demonstrate/lecture about that thing for half an hour. I would up with thirteen sessions to schedule and three times to do in in, which meant all of the sixty or so people in attendance got four or five choices to pick from in every one of the three half hour slots. Card games of the early 1900s. Growing herbs. The Walking Dead. The choices were as diverse as could be.

Sure, sometimes a topic you liked got scheduled opposite something else you liked . . . that was bound to happen. But you never got bored. In this day and age where information moves faster and we're all starting to run multiple threads in our personal lives, it might be time to reconsider the way we tend to do the Sherlockian symposium. There are so many fans of the Master Detective who can hold a podium or panel discussion with ease and so many ways of appreciating Holmes, especially now.

Some love historical Doyle studies. Some love old movies. Some love Laurie King novels. We're not all the same like Sherlockians seemed to be when the sixty original stories were all there was to talk about. If you're running four tracks with sixty people, you're going to get some discussions where only five people show up, but those five people are interested people . . . and they'd much rather be there than just enduring something they aren't really interested in, just because all fifty-nine people have to sit through the same thing.

I have suspicions that events like 221B Con, with its multitude of panels, might start helping lead that sort of change in the fandom, but we shall see. Like I said, I love Sherlockian symposiums and the gathering of Sherlock Holmes fans they summon up. But the times, they are a-changing, and we might need to consider a few changes there ourselves.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I am a very old man.

The birthday is coming up. And, what one definitely shouldn’t do as that holiday nears is this: decide to immerse one’s self in Tumblr and finally take the time to see what microblogging is all about.

Blogging, as performed on this very page, is comforting and easy to grasp for those of us who are products of previous generations. It’s basically keeping a public diary out on the internet. Diaries have been around forever, so keeping one on the net, even if it’s topical, is no great breakthrough.

The post-literate world of Tumblr, however, is a little different. Every time I went to it, I found myself going “Where are the blogs?” It was all pictures, captions, and Facebook-like comments. “Visual retweets” are the best way to describe a lot of what is on Tumblr, and it’s galling to have to use a word referring to another social network just to get that far.

Why should a Sherlockian bother with Tumblr, you ask? Well, if you’re asking, you’re obviously above a certain age, like myself. Because Tumblr is the great hub of fandoms these days. And Sherlockiana is a fandom.

The thing that makes Sherlockiana unique is that we like to think we aren’t a fandom. The fact that Sherlock has been around for a hundred and twenty-five years, more or less, means we can do actual historical research about our hero and our fandom, which makes us feel all the more legit than Potterphiles or Twilighters, but truth be told, we’re still just fans. We get pissy about all the same stuff.

We have fanwank and shipwars, two words I just learned today from my Tumblr immersion. And we’ve had slash and Mary Sues, two terms I’ve known about since the Trekkie fan generation. But even Trekkies are hoary ancients these days, along with the Dungeons and Dragons crowd.

The thing that makes me laugh is that my current middle-aged state is where a Sherlock Holmes fan was just hitting his prime, only a couple of decades ago. And back then, middle-aged Sherlockians worried about the lack of younger fans. Well, the younger fans are here now and the hysterical thing is that we old-school sorts don’t fully realize how fully invested they are, because we don’t get things like Tumblr or even “the twittering.”

But there’s fun to be had in this energetic new Sherlockian world, if we long-time Sherlockians can see past the old, well-travelled paths we are used to.  It just takes a little adapting, and damned if it won’t make you feel old.

But, hey, Sherlock Holmes has been very, very old before, too. And look where he is now.