Pastiche: An artistic work that imitates that of another.
Bad pastiche: The same as a pastiche, but not done very well.
In the first five minutes of last night's Elementary, the recap, comprised of scenes from several episodes told us the story of both Joan Watson's boyfriend and her nemesis, Elana March. A full five pre-credit minutes were spent with Joan confronting March anew to explain how she tracked the assassin in the gap between episodes and found a tie to March . . . with no conclusive evidence.
The rest of the episode, until an epilogue-like finish to the March affair of similar brevity, had to do with unrelated missing zebras.
As has been its modus operandi, this poorly run show seems to shoehorn its character work around the already-decided mystery story of the week, and this week's specimen was one of its most infuriating examples. Any novice creative writing student is familiar with the advice that you should not include anything in your story that build that same story, and, well . . . apparently Elementary is not being run by a novice creative writing student, or anyone who was one at one time.
But in contemplating the bad pastichery of last night's Elementary, I realized what the show has truly needed from day one is an out. Some simple mechanic that makes its every flaw okay and possibly even endearing. What would such an out look like?
Simply this. Mr. Elementary, who goes by the name "Sherlock Holmes," is actually the grandson or great-grandson of the real Sherlock Holmes, and had an only brother named "Mycroft" by parents who were overly enthused about the family lineage.
Suddenly, the whole show makes perfect sense. The hiring of a Dr. Watson as a companion by a wealthy eccentric parent (whose wealth is the Holmes family fortune, started by Sherlock and the bachelor Mycroft and built up by succeeding generations). Mycroft's complete lack of mental acuity. This whole "insane criminal genius who calls herself Irene Adler one moment and Jamie Moriarty the next" thing.
The premise of Mr. Elementary as a descendant of Sherlock Holmes even adds something for the writers to work with, as people confuse/compare/comment on the famous Sherlock in relation to descendant Sherlock and give the twitchy Jonny Lee Miller character something to actually be such a jerk about, instead of just randomly doing it just because.
And I don't think I would have complained about Elementary at all, had it originated with such a premise. Bad pastiches are just a part of Sherlockian life, and a Holmes descendant who doesn't quite live up to the legend? Well, of course, he can't! We're talking Sherlock Holmes here.
Such a premise would have immediately solved CBS's worries about not treading on BBC's potentially lawsuit-sensitive toes, after it had just done a modern adaptation of Sherlock. Sure, it wouldn't have helped the weird "Aren't we not sexist!" sexism of having a female Moriarty and a female Watson who are apparently in a cat-fight of the minds over the man they both are magically drawn to, but, hey, bad pastiche! It just excuses sooooo very much.
(And on a related note, Baker Street Irregular Paul Herbert is winner of the Sherlock Peoria no-prize this week for identifying the Trivial Pursuit-like factoid around which this week's mystery was based: The quagga was an animal with a front half like a zebra and a back half like a horse, cloned Jurassic Park style out of extinction-- at least on Elementary. I'm sure Mr. Elementary explained this at some point while not trying to bring Watson's boyfriend's killer to justice, and I just missed it in my perturbance at that other issue.)