Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Sherlocks, four seasons -- quality, quantity, or quagmires?

For a lark this morning, I decided to just run through the later TV series adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories (sorry, Ronald Howard) and compare character usage. My little lark was spurred by the fact that CBS's Elementary has been down to using Shinwell Johnson as their major Canonical draw card this season, a minor character pushed up to being a featured player. We all know who the major face cards in dealing Sherlock Holmes stories are, so I was curious to see how TV producers played them.

What follows are the Granada, BBC, and CBS hands that were dealt.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Irene Adler, Mycroft, Moriarty. (690 minutes)
Sherlock, Season One: Mycroft, Moriarty. (266 minutes)
Elementary, Season One: Irene Adler, Moriarty, Milverton. (1038 minutes)

Granada comes strongest out of the gate, but then they were attempting to be somewhat Canonical. Their major move -- pushing Mycroft up into Adventures, when he was a Memoirs guy in the original tales. BBC teased that Mycroft was Moriarty at first but kept both, but CBS flat out made Irene be Moriarty, blowing a second usable character on a trick non-reading viewers wouldn't even get.

The Return of Sherlock HolmesMycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Hound. (450 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Two: Irene Adler, Mycroft, Moriarty, Hound. (265 minutes)
Elementary, Season Two: Mycroft, Moriarty. (1031 minutes)

Both Granada and BBC seem to see that Mycroft is worth keeping around, while CBS brings in a strangely pale in-name-only Mycroft for season two. The Hound of the Baskervilles is also a definite second-season go-to for both British incarnations once Sherlock is established, while CBS decides to hold that card. Moriarty, however, is going strong in second seasons. (Note: I included Moriarty whenever his or her face actually appeared. Video or flashbacks count. Letters don't.)

The Case-book of Sherlock HolmesMilverton, Kitty Winter, Shinwell Johnson. (390 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Three: Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Milver-nussen. (262 minutes)
Elementary, Season Three: Kitty Winter. (1017 minutes.)

Once you've exhausted Moriarty, Milverton is definitely your next play. If you've exhausted Milverton . . . well, player's choice. CBS decided on Gruner, but he was mainly backstory for Kitty Winter being promoted to a major role. BBC was still hanging tightly on to Mycroft and promoting Mary Morstan to a major role, even before her Canonical case comes up.

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesMycroft, Culverton Smith. (303 minutes?)
Sherlock, Christmas Special: Mycroft, Mary Morstan, Ricoletti's abominable wife. (90 minutes.)
Elementary, Season Four: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Morland. (1032-ish.)

Third seasons definitely seem to be where the wheels come off the Hansom cab. Granada had Mycroft starring in an episode (due to a Sherlock star illness) and pastiched things up a bit to stretch the stories, BBC could only pull a Christmas special fantasy based on a Canonically untold tale, and CBS made up a Moriarty-ish father for Sherlock to make up for losing their Moriarty star to a major HBO series . . . and finally got to the Hound.

The Unmade Episodes of Sherlock HolmesNobody. (0 minutes)
Sherlock, Season Four: Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Morstan, Culverton Smith. (265-ish?)
Elementary, Season Five: Shinwell Johnson. (1032-ish?)

And then comes the fifth season. (And yes, I counted that Christmas special as a season, because a case could well be made.) Fifth seasons are the uncharted country of TV Sherlocks. In the 1950s, Ronald Howard only made it to one season. In the 1980s, Jeremy Brett made it to four. CBS, keeping to their standard procedural format, has now showed that they could keep going indefinitely, if they promote one Canonical character per year as they did with Shinwell Johnson. And BBC looks to make the Sherlock-John-Mycroft-Mary soap opera their driver, with previews featuring Mrs. Hudson calling Mycroft a reptile spelling ominous things for the happy family dog-walking stills we've seen all over the web.

Charting uses of Scotland Yard officers, Mrs. (or Ms.) Hudson, Watson's career path, and drug use in the assorted shows could also be an interesting run -- the fact that we now have three television story cycles to compare makes for available Holmes fan discussion points like never before. And since like inspires like (and I've ignored non-US/UK shows), there's sure to be more on the horizon to add to that discussion. (Even now, I'm dying to find a way to break the Rathbone movies into seasons to see how they line up with the ones above.)

So much entertainment value in Sherlock Holmes, though, no matter how you deal the cards.


  1. Prefer the Ronald Howard stories to that CBS pretender.

  2. A humble request that in your future blogs would you restrain from using that CBS anomaly in any analogy of our beloved BBC & Granada Holmes series. Kindly consider substituting the much more deserving Channel One Russia (Petrenko) and/or Lenfilm Studio (Livanov) TV series in any similar future endeavors. Thank you and good day Sir.

    1. I shall try to remember your request, good fellow. We have seen the damage false equivalence can cause of late, and Sherlock/Elementary was surely the predictor of that.