One can rant and rave all day long about CBS's Elementary and it's some-might-say bizarre depiction of Sherlock Holmes, but at the end of the day, it seems to be a way that a whole lot of people want to see Sherlock Holmes.
Seven million people according to the ratings on last week's third season premiere. That number is down quite a bit from last year's ten million at the start of season two. But at this point one can assume that the remaining seven plus million are people who know what they're in for, and are returning to watch Elementary on purpose.
Which means they like this character created by Rob Doherty with a label that says "Sherlock Holmes" pasted across his virtual action figure package. They like his relationship with this entirely new creation named Joan Watson. There is something about it all that resonates with them, bolsters their worldview, and amuses them with its quirky little zigs and zags.
Some aspects of it are natural evolutions one could see coming. There has long been a contingent of folk who felt Dr. Watson was ill-treated in his relationship with Holmes and should be raised up to equal partner status . . . especially after the comic relief goofiness of Nigel Bruce. But there's two ways to do equal partnership -- one, as we saw in BBC's Sherlock where John H. Watson is a fully realized character nothing like Sherlock, yet stands on an equal footing through the power of his sheer humanity. The other way, as we see in CBS's Elementary, is by making the Watson character a consulting detective of Holmes's level . . . a literal equal.
The message sent by that second version seems to be that any of us can be Sherlock Holmes. That there is nothing rare or special about certain individuals -- unless they are raised up by mental disorders that give them karmic baggage commensurate to the level they are above us, bringing them down to a comfortable equality or lower. Comfort food for our egos in an age where technology has reached levels behind what most of us will ever understand.
Sherlockian culture has always been full of historians and ficto-historians, but we've never been strong on Sherlockian futurists, and we're entering a time when the future evolution of Sherlock Holmes is becoming a very interesting thing. Are current trends a sign of what's to come, a brief and curious sidetrack, or just one more tweak in the growth of a legend? As Victorian Holmes falls out of trademark and modern Holmeses develop new and copyrightable characteristics, will we see the development of more non-Canonical Sherlocks, just for the financial factor of something like the sudden boom of a Clyde the turtle fad? It makes for interesing mental exercise, to be sure.
As I said, some Sherlocks exist because they are apparently what someone wants to see. So what would a completely market-driven Sherlock Holmes, with every characteristic altered to suit the highest response in a target demographic, look like? And how soon will we be sing that guy? Now that the Supreme Court has finally shot down the appeal in the "Free Sherlock" case, as was reported by ABC News today, we might just see.