Monday, February 4, 2013

Elementary School, the the first grade.

This morning I posed a query to the universe about why those people who actually enjoy CBS's Elementary find it so pleasurable . . . a facility that I do not, at present, seem to possess . . . and the answers immediately started pouring in. Not just from those answering my query, of course, as many seem to be in a stated of enjoyment handicap very similar to my own when it comes to Jonny Lee Miller's taking the name "Sherlock Holmes." So as a public service, both to myself, and the legions of Sherlockians who are also enjoyment deprived where Elementary is concerned, I have decided to undertake a quest.

A quest to actually enjoy the show that is to Sherlock Holmes what Budweiser is to beer.

Esteemed Minneapolis Sherlockian Dick Sveum laid the first stepping stone in my path with today's comments, saying that Elementary follows the Knoxian formula for the Sherlock Holmes story. Knox's scheme, first proposed in 1911, before all of the original stories were even written. is that a proper Sherlock Holmes tale is composed of eleven definite parts. So how does our most modern attempt at Sherlock hold up when matched with that oldest of criteria?

Let's see, by looking at Sunday night's episode, "The Deductionist."

Part one of a Sherlock Holmes story, the Prooimium, "a homely Baker Street scene, with invaluable personal touches, and sometimes a demonstration by the detective." In "The Deductionist" (or DEDU as we'll call it in a faux Finley Christ abbreviation), our supposed Sherlock is home at Baker Street, sitting shirtless in a chair while two strippers who aren't shirtless dance around for him, then ask him if he's ready for more. When they handcuff him to a chair and prepare to rob him, we get the demonstration -- he has police hiding in the next room. Watson is not present to go "Amazing, Holmes!" at this demonstration, but turns up the next morning to complain of stripper smell.

Part two of our Knoxian analysis is Exegesis kata ton diokonta, the client's statment of the case. In the case of "The Deductionist," we are treated to the actual scene of the crime being committed, as a serial killer massacres an operating room full of medical folk. 

Part three is the Ichneusis, or "personal investigation, often including the infamous floor-walk on hands and knees." Jonny Lee Miller walks around the crime scene, and he does bend over slightly at one point -- no floor-walk this time.

Part four, the Anaskeue, is a "refutation on its own merits of the official theory of Scotland Yard." As Inspector Gregson doesn't seem to want to theorize much in Jonny Lee Miller's presence, so instead we are treated to Mr. Elementary pompously debunking the entire field of criminal profiling and specifically cutting down the profiler on the case, Kathryn Drummond.

Part five, the first Promenusis, in which Holmes used to give a few stray hints to the police, doesn't happen here, unless you count Miller openly spouting his every observation at the crime scene. Miller doesn't hint. He spouts. I'm trying to be fair here, but I'd bet part five has yet to happen in any episodes of Elementary.

Part six, the second Promenusis, in which Sherlock Holmes normally explains the true course of the case to Dr. Watson, has a new wrinkle in "The Deductionist." Watson first has to tell Mr. Elementary about her apartment being used for pornography, but he eventually gets around to telling her what he's doing on the serial killer case . . . as well as the fact that he used to have sex with Miss Drummond, the profiler.

Part seven, the Exetasis, is typically Holmes questioning the people of the case and visiting necessary offices, etc. In "The Deductionist," we get more of Watson investigating her apartment being used for porno filming. A curious side note: Mr. Elementary uses the word "modicum" in this episode. Sherlock Holmes never used the word in the original Canon, but Roger Moore did use it as Sherlock Holmes in the movie Sherlock Holmes in New York.

Part eight, the Anagnorisis, is when the criminal is usually exposed by Sherlock Holmes. But since Elementary already showed us the criminal from square one, and the police know who he is from square one, for this we must substitute the scene where the serial killer makes contact via telephone with Gregson, Drummond, and "the Deductionist," as Drummond named Jonny Lee Miller in a write-up about him.

Part nine, the second Exegesis, is the criminal's confession. But in any modern serial killer TV show, the confession is something of a moot point. In this episode, it certainly is.

Part ten, the Metamenusis, features Sherlock Holmes describing what clues he found and how he followed them. Where Elementary is concerned, the main character seems to be doing that constantly. It's kind of his version of Tourette syndrome.

And the last part, the Epilogos, is a conclusion that comes in sometimes a single sentence. A quote, a last line from Holmes. In this episode it's Miller giving Lucy Liu a spatula and a toothbrush. 

In attempting to apply Knox's formula to "The Deductionist," I ran out of everything but the Epilogos before the show was two-thirds over. The reason for this is that Knox was analyzing the single-mystery pattern of the classic Sherlock Holmes story.  The modern CBS murder drama moves from little drama point to little drama point in a cycle that demands more shock or twist moments than the almost leisurely seeming classic tale, where Holmes saves his big dramatic moment for the climax. Elementary seems a little more insecure to me, like a child craving attention, going:

"Hey, look! Strippers!" 
"Hey, look! A mass murder!"
"Hey, look! A porno movie!"
"Hey, look! Someone else being killed!"
"Hey, look! Jonny Lee Miller had sex with that woman!"
"Hey, look! That woman is getting stabbed!"

And like a child craving attention, it can get rather annoying. There's a certain A.D.D. aspect to the show, and I'm not talking about the main character's personality traits.

I don't know if Knox's principles apply to Elementary is because the show is true to Sherlock, or because Knox's guides are so flexible. Rewatching "The Deductionist" with Father Ronald Knox's principles from "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes" didn't really help me find enjoyment in the show, but I'll give you this, Elementary fans: I'm starting to grow fond of that wingback chair he sits in. They use it a lot in promo photos, and with good reason. It is a beautiful chair. And unlike Clyde the turtle, it gets to appear in more than one episode.

And that, apparently is first grade in my Elementary schooling. I've got another teacher lined up for grade two. Stay tuned.


  1. Thanks, Brad. By the time I got to your "Hey, Look" list, I was laughing out loud.

  2. Oh dear, you'll turn into a fan - and then where will we be?

  3. Brad, love what you're doing with this site. It's a wonderful mix of erudition, humor, and just-plain facts.


    David F. Morrill, BSI

    1. And that, to me, is high praise from a master! Thanks, Sir Hugo!