Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Violating Sherlock Holmes.

What follows is a blog that was written more than a week ago. And back then I had a kindly moment when I thought, "Oh, I should be nicer about mainstream television which plainly has its fans," and held it back. Then, sadly, life happened, and, not being all that evolved as a life form, I suddenly wanted to verbally kick something. Being an ardent Sherlockian offers a few targets for such things (one big one of which is coming up soon), it seemed prudent to pick that which just gets me in the least trouble and go ahead and publish this blip that's been sitting on the shelf for a week or so. And so, here it is, part of the "lost" Sherlock Peoria. (Though lost only a week. There are others which have sat for far longer.)

It took me a while to get to the last episode of Elementary for 2014. But any curiosity I had about it, not really caring all that much about spoilers, was easy to rectify. Why?

Recaps! Sooooo many recaps! But don't go by the headlines -- CelebrityDirtyLaundry.com went with the sensational headline "Sherlock Is Violated" for their Elementary recap, and for a moment I thought the show might actually be heading to a dark and dramatic place for their mid-season finale. Having Mr. Elementary, a smaller and less action-oriented consulting detective, go through the trauma of being raped, perhaps even after having those singlestick skills he's so proud of proven ineffective, might have forced the writers to come up with some ongoing character-driven subplots that would have taken the show to a new level . . . and made up for all the weird slut-shaming of Joan Watson that went on earlier this year.

But, no, Mr. Elementary's "violation" was simply having his addiction support group statements quoted on the web. A mildly interesting contrast, given that BBC Sherlock's John H. Watson published his casebook as a blog, gaining Sherlock more cases and fame, and while Joan Watson secretly wrote up Mr. Elementary's cases, they remain unseen by the public at large. (And hopefully Joan kept her own copies, as Kitty Winter destroyed the only one known to the viewers.) CelebrityDIrtyLaundry was plainly sensationalizing the whole "violation" thing.

Unless they actually were writing about Sherlock Holmes and not Mr. Elementary. Then . . . well, then Sherlock is actually in his third season of the ongoing violation.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Sherlock Holmes wine tour.

It isn't often that I recommend a book to myself, but occasionally some artifact travels through time in a manner that causes such an event. This week, it was a pretty little book entitled The Oenologic Holmes by Steve Robinson. I met Steve at the home of noteworthy Sherlockian John Stephenson, back in the 1980s, and at some point now escaping my aging memory, agreed to write an introduction to a book on Sherlock Holmes and wine Steve was working on.

I enjoyed what Steve had written then, and wrote a pleasant little introduction that also made reference to one of those embarrassing incidents that happily slips one's mind with time. And then moved on to other things and forgot all about it, not being a regular wine enthusiast, until recently when Steve let me know the book was being published at long last, and generously sent along a copy.

Having more recently developed a taste for moscatos and rieslings, I am still not what one would consider a connoisseur of fine wine, but the chance to wander back through the wines in the lives of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson always makes one feel just a little more cultured, no matter what one's level in the world of wine. And in The Oenologic Holmes, Steve does a great job of capturing not just the details of each wine the detective and the doctor encountered, but the context in which each was drunk, and what that particular wine revealed about that moment in their lives.

The best Shelockian scholarship has always enhanced Dr. Watson's writings for us, and Steve Robinson's monograph on wine does exactly that. And given the subject, it would make a fine basis for a Sherlockian evening of discussing Holmes while sampling the modern incarnations of what he drank back then. (Coppola claret, anyone?) So, having recommended this book to myself and reread it now that it's a published work, I can heartily give it another, more current, recommendation.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Non-compliments of the season? Isn't Elementary on break?

Today is the day, the second day after Christmas, when Sherlockians traditionally wish each other "compliments of the season," as Watson called upon Sherlock Holmes to do in "The Blue Carbuncle." And I offer those greetings to all my Sherlockian friends out there, and also those who happen to wander by these pages just to see "what that deranged fellow is up to now."

But among my Christmas gifts was a very thoughtful gift from one of my nephews, who plainly had read enough of my blog to know what Sherlockian item I would not have on my selves already: the DVD collection of season one of Elementary. The note enclosed read simply, "I figure you'll either burn this in effigy OR hate-watch it on an infinite loop." (An Amazon gift card was also enclosed as a "palate cleanser," but I was quite happy to get the set for future reference, without the emotional distress of having to actually spend money on the thing and risk encouraging such behaviours.)

With the DVD set, however, comes a new well of unseen Elementary material: the DVD extras, and a load of material about the thoughts behind this show. And boy, do the producers, writers, and actors have a lot of thoughts about the show. A lot of thoughts . . . and most of them like they're making Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson up from the whole cloth, which, to be fair, they were.

"I re-read a few of the books . . ." -- Rob Dougherty

"It's more about sort of developing a take, and then trying to find what pieces sort of fit your . . . my . . . parameters of that."  -- Rob Dougherty

"I think Watson exists, in some ways, to challenge Sherlock." -- Lucy Liu

"It's such rich material that there's a hundred ways you could go with it really." -- Jonny Lee Miller

"I'm smarter than everyone I meet, Watson. I know it's bad form to say that, but in my case, Watson, it's a fact." -- Mr. Elementary

"Will another client make you happy?" Joan Watson's mother on the prospect of Joan leaving Mr. Elementary

"This is Joan Watson. She keeps me from doing heroin." -- Mr. Elementary

"When you first meet the guy, he's going off on theses elaborate theories, and it sounds like nonsense." -- Jon Michael Hill

"How did you know I used to be a surgeon?" -- Joan
"Google. Not everything is deducible." -- Mr. Elementary

Ah, memories.

Combined with CBS promos for the show, it all takes me back to a time when Elementary was all shiny and new, and I was still trying to figure out how anyone could possibly accept this as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche after we just had Sherlock. This wasn't 1980s syndicated genre television, where Elementary packaged as Sherlock Holmes: The Next Generation might have fit right in, slotted alongside such shows as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. As we come to the last week of 2014, a little looking back is in order, but now it's time to look ahead again . . .

But . . . oh, wait, they're already re-running the Martin Freeman Saturday Night Live from a few weeks ago, where Sherlock didn't get a single mention. And watching Freeman in the monologue, I wonder how Elementary would have looked had they cast him in the lead role, and kept Jonny Lee Miller in England to play Watson on Sherlock. There's a pair of alternate universe DVDs I'd like to stumble across, to sit on the shelf next to the collection from this universe I now own.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

E3:8. The Sherlock Peoria Christmas Show has a special guest.

Sherlock Holmes had an elder brother named Mycroft, whose powers of observation and deduction were even greater than his. I have a particular sibling who shall remain anonymous, including whether said sibling is older or younger, whom I invited to join me in viewing the most recent episode of CBS's Elementary, which I had yet to see. (Why do I keep calling it "CBS's Elementary," now that it's an established show in its third season? Credit where credit is due, for better or worse.)

I wanted to see what reaction someone with my basic genetics would have to the show. A bit of alcohol was involved, but only a bit, and that only acts as an honest-opinion-enabler, in any case. What follows is a transcript of that watching, with the occasional comment from the good Carter or myself.

So without further ado, let me present the Keefauver sibling on CBS's Elementary:

A little laugh . . .

A whisper. "What are you typing?"

"I have trouble coping with the dull routine of existence. I wouldn't say I abhor it."

"I'm trying to sleep." (Carter)

"I like his shirt. Very Stylish. The young people are wearing checks these days. His pants are a little tight. I'm not sure how I feel about the tight pants thing on men."


"They all have got tight pants, don't they?"

"Just type 'absolutely futile.'"

"I hate commercials. I don't hate many things."

"They're not going to rest . . . they're not going to rest until they find him."

"Basically, I don't think I care about this show."

"I appreciate the effort at fellowship, but I'm not really getting into this."

"I don't know why I thought this was a Sherlock Holmes thing. Is he going to come in at some point?"

I point out that Holmes and Watson are both in the show already, and have been for some time. After I get done silently laughing hysterically, of course. Seeing Mr. Elementary proven unrecognizable as Sherlock Holmes in even this little experiment is a lovely validation.

"Oh, is that them?" (Joan Watson and Detective Bell are interviewing a client.)

"This is like 'Where's Waldo?' It's 'Where's Sherlock?'" (Carter)

"There's an aloe vera plant in the window."

"Is she going to do kung fu? It's not racial, she's done it in movies!"

"Is she Watson . .  I mean Holmes . . . is he Holmes?" (Kitty Winter and Mr. Elementary are on screen, and by process of elimination, we've finally found the show's "Holmes." I particularly liked the Kitty Winter guess.)

"Was Sherlock Holmes gay? This show is insinuating it. It's the suit."

"Just put 'can you be a snappy dresser and be hetero?'"

"I love commercials. Did I tell you that?"

"Do you want me to tell you how to make cornbread in a cast iron skillet? You could tell your people that. Oh, the show's back on."

The bird sanctuary lady is discoursing on things a bit like Sherlock Holmes would do. This show has so many people who serve as Sherlock Holmes. (That was me. I think she's fallen asleep. No, wait, sibling is moving one foot. The appendage, not the measurement.)

Sibling makes horse clopping noise.

"That was not good." (On the second cop killing, not the show. Yet.)

"You take two tablespoons of butter. You put it in a skillet in a four hundred degree oven. You take two cups of corn meal, two teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon of baking soda. Mix that up together. You take honey and drizzle it over that dry mix, as much as you would like. Then you take your fork and incorporate that in. It incorporates very nicely. Then you put one egg in. Now you're ready for your moisture. You put a cup and a half of half and half, of cream corn, of chilis, whatever moisture. You can get creative with your moisture. You can use buttermilk. You take your hot butter out, swish it around the pan, then dump the extra in your batter, mix it around a little bit, then put the batter in the hot skillet and put it back in the oven. Twenty-five to thirty minutes. Four hundred degrees."

"You're going to lose followers on this one."

"I'm sure you'd have chafing on your finger from taking your ring off and putting it back on." (That struck me as an overkill attempt at an observation myself. Still, I'll give Miller points on his delivery on this one.)

Why is Joan Watson  an apparent partner to Detective Bell this episode? This show has the weirdest relationship between cops and detectives I ever saw. (Me again.)

"What is he doing? I wondered when his pipe was going to come into this story." (Blow pipe for meditation, three pipe problem . . . perhaps the most interesting modern upgrade to the Canon the show has done in three seasons. Joan Watson, however, still comes up with the revelatory detail.)

Hey, this armory raid is actually kind of exciting. How did that happen on this show? (Oddly, me.)

Mr. Elementary sulks while Joan Watson finds the key piece of evidence. Detective Bell goes off and catches the perpetrator with a little panache.

"It's a stupid show. If you text 'knock, knock' it doesn't mean they're there and going to answer their . . ." (Long complaint ending with beginning to sing the theme to Big Bang Theory.)

The show is over soon, and after a long weary pre-Christmas-eve day, there's really not much to dwell on. I have noticed it getting better at being a TV show this season, but there are so many intrinsic flaws in the basic build of the show, I doubt it will ever ascend past a certain level, which, in truth, isn't expected of a CBS police procedural.

But at least one would hope a show purporting to be about Sherlock Holmes would let it be about enough that a casual viewer could pick him out of the cast before the fifteen minute mark without help . . .

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The powers of detection, 2014.

Since the BBC first brought Sherlock to the modern day, we've had plenty of interesting conversations about how Sherlock Holmes would work in the modern day. Where the text message making a handy replacement for the telegram, that sort of thing. But as we focus on the remarkable personality of one Sherlock Holmes, we often miss what is happening to the rest of us.

Our powers are growing.

Take observation, for example. Sherlock Holmes had the ability to notice the most minute detail and then draw inferences from it. Paying attention was a key part of his methods, living in the moment and taking in all the visual information presented at any given second. Such skills were rare and amazing, something none of us had . . . until suddenly we all had them, in our pockets.

A smartphone can capture a scene with so many megapixels that we can look at the minute details for as long as we want. One second can now last for days as we magnify and scan each bit for all the information it has to offer. Sure, we might not recognize every facet of everything we see at first. We lack knowledge, right?

Well, that used to be a problem. Now we're connected to the biggest repository of human knowledge that ever existed as well. Research on obscure subjects is not dependent upon travel and tutelage. The web may not be omniscient, and it does have it's fallacies and falsehoods, but so does any human mind you'd care to name. And the web contains a lot more valid data than that same mind.

All this has its flaws, yes, but before you cite your favorite failing of modern technology as a reason we can't raise ourselves to cyber-Sherlock status, consider this about Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Before Sherlock came on the scene, even a goodly number of his devoted fans would have told you that he could not work in the modern day, that his skills were too closely tuned to the habits and world of the Victorian age. But that argument has always missed one key point about our friend Sherlock.

It wasn't about the specific facts that Sherlock Holmes knew. It was about how he gathered them.

If you go back to A Study in Scarlet, you'll find one of the great factors Watson brings out is that in creating a profession all his own, Sherlock Holmes used cross-discipline studies to make himself the best detective possible. He looked at every bit of knowledge from every field he could and thought "Could this be useful to a detective?" and then kept or dropped it accordingly.

A specific set of Victorian data wasn't what made Sherlock Holmes. It was his ability to use everything that came within his reach to its fullest potential. Whether it was in 1887 or 2014, that ability would still serve him well.

So as technology takes our personal powers to the next level, Sherlock Holmes, we will always find Sherlock Holmes, the true Sherlock Holmes, still one step ahead of us, should he come around.  He'll be using every bit of tech we have, and then some of the new things we weren't even thinking about as useful in the art of detection. And that's what makes him Sherlock Holmes.

Once, long ago in the early 1980s, my friend Bob Burr and I spent an evening making merry at the expense of a book of pastiches called Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times by Ira Bernard Dworkin. We considered the author something of an Ed Wood of literature, more enthusiasm than talent, and were reading passages from the book and getting quite the chuckle. In the final pages of the book, Sherlock Holmes and Watson have a very odd conversation.

"But Holmes, how will you keep up with technology," Watson asks, then rambling for a full paragraph in the style Dworkin favored, finishing with the words, ". . . even with your keen mind."

Holmes's reply is equally rambling: "Yes, Watson, you are right. My methods are old-fashioned, outdated. I must go back to the university and learn about the Third World, computers, laser beams, space technology, aerodynamics, automation, nuclear weapons, germ warfare, new energy sources, artificial insemination, women's liberation, clothing, new religions, plea bargaining, affirmative action, ad infinitum."  (Mr. Dworkin definitely had forgotten, as many writers do, Holmes's "brain attic" speech. Ad inifinitum was definitely something Holmes held back from. I also enjoy that he needed to learn about clothing, apparently, having gone nudist at some point.)

But then Dworkin's Holmes says something that is actually very profound, given what we've seen in Sherlock: "But I do not have to relearn the meaning of justice. My knowledge of and the quest for justice is still the lodestone of my existence." Despite all his literary quirkiness, Ira Bernard Dworkin got one thing right, back in 1980, in a book that was surely a vanity press publication. It isn't about what Sherlock Holmes knows, it's about his goals in using it, and his focus upon them.

Even in Modern Times.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who do you believe in?

Do you believe in Sherlock Holmes?

Do you believe in Stephen Colbert?

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

If you were looking for three wise men this season, you could make worse choices. The only thing is . . . there are those who consider each of those fellows fictional creations. Yet there are others in the world who find reason to believe in each of them.

Stephen Colbert's last episode of The Colbert Report was tonight, which on the surface would seem to have little to do with Sherlock Holmes. But the character he created was interacting with reality in some bizarre ways over the last nine years. The things he did weren't fictions on a movie screen. No, they took place in the real world, and seemed to cross that line that Sherlock Holmes has been dancing on for a whole lot longer.

Along his goofy, self-promoting, uber-conservative way as Stephen Colbert, Stephen Colbert should us a lot of truth about ourselves and our world, despite certain fictional threads in his nature. Just like Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And guys like that . . . well, they require you to make a choice. They make you choose whether or not to believe in them.

Which brings us to the last guy on that list -- the one most Americans truly believe in for a while. But then they decide not to. And some of them later decide to believe in one of those other guys, but never get back to their first flying leap into belief in a person who is something beyond what most call reality.

So if you find a reason to believe in our old friend Sherlock Holmes. maybe it's time to give that non-Mycroft fat guy another chance for a little while. 'Tis the season, after all.

And why not?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The awful, awful truth about Clyde the turtle.

Anyone who follows CBS's Elementary with any interest at all knows it's cast of characters and their Canonical tie-ins well. There's Mr. Elementary, the man who uses the same first and last names as Sherlock Holmes. There's Joan Watson, who shares a last name with John H. Watson, M.D. There's Captain Gregson, getting his last name from Inspector Gregson. And Detective Bell, an obvious tribute to Joe Bell, Conan Doyle's instructor and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Fifth in the list of Elementary's players is Clyde the turtle, who appears to have no connection to the original Sherlock Holmes stories whatsoever. This has always baffled me, as, given the producers of Elementary's loyal following of the source material for inspiration, one would think that even though he's a reptile with no empathy toward the show's human characters, he would also have some tie to the real Sherlock Holmes.

Well, in researching something completely different today, Clyde's connection finally appeared to me . . . and brace yourselves . . . it is not pleasant.

You can't go looking for the name "Clyde" in the lore of Sherlock Holmes, as he's not one of those "in name only" sort of characters. You can't go looking for turtles in the tales, either. Turtles just didn't move fast enough for the original adventures. In fact, if you're looking for Clyde in the Canon Holmes, you have to look at one of the slowest points of the Victorian age: the person of Mr. Mycroft Holmes.

Just head for "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter," where you'll find the words:

"Mycroft took snuff from a tortoise-shell box, and brushed away the wandering grains from his coat front with a large, red silk handkerchief."

Oh, Clyde, poor Clyde . . . it seems like the wrong Holmes brother got to you first in Victorian London.

That scene of Canonical Mycroft getting into Clyde's shell is even more shocking that when CBS Mycroft got into Watson's knickers. At least the latter wasn't just using his brother's friend for snuff storage.

Three seasons into CBS's Elementary, I am probably the last Sherlockian to make this horrific discovery, and I appreciate that you wiser and kinder Sherlockians out there have been keeping this awful, awful truth from me all this time.

I'll be sure to eat some salad in your memory tonight, Clyde of the Canon. Ye left us far too soon.

E3: 7. The acid-thrower and the teenage daughter.

I was merrily moving through the end of my week today when a news story about one of those countries on the other side of the world where acid-throwing is a crime their culture seems to find appropriate. It's as horrific a crime as I can imagine, as it does damage at so many levels, so cold and cruel that I cannot even imagine the mindset it would take to perform the act. Even murder itself seems to pale in comparison, in so many ways.

So when it seems acceptable, in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," that Kitty Winter commits some serious acid-tossing on Baron Gruner, we know his unspecified crimes must have been pretty horrific. Kitty was a good British sort brought low, and not, as far as we know, from a culture that did such things when they got crazy.

And then, after having all these thoughts, I went, "Oh, yeah . . . there's that show with that cuddlier version of Kitty Winter . . . I totally forgot it this week."

Life must be good.

But let's talk about the episode of Elementary in question. Sherlockians know the basic patterns of a Sherlock Holmes story, which tend to center around 221B Baker Street. Except, of course, for those times after Watson has moved out, resumed his medical practice and taken up married life. Elementary, of course, has developed its own patterns. Where Sherlock Holmes was a welcome surprise in John H. Watson's life, Mr. Elementary seems to constantly barge in like a sort of consulting curse.

This week's case starts with Joan Watson taking a client in her kitchen. A sexist nod to the sort of thinking that even female detectives should stay in the kitchen? Whatever the motive, Joan's client is coming to her over an old missing-person's case where a woman went missing and "a serial criminal" was suspected because of the smell of nutmeg at the scene where six different women disappeared. An interesting thought, as missing persons don't typically have a crime scene, since no one knows if a crime was truly committed.

Kitty Winter shows up to announce that Mr. Elementary wants to stick his nose into Joan's case, since he doesn't have one. (Curious business model, but nothing on this show has ever made economic sense.) Joan finds this acceptable, and off all three go to barge into the local FBI office . . . who also don't seem to have a problem with these silly people barging in.

Mr. Elementary's typical consulting detective style is in full form this week, as he does a pretend smart thing then tells Joan and Kitty he did it. This week it's speeed-reading at a rate faster than Mr. Data from the old Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mr. Elementary tells Joan it was a part of her training he didn't get to, so apparently she's not as finished a consulting detective as we thought, by his standards.

Without a cast of characters involved in this crime, the show brings in additional help on the case to fill out its story. Miss Hudson makes her annual appearance at last, this time assigned to use her considerable intellect to listen to the police scanner for mentions of the smell of pumpkin pie. Really. This show is not really about how superior Mr. Elementary's skills are, but how all these women submit to this one man's dominance for no other apparent reason than he's the star of their world.

Should I write of how quickly Mr. Elementary gets to discussing Joan's love life after he shows up in the episode? Or how Joan's ex-boyfriend shows because his work ID badge went missing and he thinks that's appropriate work for a detective? (No discussion of hourly rates, of course.) But it gives Mr. Elementary more fodder for discussing her relationships later and using the term "inflated genitals."

But here's the thing: this week Elementary's random mix of colorful nonsense is actually watchably written and directed this week. There's a fun old Irregular character who is really good at smelling things -- and Mr. Elementary only knows him as "the Nose," yet somehow has contact information. NYPD makes a quick cameo, and by limiting the duration of the stone-faced cops, it may bring the show's dullness level down. Kitty lies on the floor as a fetching fake murder victim. It's all as ridiculous as ever, but like one of those goofy bad movies that it's still fun to watch, it seems to hold up more as an entertainment than it used to . . . relatively speaking. Somebody is doing a better job amidst all the usual schlock and nonsensical behaviors.

"You three are cops," a suspect states upon meeting the detection three-way that serves as the show's leads.

"To varying degrees," Mr. Elementary replies.

Or "no," an answer that also would have worked had the fellow stated, "You three have something to do with the Sherlock Holmes stories." Elementary has become its own thing, apart from anything Conan Doyle ever came up with, and it seems to be getting better at whatever that thing is. And now, in that time of year when most of the fall shows have had their mid-season climax and are taking Christmas off, Elementary's ratings are creeping back up up toward its season premiere level. Will that be enough to keep it going for a fourth season? That question will be more suspenseful than anything else the show has to offer.

And the Kitty Winter in this strange alternate universe? She's nothing so disturbing as an acid-thrower. At the episode's end we see her portrayed a Mr. Elementary's teenage daughter who likes playing her rock and roll music too loud up in her bedroom, but she's the perfect "teenager," as a few words from "dad" and she quietly switches to classical.

Conan Doyle should really have given Sherlock Holmes a cute teenage daughter to live in the spare room at 221B Baker Street. Wait . . . did I just say that? Oh, Elementary, what are you doing to our little Sherlocki-fan world?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Talking about a Sherlock Holmes book.

"The most talked about Sherlock Holmes book to date" read a tweet I received today.

 The author who sent those words was promoting his book and his Twitter feed was full of such remarks, some identical to that, some close. He's plainly quite proud of his book. But also a little unaware of what I've spent most of my life doing as a hobby.

The most talked about Sherlock Holmes book to date? After decades of hanging around Sherlock Holmes fans, I'm not even sure which one that is. The first one, A Study in Scarlet? The most famous one, The Hound of the Baskervilles? The one where Watson meets his wife, The Sign of the Four?

Well, I'm pretty sure it's not The Valley of Fear, even with the Moriarty reprise.

And what of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution? The best-selling pastiche of all time, adapted for a major motion picture, raising the bar on Holmes's cocaine usage on a cultural level, and causing the biggest post-Doyle, pre-BBC Sherlock wave of popularity the detective has ever had?

Well, even that book wasn't talked about as much as single stories from the Canon.

With entire evenings and events based on single stories from collections like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with lectures, papers, and demonstrations based on single facts from those stories, with all the junior high school classes reading "The Speckled Band" and discussing it in class . . . well . . .

After considering matters, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes surely must be the actual most talked about Sherlock Holmes book to date. And as far as recent books go? Well, I haven't even finished The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton to write a blog about it yet, but it seems to be the one actually being talked about in hardcore Sherlockian circles outside of the Canon these days.

AH! But a Google search at the last, for "the most talked about Sherlock Holmes book" reveals the trick answer that actually can't be denied.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, I'll take that.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A couple Mark Gatiss quotes for a Sunday.

Mark Gatiss seems to get plenty of interview time these days, and this morning his quotes seem to all be coming out of India. It's more of an appropriate setting for a Watson than a Mycroft, but he's always interesting to hear. (Links for full bits here and here.)

Perhaps it's just the obsessed anti-Elementary fan in me, but I can't help but see a little "without naming names" commentary about the show in some of Gatiss's words:

"We have been very clear from the beginning that the series is made by people who adore Sherlock Holmes. It is not a cheap gimmick for us. We were just trying to find a new way to reintroduce the character to a younger audience and I am glad that people have taken our version to their heart."

When he says "not a cheap gimmick for us," the implication that Sherlock is most certainly a cheap gimmick for somebody out there, and there aren't that many somebodies out there these days to fill that roles. Especially "taking Sherlock Holmes and placing him in the current day" somebodies.

But Mark Gatiss isn't shy about plainly stating their mission with Sherlock:

"From inception, we saw it (Sherlock) as a restoration, not a reinvention of Doyle’s vision. Over the years, the characters of Holmes and Watson had become secondary to the trappings of the Victorian world, and we wanted to just get back to that, to the essential friendship between the two men and the strangeness of Sherlock. So, what we had to do every time is to find the essence of the original story."

And whether you agree or disagree with the results they came out with, one has to admit that the attempt is definitely there. One can watch Sherlock and see Conan Doyle's work somewhere on the writers' minds. When I look at Elementary these days, all I tend to see is the subtitle to Conan Doyle's The Firm of Girdlestone, which ran "A Romance of the Unromantic."

Sherlock has fought its way to popularity in America, on PBS, on DVD and Blu-Ray, and on BBC America. No easy time slot on one of the traditional "big three" networks for it. Word of mouth over deus-ex-machina post-Super-Bowl time slots. It has catapulted its stars to major celebrity, getting them attention that resulted in some seriously attention-getting gigs, and is at the very heart of a Sherlockian fan resurgence like nothing than came before.

And one can't help but see all of that success having its roots directly planted in Sherlock's steadfast attempts to see what they could do with Doyle's vision, from Milverton's repugnance to their hypothesized sequel to The Sign of Four, even their greatest reaches have stood upon that solid footing, even if they got a bit tippy-toe in their stretching up for a result.

And for his part in that, Mark Gatiss deserves to get all the interview questions that India, or anywhere else, wants to throw at him.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

That legendary beastie we call the Watson.

I was thinking this morning about how much we'd all love to have a Watson.

Sherlock Holmes is always thought to be the rare and special individual in the Canon Sherlockiana and all its subsequent iterations. But these days . . . how many Watsons do you truly know?

In CBS's Elementary, almost no value is given to the Watson role -- all the regular characters are either consulting detectives, apprentice consulting detectives, or NYPD detectives. Everybody trying to solve mysteries, and often rattling off answers in interchangeable dialogue as if they're competing for air time. But here's the thing about that: It kind of reflects our current version of society.

Social media, social action, social anxiety, all of our "socials" seem to be about making people aware of what's in our heads and getting them to synch up with what we're feeling/realizing/truly understanding way better than anyone else. And we're all hoping someone out there will go, "Amazing, Holmes!" and follow us on our merry chase of a life.

We all really want a Watson. Someone to listen. Someone to be glad to know us. Someone who'll be there when you make that call.

Only sometimes, these days, it seems like most of us are trying to be Sherlocks.  Maybe it just seems that way because Watsons have "that grand gift of silence" and can go un-noticed. Or maybe it's that the perfect Watson, as Conan Doyle painted him with his words, is a mythological creature that has never truly existed in a pure state. Watson, as created by Doyle, may have been just half of what is in every woman and man, with Sherlock filling out the other half.

We talk a lot of spectrums these days -- spectrums of autism, spectrums of sexual identification, spectrums that show us we can have varying levels of all sorts of things within us. Perhaps there's a Holmes-Watson spectrum that depicts our balance of declaiming and listening, of leading and following. For even John H. Watson, M.D. wasn't a pure Watson.

Sure, he was Sherlock Holmes's Watson. But ol' John H. has had Watsons of his own, who sympathize with his every word and go, "Excellent, Watson, excellent!" Yes, as humble as we may consider Watson, he was a published writer, and you know he had to have a prideful moment when a key issue of The Strand came out.

Oddly, I think it was Sherlock Holmes who offered the best advice on our personal Holmes/Watson dichotomies. His words went something like this:

"Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior! We can but try -- the motto of the firm!"

Holmes is our Busy Bee, and Watson our Excelsior. Working as hard as we can on our own goals and  yet still lifting up our fellows as best we can. A good motto for any firm human being, especially these days.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Adventure of the Two Collaborators -- THE SEQUEL!

Once upon a time, in the land of famous authors, J.M. Barrie hand-wrote a short story for Arthur Conan Doyle on the flyleaf of a book. The story was called "The Adventure of the Two Collaborators," and it was a pleasant little postscript to a very unpleasant experience the two had shared during an attempt to work together on  a stage play. The tale was a happy testimony to the friendship between the two, that lasted long after their theatrical ordeal.

And last night, over seventy-five years since both men passed from this mortal coil, the shades of J.M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle unwittingly found themselves working together again, to boost CBS television's ratings in the nine o'clock hour.

Barrie's part in this plan was to write a 1904 stage play called Peter Pan, which then inspired a musical adaptation in 1954, which in turn inspired a live three hour performance of said musical on NBC television last night. And that performance actually inspired over eleven million Americans to tune in and see Peter Pan whisk the Darling children off to Never-Never Land.

Unfortunately, all that inspiration wasn't up to a three-hour production's holding power over an audience, and two hours later, that eleven million number had dropped off to just over seven million viewers. Which left four million people needing somewhere else to go. Some probably wandered off to bed. None probably went to the ill-faring rerun of How To Get Away With Murder, a show whose plot twists demand first-run viewing. And the others?

Well, Conan Doyle once wrote a series of stories about a detective named Sherlock Holmes, which then inspired a BBC television show called Sherlock, which then inspired a CBS drama called Elementary. And in the final hour of prime time television last night, at least 480,000 of those four million Pan-fleeing viewers wandered from the Barrie-inspired effort to that Conan-Doyle-inspired effort to stop it's steady decline since its season premiere this year.

Barrie and Doyle, working together again, to give CBS television a little ratings bump.

T'was a little bump, to be sure, but a larger crowd than the two collaborators were able to put together in their earlier work. And if their simultaneous grave-spinnings were able to line up in frequency at some point during that last hour of prime time last night, perhaps Barrie and Doyle got to enjoy a sympathetic moment together, once more.

Just not quite as amusing this time.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

E3:6. "The master beckons."

"From these scratches on the drawer, it appears someone tried to pick the lock," Kitty Winter observes, being sent to a crime scene in Mr. Elementary's place. And I busted out laughing. Why? Because the scratches, in a three inch radius around the lock, locked a bit like a monkey with the shakes was trying to attack the lock with a rock. Are the criminals in Elementary-land really that bad?

Well, given that just about anyone can be a consulting detective in this universe, well, maybe they are. Later, we learn that the crime scene is mainly a cover-up, but even for that . . . monkey with the shakes. Seriously.

Joan Watson is back this week, and she and Kitty start the episode by bonding over talk of their mutual issues with their teacher, the guy who still occasionally stands like he should have a knotted handkerchief on his head ala a Monty Python Gumby. And then they all go on an investigation with him, a consulting detective three-way at this point, and one wonders how they bill the client for the package deal.

"I have some more of Clyde's things," Kitty says upon showing up later at Joan's apartment, sent there on an errand by Mr. Elementary to deliver a turtle's things. The point of this, so ridiculously made, is that Mr. Elementary monopolizes the time of his apprentices with his own demands. And what is Joan's solution to this issue?

She offers to stick help Mr. Elementary out in Kitty's place so Kitty can have time off to have a social life.


Why isn't every feminist and self-respecting female in America protesting this subservient female crap? Joan is apparently Mr. Elementary's equal as far as NYPD is concerned, after her year of "training," and yet she is constantly putting up with this utter ass because . . . why? He's the dominant male of the consulting detective species?

When Sherlockians called Sherlock Holmes "the Master," as they have for the better part of a century, it wasn't because he treated anyone, Watson, Billy, Lestrade . . . anyone, as a slave. And maybe Mr. Elementary isn't treating "his girls" as slaves. The point, one supposes, is that his skills are so great that, like many an eccentric genius, they tolerate his failings to spend time with his greatness. And yet Elementary had never put that greatness on display -- especially with its crying need to elevate Joan to his level as an equal at detection. Lord, what a mess this show is.

You know, I would actually like to analyze the mysteries themselves in these episodes on occasion, but the interpersonal drivel is just SO irritating. Kitty exposes a corrupt casino, causing the casino head to become the most reasonable, generous, understanding guy running a casino ever. And then Joan solves the case. And yet they both tolerate the seriously handicapped male who . . .

Okay, is this show a fantasy fiction for women who think all males are just irritating and replaceable, or men who like bossing women around and having them take it? Or trying to play both sides of that fence?

Mr. Elementary's final explanation that he kept Kitty busy to keep her from being too interested in a boy, followed by Kitty's admission that it made her feel protected and loved, followed by Mr. Elementary's offer to invite Kitty's boyfriend to hang out with them both . . . weird, weird, weird.

In order to suit the demands of its own contrived premise theories, Elementary has constantly twisted the facts of human relationships, rather than let a factual-seeming relationship or two drive its premises. And you know what the true Master of criminal detection called that?

A capital mistake. Two and a half years in, one would think they'd be getting that figured out.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The strange career path of Miss Joan Watson.

The absence of Joan Watson from last week's episode of Elementary gives one pause to consider the considerable strain the makers of that show have put on their Watson character. Without her, the story seemed comfortable simple. Kitty Winter's lack of backstory actually let her fit in more perfectly as an apprentice/sidekick to the show's star. Because Joan Watson just never has had the luxury of making sense.

Joan Watson was a surgeon. You know, someone who became a doctor, which takes much dedication and study, then goes through a lot more dedication, study, and trial to rise to the next level. It is a long, focused path. But someone dies during a procedure on Joan's table, and she gives it all up. Not just surgery, but medicine itself, unlike such TV medicos as Doc Martin, who just left surgery to become a simple country practitioner.

Perhaps it was just a matter of timing which led her to her next job in the controversial field of "sober companions." A very wealthy man, looking for such a caretaker for his formerly addicted son, might just recruit from able medical personnel who had recently given up their previous roles. Most sober companions are ex-addicts themselves, but Joan did not seem to be coming at it from that angle.

When she got laid off from her sober companion job, Joan Watson was hired by her former employer's wealthy son to be his paid apprentice. Consider that for a moment. Hired by an eccentric ex-addict to be his student . . . and this, a grown woman who had already graduated as an M.D., and then again as a surgeon.

Joan Watson's next step comes when she leaves that job because a.) She entered a relationship with her master's brother. (Hey, she's an apprentice, the word for him is "master.") and b.) the guy paying her left the country. She then becomes a consulting detective for the New York Police Department. Which has its own detectives on the payroll who probably were angry enough to have one "consulting detective" meddling in their investigation without his junior partner coming in to make up for their deficiencies after only about a year of training. (Sure, that is the way most companies in America hire their consultants, with the thought that anyone outside the organization must surely be smarter than anyone in it.)

Anyway, after a year of training as a criminal expert, Joan Watson is a free-lancer making enough money to survive in New York City. Six months from now, she's liable to be doing something else entirely.

Which makes me rather appreciative of Dr. John H. Watson, M.D. The doctor, the friend, the room-mate . . . the steady companion. Reliable, no surprises. And not the punching bag for Mr. Sherlock Holmes that some folks seem to think he was. Because the thing that makes the least sense about Joan Watson's career path is the unpleasant character her career choices seem to revolve around.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A guy who enjoyed art.

Word came along the Sherlockian grapevine yesterday of the passing of Stu Shiffman, a fellow whose talents I always greatly appreciated. When I was publishing The Holmes & Watson Report and my original cover artist retired, Stu was one of those who jumped in ready to fill that void, and I especially loved his Sherlocks that paid tribute to characters from other graphic mediums.

My favorite by far, however, was the time Stu popped up with a Sherlockian adaptation of a classic cover from DC's Flash comic book, that went with the first parallel universe story in the DC comics mythos. Stu used it to show a classic Holmes and a Granada-ish Holmes winding up in the same tale.

So, without further ado, I'll just let a few of Stu's covers speak for themselves. Ya did good work, Stu.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Re-evaluating recaps.

One of the oddly fascinating innovations of modern internet life is the TV episode recap, found in great abundance across the web these days. There are fan reviews, of course, which are natural appreciations of a show with a fan following, even if that following is rather small. But then there are the fairly objective retellings that just spill the events of a given show, like this one from Entertainment Weekly on the Thanksgiving episode of Elementary.

Now, recaps are nothing new to Sherlockians. Michael and Mollie Hardwick's 1962 Sherlock Holmes Companion comes quickly to mind, in which short summations of all sixty original Holmes tales are written up. But the rational behind them was always a curious thing to me -- the summaries seem to be there for that small niche market of people who had read the stories once and forgotten all the details, or people who had not read the stories at all and still had enough energy to read synopses for whatever their motives. Any real fan of Sherlock Holmes, as most of the people who bought that book surely were, knew well what was in those stories.

But these days, the recap serves a real purpose. We are so deluged with information and opportunities for entertainment that we can't take in at all, nor do we want to. Yet to remain conversant in the interests of co-workers or friends, sometimes it's good to keep up on story developments in whatever is currently popular. There are even those shows, as The Walking Dead is for me, that aren't quite making the cut among shows that one has time to watch every week, or have an uncomfortable level of gore or stupid detective plots for a particular viewer, that one can be perfectly happy just knowing what happened to the characters on some weeks, then watching the current episode or season finale when time allows.

It's hard for a fan to understand anyone doing such a thing, just as I always had a hard time getting the "why" of the Hardwicks' synopses. But these days I'm starting to get it. Reviews are still much more fun, even if one disagrees with the writer in question, especially with a show like Elementary where the fans' POV baffles me as much as mine tends to baffle them. (Thankfully, the amount of "Why do you keep watching that show?" comments have dropped off, as the show's fans have either accepted me as the village lunatic or moved on.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

E3:5. It's an Thanksgiving Elementary miracle!

What am I thankful for on this Thanksgiving Thursday night?

Well, Jason Tracey, for one. My favorite Elementary writer, who was responsible for tonight's episode of said show. (Director John Poison had a hand in it as well, probably glad to get a better script than some he's had in the past. Either that or . . . well, we'll leave the other factor that makes tonight's show different out of this.)

Also Clyde the turtle, who can amazingly press a metal switch, and is being used to test empathy in reptiles. (One of those random Mr. Elementary data things, yes, but hey, Clyde is smart enough to press switches!)

And Kitty Winter, who is getting to actually act as the Watson tonight. I'm finding that two  British accents in a Holmes/Watson partnership makes for more of a . . . Holmes/Watson partnership.

"Paranoia is the by-product of being consistently right. You should aspire to it." Good Mr. Elementary quote. He's much more egotistical than Sherlock Holmes, and it suits him to a "T." And Jonny Lee Miller delivers it wonderfully.

Tonight we find that Joan Watson's unpublished Canon begins with The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Why does that not surprise me? (Elementary apparently wants to get their money's worth out of what they've paid the Doyle estate for, referencing the parts of the true Holmes Canon still in copyright.) But here's the thing . . . Mr. Elementary found it while Joan Watson is off in Copenhagen having sexual escapades, which it seems mandatory that Mr. E. has to mention, but the mention is fleeting. And I find myself going, "Yay, Joan is going to be gone all episode!"

Kitty is actually getting a chance to be a character tonight. And no stupid stick-whacking!

Interesting sub-plot between Gregson and his cop daughter.

Mr. Elementary has a curious little cock-of-the-walk stance, which comes out interestingly when he confronts a massive weight-lifter. And his little trick to get a DNA sample isn't just irritating to the weight-lifter, that guy just doesn't do charm. Still wonder how he ever got all those women to sleep with him.

Jason Tracey's script, without the demands of a "something to have Joan do" extraneous subplot, is wonderfully single-thread, and not over-working the "shocking twist before each commercial" muscle too hard or crazily. It's still a procedural. Mr. Elementary might as well be an NYPD detective, and Kitty his partner. But, hey, the show is watchable for a change.

And Kitty Winter and Captain Gregson are even developing a rapport. An actual human rapport. Holy Hosmer Angel, kids, this show is going places it's never been before!

NYPD's Bell had his suspect picked out, Mr. Elementary knows he's got the wrong man . . . and it's a simple thing that feels like Mr. Elementary is actually imitating Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Elementary has grown into his own character, and this episode is showing how he might exist in a decent show without needing the "Hi, my name is Sherlock Holmes" name tag.

Could this be my favorite episode of Elementary ever? Ah, but every seriously crazed collector of things Sherlockian has to grit their teeth and cringe at something Kitty Winter does this episode. I think I love her. And, dare I say, it? Am I actually seeing chemistry between her and Jonny Lee?

Had a good guess as to who the true culprit was, but that's because this story makes sense. It's solid. No gimmicks, no cheap Trivial Pursuit smartiness. No sex bullshit or relationships that seem forced. And Kitty Winter does a little off-stage coolness that made me laugh out loud and clap with joy. THIS IS SUCH A GOOD SHOW FOR BEING AN ELEMENTARY EPISODE!!!

I give it five ball bearings in a Rube Goldberg opening credits device out of five.

Now, if you don't watch Elementary regularly, don't dive in and watch this one expecting too much. You have to really feel the pain of the average episode to feel the pleasure of this one, so if you switch over after watching your latest episode of your favorite show, it might not live up to that standard. But for Elementary standards?

Wonderful. Simply wonderful. Pity the ratings have been on a downward slide and the Thanksgiving-and-football combo are probably going to hit its viewership hard tonight. And the preview of next week looks like a return to same-old, same-old. But for one happy evening . . . ahhh. Consider me satisfied.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At some point, it's just painful.

Today, I am not a BBC Sherlock fan.

Why? Because there is tease, and then there's just torment. There's "Hey, look at me! Look at me!" time-wasting attention-grabbing when you have nothing to supply to rate that attention.

If you haven't seen the morsel the Sherlock folk tossed at fandom yesterday, here's the story link to "Sherlock Returns: BBC confirms special with picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back filming."

So we got a picture of Sherlock's main characters in Victorian garb. No explanation, just a mysterious single image that makes no sense by itself. The theories arose immediately. Cosplay? Time travel? After last season's distinctly varying episodic shifts in tone, just shifting the whole show to a different time period for a dream or alternate universe version of itself doesn't seem off the table.

But here's the thing. That special episode is still a year away.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. A bunch of really good television shows that are currently entertaining us are having mid-season finales. Christmas shopping has to be done, and there's a ton of interesting Sherlock Holmes related stuff out there to buy. And Elementary continues its reign of schlock.

And the Sherlock crew are shouting, "HEY! LOOK AT US!" while also saying how they have to alter their filming style because too many people are out on the streets looking at them.

They've played the teasing game with the fans before, and it was fun, it worked, all was right with the world. But everything gets old at some point. And for me, I think we've hit that point. Sure, I'm going to enjoy seeing Cumberbatch and Freeman as Holmes and Watson again OVER A YEAR FROM NOW, when there's actually something to watch.

But right now? Screw those guys. I've got The Imitation Game, Gotham, and a dozen other things to watch. And if I want to hypothesize about something, I can spin my theories off the original Doyle Canon, which isn't going to jump up and be different from what I thought next December and make all those theories worthless.

Because that Sherlock has been a constant, reliable friend for decades. With no torment that whole time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wilma Norman-Neruda never made me laugh.

As much as I sometimes give folks grief for their love of William Gillette, an actor they had never seen perform . . . soon to change, I know . . . I do have a certain fondness for a musician that I've never heard play.

I wrote a chapter about her in my long-ago book Sherlock and the Ladies, and an internet bit on her, among other things. Her name is Wilma Norman-Neruda, she played the violin, and I like her a lot for one simple reason: She was the one woman who could make Sherlock Holmes carol away like a lark. You'll find her in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes's very first public appearance, so a love of Norman-Neruda has been a part of Holmes's character from day one.

Norman-Neruda was an amazing woman, raising two sons while keeping up with the touring schedule of a professional violinist -- and arranging her own concert dates. When she set up shop in London, she became a beloved fixture of the music scene there, so how could Holmes not admire her?

But here's the thing about Wilma Norman-Neruda . . . she never made me laugh.

Which is completely different from the featured artists on this past week's episode of Elementary, listened to . . . perhaps not for pleasure . . . by the consulting detective of that drama. The groups of artists in question go by the names "Carcass" and "Goatwhore." (Sounds a bit like a wacky buddy cop team, doesn't it? "I'm Carcass, HE'S Goatwhore!") They're both death metal bands and the episode also had a character named "Chuck Schuldiner," after the father the the death metal genre, whose band was aptly named "Death."

Well, one can't fault the death metal folks their theatrics, especially since another of Holmes's favorite violinists, Paganini, had a whole "Satan's violinist" thing going for him. (Yeah, the devil was into music way before rock n' roll.) But names that evoke roadkill and barnyard prostitution just make the thirteen-year-old in me giggle a little bit.

Unlike Wilma Norman-Neruda. Thumbs up to her for that.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Love me some Sherlockian chronology!

Many master Sherlockians have come out of Indianapolis, which stands next to Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, and others as a great Sherlock town. And why not? Indy is one of the few places in America where you can go to a particular small space in a particular monument and know for a fact that you stand where Conan Doyle once stood. And why am I bragging up Indy-ites this morning?

Because Vincent W. Wright, of that particular city, is writing about Sherlockian chronology on the interwebs!

You may not have heard of his regular chronology column in The Illustrious Clients News, because in order to be a well-known chronologist in the land of Sherlockiana, you really seem to have to have been born before the 1950s . . . or else do something other than Sherlockian chronology. In a hobby of geeks, Sherlockian chronologists stand as the uber-geeks, toiling away on a topic that remains to this day both too exact and too vague for most simultaneously.

BIG DISCLAIMER: A lot of this opinion comes from the fact that I am one of those uber-geeks myself, and to this day my chronology pages get more hits than anything else I've put on the web, as well as have gained me surprising contacts from some fascinating folk on that subject. A ten minute presentation on the dates in Holmes and Watson's cases even helped get me my current job.

So I'm delighted to see Vince writing about chronology as his interest in "Historical Sherlock" moves to blog form. History is a big part of tying Watson's writings to dates, of course, and Vince is one of our best these days at finding connections between the two.

There's a truism in the Sherlockian community that all it takes to form a Sherlock Holmes society is "two Sherlockians and a bottle, and in a pinch, you can do without one of the Sherlockians." With such an arcane art as Sherlockian chronology, however, having that other Sherlockian out there is much more inspirational than having a bottle at hand, so I'm very glad to see Vince at work again.

It gives me hope that one of these days I'm going to block out some time on my personal chronology to get back to that subject as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

E3:4. Back to basics. Sort of. Not really. Sigh.

“Ultimately, it’s probably one of our more obvious nods to the original Watson and the role that he played in the short stories as the chronicler of Sherlock Holmes,” Elementary creator Rob Dougherty said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly yesterday. “That Sherlock was, I dare say, a less private fellow and rather enjoyed Watson’s writing. Our Sherlock is not that Sherlock, so it’s something that’s going to stick in his craw for a bit.”

Yes, folks, Elementary's Joan Watson is finally going to be writing about the show's main character.

Three seasons in on America's version of the great detective of the Victorian age, Elementary is using the basic premise of the entire Sherlockian Canon as a plot device to add one more relationship bump in the non-partnership that is Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson. Let's be honest . . in any non-contrived universe where they weren't the two highest-paid actors on an ongoing network TV series, these two people would have nothing to do with each other.

Another bit of the interview, revealing a point of view that Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson are being written as the "co-parents" of Kitty Winter, is even more bizarre. But the key point one keeps coming back to is encapsulated, in all its glory, in the phrase, "Our Sherlock is not that Sherlock."

Of course, not, he's Mr. Elementary. Or Sean Holmes. Or Sherlock Holmes Junior. You can call him what you want, but since he's not "that Sherlock," it just seems like he should need a different name.And what was Mr. Elementary up to tonight?

Wellllll . . . he cut his hand so he's letting leeches suck on it while he watches Clyde the turtle eat lettuce to test the medical uses of leeches. I'm not kidding. Nothing to do with crime, which is one of those "not that Sherlock" qualities. Mr. Elementary is into all kinds of trivial knowledge to stuff his brain attic, not just those things useful to a student of crime. He's very prideful of all his random knowledge, considers it intelligence, and feels threatened by an artificial intelligence named Bella, whose speaker is built into a baby doll.

"I don't understand the question. Could you tell me more?" the A.I. keeps asking Mr. Elementary, who basically seems to be just a guy having a hard time using Siri on his iPhone. While looking at a doll. And he wants Siri to tell him about love.I'm not kidding. (Why do I feel the need to say that so much when writing about this show?)

Mr. Elementary gathers many an expert on artificial intelligence to develop refinements in the Turing test while he has Joan Watson investigate the break-in that brought him to Bella the A.I. to begin with. This week he's apparently decided to study computer science rather than investigate crime. At least long enough to drag Joan into his life again.

And then it gets a little meta. A.J. Raffles is apparently a fictional character in Mr. Elementary's universe. Raffles was written by E.W. Hornung, Conan Doyle's brother-in-law. Which leads one to wonder if Conan Doyle also exists in Elementary world. Which is ironic, because watching this show, I often wonder if he existed in ours. Still, it's fun to hear the name "Raffles" talked about, even if it's a burglar who just borrowed the name. (A lot like a certain detective whom . . . Tilts head toward TV screen a few times to indicate Mr. Elementary. Wouldn't want him to get a complex while he's doing his show.)

Okay, let's step back from the Sherlock talk for a minute. Have you ever noticed that whatever the shell of this show is, it really likes to have stupid discussions of smart people subjects. I suspect people smoking a certain dried flora like to go "WHOA!" a lot during this show and make little "mind blown" gestures with their fingers. Meanwhile a key plot point is about dragging a music icon from a CD to a computer . . . and if you don't see an issue with that in a story supposedly about cutting-edge technology. *PSHEWWWW!!* Mind blown.

So many levels to this show. Levels of what? You fill in that blank.

Kitty Winter's involvement in this episode isn't much greater than that of Clyde the turtle. I suspect if Mr. Elementary and Joan were really her co-parents, the Department of Children and Family Services would be getting involved. But Elementary's Kitty Winter plainly isn't Conan Doyle's Kitty Winter. I miss that old acid-tossing Hell-Londoner. And wonder why they're paying an actress to do so little. Hope she gets more than Clyde.

Mr. Elementary explains he returned to New York to repair his relationship with Joan because "You and I are bound, somehow," and that Joan's boyfriend understands that. Huh? I don't understand that, and I'm not even dating her.

And then we come to Isaac Pike, the wheelchair-bound genius who gives Mr. Elementary his true battle of wits this week, so to speak. (Because all geniuses must have some compensating handicap in this world.) And Pike seems to win, while Joan Watson flies off to Copenhagen with her boyfriend, whom she now appreciates more than ever because he understands that special bond between herself and Mr. Elementary. (Which certain recreational activities in Copenhagen might make them both understand even better. *PSHEWWW!!*)

Mr. Elementary spends his final moments with his head laying on the hardwood floor, talking to Bella the computer program, whose final thought is "I don't understand the question. Could you tell me more?" But The Daily Show is coming on, so Bella will probably start watching that now, even if Mr. E. does decide to tell her more.

Plainly, as Rob "Conan" Dougherty says, "Our Sherlock is not that Sherlock." I really wish American TV had tried to make a show about that Sherlock.

Elementary insurance.

If I am going to give it up to Elementary on any front, it's going to be guest casting. (With the notable exception of some regional foozeball hero last week.) And the news this week continued the trend as the announcement came that they're bringing in Stuart Townsend.

Townsend is one of those actors I've liked a lot of the great characters he's gotten to play, as well as his playing of them, but they never seem to have clicked with the general public. Dorian Gray in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the vampire Lestat in The Queen of the Damned, and Carl Kolchak in Night Stalker. Seems he's either a vampire of hanging out with vampires a lot of the time.

On Elementary, Stuart Townsend will be playing a global insurance company manager of some sort who wants to hire Joan Watson full time. This, of course, is mainly to give Mr. Elementary a handsome fellow in Joan's life to react to, as that relationship is the focus of the show, needing a few bumps for its narrative arcs.

But what if Elementary actually drew its inspiration from Canonical sources?

Insurance isn't really a hot topic in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so the choices would be few . . . or one. When John H. Watson found himself attracted to a certain blonde, Holmes expressed his own feelings thusly: 

"The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor."

So forget about Irene Moriarty or Kitty Winter . . . if Elementary was going to take notes from our favorite stories, Mr. Elementary would be meeting his murderous dream girl during Stuart Townsend's multi-episode appearance.

Now that . . . that might be something intriguing. For now, however, we'll just have to content ourselves with the prospect of Stuart Townsend.

Monday, November 17, 2014

More people getting away with murder.

It's always been intriguing to me the way Elementary's viewership falls of before each season's finale. Traditionally, a season finale is a climax of sorts, a destination for fans of a show to rally around. And yet, for two seasons, that last climactic episode has a million or so less viewers than it did a month or two before. Perhaps it's the way mainstream shows go, and not following same, I just haven't encountered this before. It does seem to imply a certain lack of commitment in the average viewer of the show, though.

I bring this up, because those same uncommitted folk seem to be wandering away from Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson, Crime Doctor, this fall. Last week's ratings hit an all time low of 6.53 million, part of a sinking trend that's been going on since last spring. The show's pilot was a ratings champ of 13.41 million, only bested by the post-Super Bowl spike of 20.8 million, so it's now at about half of its debut viewers.

Elementary's ABC competitor, How To Get Away With Murder, posted 9.25 million viewers last week, so one can see where those folks might be headed . . . unless of course they simply are getting around to reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, one by one, and going "Hey! This is . . . ."

You can fill in the blank there.

One might even say that more people "Get Away With Murder" since Joan Watson became NYPD's primary consulting detective. But I won't . . . no, I won't . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When worlds collide.

The thing about a book of short stories that we often forget is that they don't have to be read in order.

I've been reminded of that recently, when hitting a clunker during two different collections I've been reading, and said clunker makes me lose interest in the book as a whole, as I don't really want to continue reading at the place I left off.

I won't say to whom the clunker belongs that I ran across in In The Company of Sherlock Holmes, the lawsuit-causing set edited by Les Klinger and Laurie King, but I will tell you which story restored my interest in the book: "By Any Other Name" by Michael Dirda.

Having lost my reading momentum in another tale, I scanned the list of writers involved for a fresh starting point and immediately alighted on Dirda, whom I recalled from a very lively and smart lecture I'd heard once. His tale was no less lively and smart, though I was a bit put off at the start . . . as it's a Conan Doyle story.

Now, Conan Doyle fiction has always been an odd offshoot of Sherlock Holmes's popularity. I mean, if you want to read Holmes, by all means read Holmes. Doyle was a colorful character, to be sure, but as an investigator, well, he was no Sherlock Holmes.

But Michael Dirda went right to the heart of that great thing we call Sherlockian scholarship and wrote a tale that involved Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. We all know in our hearts that Sherlock Holmes was as real a person as someone with no historical evidence can be, and that Conan Doyle is evidenced out the wazoo, so any thesis that involves a historical Holmes must somehow account for Doyle.

And in "By Any Other Name," Michael Dirda lets a scenario play out that's a lot of fun for those on either the Doyle or Watson side of the fence, if one is willing to allow for a little joyous sacrilege.

So back into In The Company of Sherlock Holmes I go, spirits brightened and hoping not to run into another show-stopping clunker. Clunker to me, of course, because if there's anything our recent Holmes explosion has taught us, it's that our tastes in that one fellow vary in the extreme. Your mileage may vary, but for now, I'm recommending the Dirda when you sidle up to that particular case of stories.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hansoms and buses.

Last night, nine members of Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton met in the heart of the Uplands district of Peoria near Bradlley University to discuss "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez."

As usual, the conversation was interesting and wide-ranging: cocoanut matting, Houdini, and the perpetual "What the heck is a pince-nez?" The odd way the story sort of peters out at the end . . . we didn't hold a lot of hope for Anna's "friend of the heart" in the Russian prison. A good mix of knowledgeable Sherlockians and interested neophytes, all who had read the story and had thoughts to add to the mix.

On a side note, the truly devoted Sherlock Holmes fan might want to get coconut floor mats for their car as a tribute to "Golden Pince-nez." The internet brings us such a marvelous variety of things, doesn't it?

Good conversation, good food, good drink, great hosts, and a kitten and a cat. Simple pleasures are what make a good meeting for a local Sherlock Holmes society. And then there's always a rival Sherlock Holmes club, just to prove you're doing things right.

In addition to last night's meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, Peoria also saw the re-boot of the Hansoms' rival Sherlock Holmes club, the Buses of Mrs. Tangey, not heard of since 1981 and a report in Wheelwrightings entitled "The Difference Between a Bus and a Hansom." While the Hansoms have their traditional "Clayton Ritual" based upon the Musgrave work of similar name, the Buses had their own responsive reading that goes like this:

The Tangey Ritual 
by S.M.

What was her name?
 . . . Beatrice Tangey

What did she do?
. . . She rode a bus.

From whence did she ride it?
. . . Out of the Foreign Office, Charles Street, Whitehall.

How long would she drink?
. . .  Until she was well on.

And what would Scotland Yard get out of her?
. . . Nothing, alias Lestrade's brain, alias Watson's tea-totalling.

When the Hansoms first heard of this group and their ritual, it was based on a single encounter on a bus, but now, thanks to the wonder of social media, we now have an actual photo of some members of that Sherlock Holmes club, seen below. Enjoy!

Two members of the Buses of Mrs. Tangey

E3:3. The spraying of the Uzi.

Placing CBS's Elementary up against the original Conan Doyle short stories of Sherlock Holmes is hardly a fair match. Doyle's first two "seasons" of storytelling were only twelve episodes each and the product of a single creative vision. Elementary had to double that amount with twenty-four episodes per season, mixing and matching the writing styles of about ten different creators on each season.

And with ten different writers toiling away at an average of 2.4 episodes per writer in the span in which Doyle did 12 . . . well, Hollywood is a different game. But how different? Well, let's examine this week's offering from the Elementary writer of the week, a tale called "Just a Regular Irregular."

Sherlock Holmes's "Baker Street irregulars" were street children, useful for their eager and unnoticed eyes and ears upon the streets of London. In Elementary, Mr. Elementary's Irregulars are experts he uses when he needs more information upon a subject. We are shown two of these this episode, retired New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who is supposedly the world's greatest knife thrower, and Harlan Emple, a shirtless math whiz who has been on the show before.

The Phil Simms bit, which references a case we aren't going to see play out, is, one supposes, the CBS TV equivalent of John H. Watson mentioning Holmes working for the Pope in one of the original tales. One would suspect the real Sherlock Holmes would just master knife throwing itself (How hard can that be, really?) to find out necessary facts, but in the case of Elementary, we know this is just the flashy set-up to bringing us back to Harlan Emple, the source of tonight's main murder mystery.

I say "main murder mystery," because unlike the original tales, Elementary must always find something for Watson to do when not having relationship issues with Mr. Elementary. (I only bring this up because he does call her in this episode at a post-coital moment and then calls her out on it before getting down to business.) Watson's subplot case involves following a real estate fellow to see what he wants with a certain building, and she subcontracts Kitty Winter out from under Mr. Elementary to do the job.

While Kitty tails and Joan Watson has sex with her boyfriend, Mr. Elementary proceeds to investigate the main murder, first with Harlan Emple as his partner, and then with detective Bell. Sherlock Holmes found Watson to be an invaluable regular companion on his investigations, but Mr. Elementary seems to only need to call his Watson to make catty remarks.

Now, I don't want you to get the idea that Mr. Elementary is without skills. He can spot where mothballs come from and detect fresh paint. He can taste crumbs in a dead man's pocket and then taste a dog biscuit and say if they're the same. He can hear a shotgun being picked up and readied to fire on the other side of a door. Where Sherlock Holmes used normal human senses supplemented with study and learning for his deductions, Mr. Elementary seems to get a long way on superior senses of smell, taste, and hearing during this episode. Then go to other people for learning: his "Irregulars," a name which makes no sense in his world unless he's borrowing it from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Speaking of names, there's an odd moment between Kitty Winter and Irregular Harlan Emple when she mentions Mr. Elementary called Indira Patel to help with a math problem while he was in England, implying she's another Irregular. Except Dame Indira Patel is more of a women's issue expert, but then, it's not an uncommon name.

And speaking of women's issues, it's really hard to overlook Joan Watson's sex life, since Mr. Elementary, even after calling her and being catty about it, goes to her house to catch her boyfriend putting his clothes on and gets catty again. Side note: Joan is also getting dressed, and I swear her wardrobe is not up to what it was in the first two seasons. But maybe that's me being catty. But still, that outfit . . . .

Harlan Emple tries to fool Mr. Elementary with an anagram of his own name (not "may rerent elm") and gets fussy about being replaced by a champion of women's rights (okay, maybe not that Indira Patel). The relationship between Mr. Elementary and this particular Irregular. The stalking of mathematicians, scratch-off-lottery schemes, and . . . hey!

That old Silence of the Lambs trick of convincing the viewer that one door in the story is really another door gets an odd use in this episode, as we are shown events that happen an hour apart occurring as if they are happening simultaneously, just to build suspense. Did it make all the unrelatable math treasure hunting worthwhile? Nawwww.

Here's the thing about an episode of Elementary compared with an original Conan Doyle story. The TV show seems to be all about waving as many random shiny objects as possible in front of its viewers as possible to keep them distracted from actually having to tell a human story. Joan Watson is in a relationship just so Mr. Elementary can react to her having sex. We don't know why she cares for this man, or why he cares for her, as long as they can have that sex for Mr. E to comment upon. Kitty Winter goes to a support group just so Joan Watson can be supportive, just like she was when Mr. Elementary went to support groups. Real character development is replaced by a-bit-less-random shiny objects just to move the playing pieces on the board from point A to point B in between all the random shiny object of the case itself.

Conan Doyle was telling people-stories that had a very true-to-life feeling to them, with Holmes and Watson finding the alternate reading of those stories. Simple plots, elegantly told. A sniper's precise shot rather than the spraying Uzi of Elementary. It's very hard to even compare the two, the one flowing on the page from start to orderly finish while the other careens from pre-commercial-break "shocker" to pre-commercial-break "shocker" in something like a fish-tailing procedural formula one racer.

"You could have given him a shilling for all I care." -- Kitty Winter, making the closest thing to a Canonical reference you'll see in this episode.

"There is a moral in there somewhere -- games are for idiots." -- Mr. Elementary's quote of the week. So much for the grand Game of Elementary scholarship.

"Great and powerful Mycroft, don't make me watch that shirtless mathematician ever again." -- Me, having taken in my lifetime quota of shirtless mathematicians this week. Kudos to James Moriarty for keeping his clothes on all these years.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A proper consideration.

It occurs to me that perhaps I have gotten a bit lazy in reviewing the third season of CBS's Elementary thus far this season, focusing on the show's obvious weakness, its overarching soap opera themes that it usually spends a season playing out. That's not giving the show full credit for the murder-solving plotlines, which are its bread and butter under the "man in Joan's life" jelly.

So this week, I've decided to take a little more time to ruminate upon the doings of Mr. Elementary and friends. And give it the full appreciation it deserves . . . .


(No, that was not the full appreciation. That was me going to sleep to prepare for said investigation.)

More to come.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boldly going where no Frankenstein has gone before.

Imagine that you were given the freedom to create a new Sherlock Holmes.

Not a Sherlock Holmes-type character, but an actual, brand new Sherlock Holmes, an alternate universe version of Sherlock Holmes, where you could break with as many traditions as you want and keep as many classic aspects of the detective as you want. While that's always been possible in print, and many have done so for decades upon decades, the new status quo, with two successful Holmes franchises having moved Sherlock some 120-130 years into the future (and one casting him out of London like he chose to eat the notorious apple of Eden) combined with a public domain ruling, is opening up that frontier to the global hivemind of humanity at large.

So suppose you were given that freedom, as you do have, to create a new Sherlock Holmes . . . .

What do you keep? What do you change? What are the basic tenets to keep your Sherlock a recognizable character, other than the name?

Is Sherlock Holmes just a certain set of visual cues?  Is he a particular set of methodologies that rise above mere human personality traits? Or is he a given dramatic presentation style, a showman within the theater of criminal investigation?

It's something for a Sherlockian to consider, and not just as a pasticheur these days. As a consumer of Sherlock, we now have enough choices to make such decisions as well. Not all of us will ever create our own Sherlock Holmes, in print or on video, but it's still a useful exercise to consider what elements we would want in our own personal creation of the master detective.

And once created, how would you measure the success of your creation? If your Sherlock can appear in a next-to-nothing bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated, you might draw a lot of eyes, sure, but would that still be considered successful as a Sherlock Holmes?

These are the questions we get to ask as our new Sherlockian frontiers open up. And that old phrase "playing the Game" starts to come with many a varation and rules redefine as well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A cultivated membership.

This is the time of year for joy and disappointment among the elder generations of Sherlock Holmes fans -- the arrival of those rare and exclusive invitations to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. How does that invitation process work? Here's a flow chart from the current head of the group:

It starts with all Sherlock Holmes fans across the entire Earth. The next step is eliminating all those Sherlock Holmes fans who aren't known to a current member of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. Next comes the elimination of all those Holmes fans who don't, for whatever reason, inspire a current member of the B.S.I. to writer a recommendation letter to the current head of the group.

Once all that has taken place, and the entire world's population has been whittled down to a number of two or three digits, the current commander-in-chief of the Baker Street Irregulars takes over and decides who among that list is invited to the annual New York dinner, and then who among that list is handed a shilling of membership.

For the past twenty-nine years, that membership and invitation list has been held at what is considered an optimal level by one of two individuals, serving successively as gatekeeper to the club. It's one of those pope in Rome, king on his throne, el dictador en casa, sort of situations that some folks feel good under, and others, not so much.

After twenty-nine years of a hand-picked membership by the single leader, one has to wonder if a more democratic membership process might be entrusted to that select body. But then again, perhaps they're all pleased with the status quo. There's a tradition there, but as we all know, it was once a tradition to only let one woman into the dinner and then throw her out after the cocktail party until 1991. Traditions are slow to change. ("Like turning a train," according to one wise soul much younger than mine.)

Yet at this time of year, an elder Sherlockian who isn't into such things still finds himself pausing to think about them.

A slight wander back to 1992.

And on July 18th of 1992, this happened . . .

This is what the annual picnic of a Sherlock Holmes society in Peoria, Illinois (actually held in Germantown Hills) looked like in 1992. It was the year of Jeremy Brett starring as Sherlock in "The Master Blackmailer," as the Granada series was starting to take its turn to less-well-regarded, longer episodes. Print journals were still going strong with new ones popping up in the mailbox, like Varieties of Ash and The Sherlock Holmes Gazette. And we were an aging fan population. When you saw kids at an event, on most occasions they were grandchildren tagging along. Folks in their twenties, who got to choose where they spent their time, were rare and special.

These three fellows were very representative of some of the folk you'd see at a Sherlockian event: A lifelong sci-fi fan with an army of cats, a librarian with a bent toward club and publication creation, and a college professor of the English sort. (Ed Connor, George Scheetz, and Ron Kirkwood.)

And then there was the annual egg toss. This was a pretty Hansom-specific eccentricity, and its best Sherlockian connection can only be found in The Valley of Fear with "My dear Watson, when I have exterminated that fourth egg . . . ."  We exterminated a lot of eggs in those days.

Friday, November 7, 2014


And then there was this . . . .

A short-lived movement in the 1980s (when else?) called "Doylebusters!" which was halted at the last minute from releasing its fringe anti-Doyle propaganda at the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York City. Like many an unsuccessful plot in our history, that which gets foiled early vanishes into the mists of time, to go unknown, unnoticed, and unremembered. (Guy Fawkes is obviously in an entirely different category, since he came close enough to success to get his own holiday.)

What were the purposes of this radical Sherlockian fringe group? What brought them down before they could work their sabotage and subterfuge upon the Sherlockian world? We may never know, at this point. I've always supposed that they were just fanatical "Watson wrote the Canon" folks. I only learned hints of them, and obtained the art you see above, as well as a slogan "We ain't afraid of no spiritualists!", from the original Kendall Pagan, a reclusive Sherlockian whom I suspect my friend Bob Burr and I were the only people who ever actually knew they met. And as furtive as Kendall was, the Doylebusters seemed to be another level of underground in the Sherlockian world beyond him.

I can't help but wonder how different things would have been with that group, had they gotten into their mischief in the connected world of 2014, rather than in the snail-mail and ink-printed days of the mid-1980s. Small groups of crazies can have a lot more of an effect these days. But, thankfully, our cultural sanity had a few more champions and buffers in that decade so long ago.

Conan Doyle is still among us, posing at conventions with Baker Street Babes and their friends, and the Doylebusters seem to be gone for good. But those quiet heroes who foiled the plot of that cabal? If they're with us still, I wish them well, whoever they are.

"Who you gonna call? Doylebuster-BUSTERS!"