In thirty-five years as a Sherlockian, I don't think I've ever seen a topic that divides Sherlockians so painfully as CBS's Elementary. That debate came up again this week on the Welcome Holmes Yahoo! group with most unwelcome results.
The friction, as became apparent here long ago, stems from the fact that while Elementary is just another beloved adaptation of Sherlock Holmes to some, it seems so plainly exploitative in its use of Holmes to others that it's fair game for derision until that day when the culprits behind it are locked away for . . . .
. . . and that is where the trouble starts. See what happened in that paragraph above? I inadvertently started implying that the fans of Elementary are hapless victims of a crime against Shelockianity. Nobody likes that. We should respect our fellow man and their affections and beliefs, right? None of us would see a couple walking down the street and say to the man or woman, "Boy, your date sure is ugly!" Later, in private, we might say to our friends, "Damn, that was some ugly happening there!" But basic civility rules that out.
Yet now we have the internet, where we feel so much like we're talking privately to our friends, but are really still out on that public street. And to talk to that dozen, that hundred, that thousand people who do agree with us, we have to do in within earshot of an unknown number of people who might have their feelings hurt by something that seems fairly plain and undeniable to us.
In all my time writing about Elementary, it always seemed interesting to me that I got more comments that could be summed up with "Quit watching it, shut up, and go away!" than I did arguments in defense of the show's good qualities. That's surely not because the writers were incapable of critical analysis, but because remarks against the show struck at a more emotional than rational level.
Because that's where Elementary hits us all, really, at an emotional rather than rational level. And that is exactly what it's trying to do.
I recently binge-watched the ABC show Scandal, which puts the top tiers of our government in the most ridiculous situations imaginable (SPOILER ALERT: Almost everyone at the top is a murderer.), yet is still a highly watchable show. Why? Because it's all about tweaking the emotions, and tweaking them hard. All of the top-rated dramas do it these days, pulling out tricks we never saw on TV before. One show this week involved a malefactor threatening to snap a baby's neck . . . what gleeful maniacs write this stuff? But it pulls in the ratings.
We can blame our fellow Sherlockians for not holding their tongues about a show we enjoy. We can remind ourselves to be well-mannered in the treatment of distant folk on the internet. But at the end of the day, we're all being screwed with for ratings sake, and that is where our true ire should be pointed. And maybe we should consider how Holmes himself might have handled such a situation.
"He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer - excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results."
And boy, is Elementary throwing doubts on all our mental results.