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.