Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is the net building better Sherlockians?

Penn Gillette has an opinion that comes up on his podcast from time to time that makes me wonder about its Sherlockian application. Penn contends that the internet has made better jugglers. The internet has nothing to do with the act of juggling, 'tis true, but the way it brings ideas to people who might not have seen them previously is doing marvelous things. The example he gives is a pair of sisters in a part of Russia who would never have been around any jugglers, have been able to see any jugglers perform in person, but thanks to YouTube and what they saw there, developed their skills on their own and became two of the best jugglers in the world today.

When I first encountered the works of Sherlock Holmes fandom, it was because my French class took a field trip to Chicago and I found a collection of Sherlockian scholarship in a bookstore there. From there, I found the fandom and connected, but the chain of probability was pretty slim. I had to take French. I had to go on the field trip. I had to go to that bookstore, and once there, I had to see that book. Can you imagine how many potentially amazing Sherlock Holmes fans missed out on such a chance that same year?

Our new interconnectedness means finding the fandom of Sherlock Holmes is easier than ever, and it also adds a new factor: creating a fandom of Sherlock Holmes is easier than ever. If I just want to start writing articles expressing my love of Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, I can just start putting them out there and let Sherlock Holmes fans find me. I dearly love how the Baker Street Babes sprung to life without seeking the blessing of any existing parts of the cult.

The only thing is, as easy as it is to find some tentacle of Sherlock Holmes fandom, seeing it all, truly capturing the big picture, is now nearly impossible. Wessex Press is going to try to capture a bit of that magic with their volume The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age: Essays on Sherlockiana by Online Fandom concieved by the Babes. It's probably the book that I'm most looking forward to in the coming year. (Well, once Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes comes out next month!)

As this blog is really an extension of an ongoing Sherlockian commentary that started in a monthly newsletter in 1983, I don't really consider it a part of the new age of online Sherlockian fandom. There are far too many cranky old guy notions floating around my Sherlockian brain, so I'm always delighted to see fresh work from new folk. (Despite that sentence, Elementary is still a load of crap. Seriously.) Some of the research and theorizing on tumblr about Sherlock's survival of the Reichenbach fall on Sherlock's final episode was both brilliant and impressive in its detail.

The new age of internet-triggered Sherlockians is already producing good work, and hopefully the Penn Gillette theory will prove true about our little hobby as well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And the reply is . . . ?

The second morning after Christmas is nigh upon us, the time which Dr. Watson called upon Sherlock Holmes with the intent of wishing him the compliments of the season. Just like that. No quotation marks around "compliments of the season," no indication that Watson was intending to use just those words. And yet Sherlock Holmes fans have been using "Compliments of the Season" as their chosen holiday greeting since "The Blue Carbuncle" was originally published.

Had Fox News instituted its silly "War on Christmas" agenda in 1892, Conan Doyle would surely have been pilloried for not having Watson specifically wish Holmes a hearty, "Merry Christmas!" Or not. We really don't know exactly what compliments Watson intended to wish Sherlock Holmes for the season. Happy Hannukah, Happy Christmas, Happy Solstice, Happy Boxing Day, Happy New Year's . . . so many to choose from. And yet, with all the research, all the time and care that Sherlockians have put into ferreting out details of Holmes and Watson's lives, we've allowed the vague, generality of "compliments of the season" to stand, decade after decade. And why not?

How many other fandoms have their own private all-purpose Christmas greeting, though? It's the sonic screwdriver of holiday wishes! A wonderful thing, really.

But it struck me this year that we have Watson's intentions, as unspecifically worded as they may be, we don't even come close to knowing Sherlock Holmes's reply. Especially as Watson never got to wish Holmes those compliments. But I think the answer is there, if we look closely enough.

With Watson, we have the intention but not the words. With Holmes, we have the opposite: the words but not the intentions.

"You are engaged, perhaps I interrupt you," Watson winds up saying, instead of his compliments.

"Not at all," replies Holmes. "I am glad to have a friend with whom to discuss my results."

Yes, Holmes is busy with a little intellectual puzzle. But his first reaction to Watson's interruption?

To invite Watson to join him.

And that isn't just Holmes being full of Christmas spirit for a few winter days. That spirit is the spirit of friendship that Sherlock Holmes always showed John H. Watson. Despite what this or that poor reading of Holmes and Watson comes through second-hand adaptations on occasion, Sherlock Holmes always treated Watson as a friend, the way men do at their best. And that is a spirit for the whole year 'round.

So if you're getting wished the compliments of the season, you can meet Watson with Watson, and wish some compliments right back. But there's also a Sherlock Holmes option to remember as well, a reply to compliments of the season as Sherlock himself would do . . . an invitation to come on in and join the adventure.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The eve of destruction.

Well, Happy Mayan Apocalypse Eve, everybody!

By the time you read this, the latest end of the world prophecy may either be disproven or you're perusing a saved copy of the blog on your fleeing spaceship. If the latter, thanks for carrying my final blog to strange new worlds and new civilizations. If the former, I'm very sorry . . . I guess this means CBS's Elementary is going to finish out its season.

But as I sit here, that Mayan sword of Damocles hanging over my head, I have to pause to reconsider all of the criticism I've heaped upon this latest attempt to recreate that character we know and love called "Sherlock Holmes." Like any attempt by man to create life in his own image, sometimes you just get a Frankenstein's monster. (And sometimes you use an actor who partnered with a great Holmes actor in a Frankenstein play.) So it goes. But it makes me wonder . . . if the burgomeister of Frankenstein Village had a blog, would he have just sat in his basement and bitched online about the monster being created up the mountain, instead of getting out the torches and townsfolk? And it's a timely question. Why?

As the Mayan doomsday bears down on us, every good Sherlockian must ask him or her self this all important question: Did I do enough to battle this monument to misunderstanding Sherlock Holmes that CBS called Elementary? Will I get to spend the after-apocalypse in the Celestial 221B, or be damned to the Icy Silence of the Diogenes Club, where those who accepted false Sherlocks must keep their opinions to themselves for eternity, having invalidated their views on Brett, Rathbone, and Downey with their one last, horrific misjudgement? Is it mere coincidence that Elementary is showing on apocalypse eve?

Yes, Elementary is on tonight, rerunning the third episode. Yes, the one where Mr. Elementary spray paints a TV news camera instead of simply going, "Stop! Don't shoot!" Not cool, Mr. Elementary, not cool! But, much like the movie series Twilight, one could say Elementary just got better and better since that episode and the ones before it. And like Twilight movies, that's a very low bar for passing judgement.

Is Elementary anywhere close to the quality of Monk or House, our two other American Sherlock-based shows, at this point in its run? How about C.S.I. or Law and Order? Sure, it may not pass the Sherlock Holmes standard -- that guy has been being adapted for a hundred years. But how about within the category of its peers (which kindly leaves out all those good BBC shows, like Luther or that one that begins with an "S")? Well, the Mayan apocalypse is here, isn't it? At that really answers the question for us.

There are a lot of theories about the Mayan calendar and this 2012 thing, but here's the one that now makes the most sense: The Mayans were ahead of their time on a lot of things, one of which was making TV listings for shows that weren't even on yet, and somehow archeologists, not realizing that the Mayans had marvelous powers of predicting TV shows, misinterpreted the TV listings to be a calendar. And when the Mayans got done with the evening of December 20th, apparently, they looked at each other and went, "Do you really want to list at least fourteen more episodes of Elementary, not including reruns?"

And they quit, then and there. So when you see the rising sun each new morn and our world is still here, you can happily say to yourself, "Huh. It must have been TV listings after all! Those amazing Mayans and their standards of quality television!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Balls of history. Well, one at least.

As a Sherlockian of limited travel budget (and, as career whimsies would have it, limited opportunity this year), I find it interesting to see what events really cause me to have great regrets at not being able to attend.

There are the old favorites of course. Minneapolis in August of this year, for example, is going to be a killer to miss. The local group and the university collections combine to make something that is without peer every few years. There are events especially full of old friends. (Most of whom probably think I've deserted them these days.) And then there are the occasional first-time moments in history that are kind of like missing Ronald Knox's original delivery of his paper "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" or Christopher Morley's first gathering of puzzle winners.

The "Daintiest Thing Under a Bonnet" charity ball may be just one more event in a crowded New York weekend full of events to some. Sherlock Holmes's birthday has been well-celebrated in New York City for decades. But this one is something special, for a lot of reasons.

1.) It's a ball. I can't remember the last time Sherlockians had a ball. (Yes, they "have a ball" in the colloquial sense every time they gather. But not a "ball" ball. The dance kind. And I hope there's dancing. Sherlockians have always needed to dance more.)

2.) It's a charity thing with all the proceeds going to something that is in no way self-serving, the Wounded Warrior Project. It has Watsonian connotations, yes, but unlike the many libraries, educational programs, or travel fundage charities Sherlockian functions usually support, this is pure, unquestionably selfless charity, with no thought to benefitting our fandom long-term.

3.) The Baker Street Babes, who have only been in existence since May of 2011, are making a huge, very visible move into the B.S.I. weekend. Less than two years after they first formed. Think about that one for a minute, those of you who might like to discount them as mere fangirls of the wisp. We had swollen ranks of new fans back in Jeremy Brett's prime, but did they manage any sort of organized presence at the Big Weekend in NYC? Not even close.

The Baker Street Babes continue to impress. I only hope they don't let the momentum of their irresistible force be absorbed by the unmovable object that is the historically existing Sherlockian establishment when they collide this January. The new ideas, events, and cookies they have added to the culture of Sherlock Holmes fandom has only just begun, and I am very excited to see what they're going to come up with next.

It just may be from a distance for a little while . . . .

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another week of Mr. Elementary

Loud pop music. High-tech jewel thieves. Twin blonde beauties in shirts that barely cover a certain body part that Watson seems to be checking out as one walks away. This week’s episode of Elementary began as the best episode to date. Or at least the most attractive.

Oddly, as out-of-character as it seems, a Sherlock Holmes who likes three-ways has been done before . . . but not in anything anyone respects . . . and here it is again. Where BBC’s Sherlock purposefully pays tribute to movie Sherlocks past, Elementary seems to stumble into references to really bad made-for-TV Holmes films.

It’s still not Sherlock Holmes. The character Jonny Lee Miller plays is still a punk who likes to spout facts constantly, rather than saving his discoveries for the best dramatic effect. (Amazing that a television show that should seek out drama doesn’t use that.)

And it’s still not Dr. Watson. Lucy Liu playing the every(wo)man at Holmes’s side is like a halogen headlight being subdued enough to use as a household flashlight. The power she’s wielded on screens big and small for so many years is something a fan of hers just wants to see come blasting out -- I still contend she’s a better Sherlock Holmes actor than her partner. Allowed to go for it, she could turn Miller’s character into a petulant Watson in seconds.

But Elementary is evolving. This week, Mr. Elementary quit hanging around those dingy NYPD precinct houses quite so much, which was a marked improvement. (Not to mention those twin blondes in the opening.) Night-time outdoors scenes were prettier. 
Mr. Elementary keeping a recovered valuable smacks of the real Sherlock Holmes for one second, then Watson’s brother shows up, non-drunken, the next, as the show flirts with Canon then ditches it again. But is this show's evolution going to cause a full-fledged Sherlock Holmes to eventually emerge, months or years from now? Or is it going to continue to dog-paddle around the hack end of the pool?

"The rabbit is a . . . ma . . . zing," says Mr. Elementary, and he's still not being written as the quotable clever detective we're supposed to take him to be. Of course, it's hard to be quotable when you just won't quit talking. The crimes on Elementary have the same diarrhea-stream overabundance. A lovely, big-time jewel robbery isn't enough crime to carry a whole episode. The corpse of a decaying murder victim has to turn up, of course. 

The basic mandate of writing for Elementary seems to be "just keep things moving as fast as possible so no one has time to actually think about what is happening." Too fast for character development. Too fast for any depth of emotional engagement. And then, all at once, the latest episode is over. That horn that blares to mark the end of a football game should sound, just to rouse its viewers when the show is over.

And once Watson's mom speaks wisely of how happy Mr. Elementary makes her, this week's episode faded out, heading full-cheese-ahead in that direction that seemed inevitably there from day one. 

Sad to see so many production dollars wasted on something so not Sherlock Holmes at a time when the character is at a peak. To think we actually could have gotten a trifecta of Sherlocks out of all this would have been . . . well, beyond belief.

Sadly, it still seems to be.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spock and Sherlock 2012

Trivia time: Can you name a movie of the last few years that featured, not one, but three people who claimed Sherlock Holmes as an ancestor?

I'll wait here for a moment, if you want to think about it.

If you came up with the title, chances are that you are one of those folks we might call the "Sherlekkie."

And as much as that looks like a mispelling of some rare Holmes fan who's really into Conan Doyle's second wife, Jean Leckie, it's not. The movie that's answers the trivia question is the 2009 Star Trek, which feature the Leonard Nimoy version of Mr. Spock, who once quoted Holmes as "an ancestor of mine" in a previous movie, as well as the younger version of himself played by Zachary Quinto. Since the two Spocks came to exist together in the same timeline, they count as two people but both share that same ancestor. And since Spock's mother, Amanda Grayson (played by Winona Ryder), was obviously the source of his human genetics, she too qualifies as a descendant of Sherlock Holmes.

Geeky enough for you?

Tying Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek together goes back as far as Star Trek itself. Mr. Spock's Vulcan logic found its natural predecessor in Sherlock Holmes's powers of deduction, and fans of one have long been, quite naturally, fans of the other. Even Spock's attempted Star Trek: The Next Generation replacement character, Mr. Data, went so far as to don deerstalker and Invernesse cloak at least once.

One of the great dismays of my Sherlockian life was the demise of a great little fanzine called The Holmesian Federation that centered on crossing over Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but wandered into many another fandom as well (the apparent source of its demise due to a copyright infringement case). With Star Trek proving to have seemingly as much long-term viability as Sherlock Holmes these days, it's a real shame that tradition couldn't have continued.

Of course, with the wide open world of the internet, who's to say it won't or hasn't.

And consider this little notion: Mr. Spock said, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, just said, "An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. If we did not fire those torpedoes, another ship did."

Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would dearly love to see fanfic crossing over Zachary Quinto's Spock with Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes (Despite the inevitable, "Hey, you look like that villain Gary Mitchell!" that's sure to be coming from the May movie). After all, Cumberbatch's Holmes used the "improbable/impossible" line in "The Hounds of Baskerville," so he could be the ancestor of Spock's instead of Victorian Sherlock Holmes . . . except for that one small thing.

Watson calls Sherlock "Spock" in that same episode, which creates an inter-fiction paradox that seems inescapable. Unless, of course, we can convince ourselves that Watson was comparing Sherlock to Dr. Spock the popular baby doctor of decades past. Finally! A use for that Mr. Spock/Dr. Spock confusion that has plagued Trekkies for years!

And if the Quinto Spock can be an ancestor of Cumberbatch Sherlock . . . and the Benedict Cumberbatch villain of the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness has those Cumberbatch looks that definitely make him, too, a descendant of Cumberbatch Holmes (Re-read The Hound of the Baskervilles -- it's that Sir Hugo/Stapleton thing all over again!) . . . well, can you spell "Sherlekkie geekgasm?" (There's a spelling bee nightmare.)

Two more descendents of Sherlock in the same movie! Is this a great world, or what?

The return of Shirelock Helms

As much as a Sherlockian might oft be seen as the fan of single interest, we all have our little side fancies that pull us away at times. Sometimes we try to take them down a Holmes-ish path, but even that is perhaps justifying our straying from the true Baker Street path. So I hope you'll understand my less frequent blogging this past week when I tell you this:

Shirelock Helms and I crossed paths again a week ago Saturday, and I've fallen prey to that dangerously addictive habit that I like to experiment with from time to time, the massive multi-player online role-playing game.

Yes, Shirelock is one of my toons in The World of Warcraft.

Of course, having come up with this Warcraft character some eight years ago in January of 2005 (All Sherlocks and Shirelocks must be born in January!), I'm feeling pretty prescient about tying the Shire to Sherlock, now that my favorite Watson is playing the hobbit.

But it's all just balm for my guilt at paying more attention to Warcraft than Sherlock this week, but after the long autumn of Elementary, I'm sure more than a few folks would say I should take the distraction. 'Tis the holiday season and all, a time for peace and joy and reading "The Blue Carbuncle," and not beating up televised punching bags.

And if one wants to wander off-topic but still be tied to Sherlock, there's always . . .

          . . . something I'll be putting in an entirely different blog post.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Zombies, zombies, everywhere.

We have entered an age of zombies.

TV, movies, zombie walks, zombie 5K runs . . . the shambling undead have struck a nerve with modern man (and woman). If you consider the theme of most reality TV shows, you can quickly find a clue to what the attraction: they're the one sort of human that everyone can look down on. They're stupid. They're ugly. They stink. No matter how badly you've let yourself go, you've still got one up on zombies.

Once upon a time, however, we enjoyed fictions of the sort of human we could look up to, and Sherlock Holmes was right up there with the best of them. Classy, intelligent, successful. The guy was just cool, living in what was at the time, the great center of English-speaking culture. 

But in the age of zombies, do we also need a zombie Sherlock Holmes?

I'm not sure whether that phrase "zombie Sherlock Holmes" means "Sherlock Holmes for the zombies"" or "Sherlock Holmes who is a zombie." Or both, which is entirely possible.

A shabby, hobo-fashionista who dogged moves through a shabby and grim metropolis, letting Pop-up Video facts fall endlessly from his scruffy mouth, providing weekly entertainment to mindless masses whose numbers provoke horror in those with the light of sentience left in their eyes.

If you've ever watched AMC's The Walking Dead, you know the kind of grim persistence a zombie Earth creates in the survivors. And as the strange experiment we call "watching Elementary" continues, I'm noticing a similar headspace coming on for some of us among the Sherlockian faithful.

 Keeping up with all things Sherlock has always had moments of biting the bullet and enduring a film that wasn't quite up to modern standards, or some strange foreign thing with Holmes dealing with intestinal issues. But they were always isolated occurrences, single events that were survived and then done. But this week-in and week-out listening to a person who is so far from Sherlock Holmes being called by that name, seeing a Watson whose designation as "companion" seems to have little to do with actually accompanying that person, and a cast of supporting characters with no continuity in the lore of the original Holmes, or even in their own fictional reality . . . it wears at the spirit like the Highlander of flu bugs.

Sure, we could ignore this zombie infestation of Sherlock Holmes culture. We could pretend Sherlock Holmes will still be Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone when this is all over. But Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch have already upset that apple cart, in productions that both added their own very nice touches to the legend. The times are a-changing.

Best pay attention, despite the unpleasantness. Because the zombies always get the ones who aren't looking first.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A real pair of stars' trek.

This week the teaser poster came out for May's Star Trek: Into Darkness, and the general feeling is that the single well-coated figure standing amidst devastation with all London laid out before him is Benedict Cumberbatch's character in the movie. If his villain turn is even close to what it potentially could be, our British Sherlock's star is going to be glowing brightly by June.

And with pre-release buzz for the first part of The Hobbit at a raging high, Martin Freeman, our British Watson (is there any other kind, really?) is already going nova. A delay of the third season of Sherlock to allow for these two stars' schedules is horrible news for one and all, but who can begrudge two such fine actors all the success in the world.

But who says we can't have it all? The third season of the series is contracted and sure to happen, but after that? The series is over, right?

Yes. The television series.

If someone in movieland isn't bright enough to put the pieces together and see what money could be made by putting Cumberbatch and Freeman together in a certain pair of roles, Hollywood must not be as interested in making money as they're known for being.

Between BBC and Moffat and Gatiss and whoever, couldn't somebody work out a way to bring Sherlock to the big screen, with all the budget and creativity such a venture would deserve?

My lord, that could even redeem a certain CBS show about certain supposed characters in the modern day, were American theater-goers (and later, DVD viewers) be given a full chance to see what a modern day Sherlock Holmes can really be done like!

Cumberbatch and Freeman get the continued success their talents deserve, we get more Sherlock . . . it's the sort of thing the phrase "win-win" was invented for.

So wish the boys well in their movie turns. They're still fairly young, and hopefully have plenty of Holmes and Watson left in them, on whatever stage life provides.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Just a show. La la la.

"If you're wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts (la la la), then repeat to yourself, 'It's just a show, I should really just relax . . ."
Those lyrics, written by Joel Hodgson and Josh Weinstein for Mystery Science Theater 3000, are always a happy reminder of one of the basic commandments of enjoying movies, television, and fiction of any media type. But as anyone who has seen a movie whose characters work in your very own profession knows, it can be a very had mantra to live by. If you're a plumber and the characters are slapping pipes together in some manner that would never work in reality, you're going to have a much harder time with the "relax" part than someone who doesn't know a thing about pipefitting.

As a regular moviegoer, that fine line that demarcates an individual's suspension of disbelief has always fascinated me. And it isn't just in movies that the line fascinates me. The act of writing "tongue in cheek" is always an interesting exercise in playing on the border of reality and fiction, as one writes something as if it's their true belief, yet is obviously pulling the reader's leg. Sherlockian scholarship has always been chock-full of such essays (including a notable recent piece by Lyndsay Faye at on the difference between a fandom and the Baker Street Irregulars of New York), and I have written more than a few myself.

One of the things I love most about Sherlock Holmes's long and storied fandom is that, in it's own way "it's just a show." There's a meta-fandom element to Sherlockiana that is where I've always had the best time. There are enough serious parts to our lives. Our hobbies are the places where we relax, kick back, and let the wine and words flow freely.

At least for most of us. As with professional wrestling, there will always be some fans that think the show is real, and that the wrestlers really have melodramatic feuds being played out in the ring. New folks, just walking into the arena, are always sure to make that mistake at first, but they usually get the in on the fun before too long.

So let's get back to my favorite topic this year, CBS's Elementary, and the seething rage that often gets played out on these blog post pages. Elementary is just a show, right? How can a person get so incredibly worked up about a silly Thursday night detective show, when he should really just relax? (La la la.)

Well, the thing to remember is this: when you come right down to it, a blog is just a show as well. It's kind of a lame reality show, with truthful moments edited and tweaked for maximum effect, but in the end, it's just a show. You can take it or leave it, and it really doesn't have anything to do with our everyday duties to society and keeping reality functioning smoothly. (You are keeping up with your duties to society, aren't you? Tsk, tsk.)

I do, really and truly, believe that Elementary is a mistake of a TV show. Does that keep me up at night? No. Do I enjoy poking it with a stick? Yes.

We can't fire missiles at cars that cut us off during rush hour. We can, thankfully, lob verbal hand grenades at silly TV shows, especially if we're objective enough to see how silly that we can be in doing so. Too many folks with media platforms these days take themselves too seriously and then get upset when their fictional realities don't play out in real life. But the Sherlockian world, with its convictions upon things like "Conan Doyle was Watson's literary agent," is a handy place to occasionally go on a pointless crusade just to blow off steam.

And boy, am I steaming about that Elementary . . . yeah, it's just a show, but then, aren't we all? (La la la.)