Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Held back at Elementary School.

Despite my fondness for Elementary's wingback chair and not being able to get the theme music out of my head all morning, I have to judge my first exercise at becoming a fan of the CBS crime drama a failure. Comments have been made, the possibilities of the new Sherlockian label "elite devotee" applying to me were again diagnosed, so I have decided to assign myself some remedial reading.

An article posted to the Baker Street Blog back in December, "Six Cases Which I Have Added To My Notes" [BLUE] by James C. O'Leary, was recommended as an answer to my query as to why a person would like Elementary. At the time it first came out, I dismissed it as a desperate attempt to plead the show's innocence to the court of the internet, but given my new quest to learn to like the show, I thought I'd give it a closer look.

The author starts with a very reasonable premise: "Indeed, an unshaven, tattooed, sexually active, drug addicted, and tantrum throwing Holmes dependent on the largesse of his father seems like no Holmes at all. As Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes has reached the end of his probationary six-week sobriety period under Joan Watson’s (Lucy Liu) care, now would be a good time to assess those first six cases through a Sherlockian eyes."

He then matches seven quotes from Elementary with seven quotes from the Canon of Holmes, adds six or seven details from the original stories used in one way or another by the show, but then goes on to cite the more obvious places where Elementary wanders off course. As I had watched all of the above, and still hated the show, I needed more, and the hard-working O'Leary was willing to supply more.

The chemistry between Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. The drug history. Jonny Lee Miller's tattoos?

Mr. Elementary's relationship with women. His relationship with father. Citing the problems with other adaptations of Sherlock Holmes . . . .

The problem with using details from Elementary to try to convince an Elementary hater to like the show is that it's just throwing gas on the fire. By the time I got to the final section of the article, I felt like I had just been given a retrospective tour of everything I hated about the show when I originally watched it.

James C. O'Reilly's concluding paragraphs are as insulting to those who find fault with Elementary as anything I've written here, so they didn't really help me find the path to liking the show any more than what came before.

So I went searching for some older reading material in my quest to find some way to love, or even like, this new pretender to the 221B throne. In a piece entitled, "The Implicit Sherlock Holmes," Sherlockian giant Edgar Smith began with the now-familiar question, "What is it that we love about Sherlock Holmes?" A classic question, very pertinent to finding a thread of enjoyment in any Holmes, to be sure.  Among his answers, I found this passage:

"Not only there and then, but here and now, he stands before us as a symbol -- a symbol, if you please, of all that we are not, but ever would be. His figure is sufficiently remote to make our secret aspirations for transference seem unshameful, yet close enough to give them plausibility. We see him as the fine expression of our urge to trample evil and set aright the wrongs with which the world is plagued. He is Galahad and Socrates, bring high adventure to our dull existences and calm, judicial logic to our biased minds. He is the success of all our failures; the bold escape from our imprisonment . . . . For it is not Sherlock Holmes who sits in Baker Street, comfortable, confident, and self-assured; it is we ourselves who are there, full of a tremendous capacity for wisdom, complacent in the presence of our humble Watson, conscious of a warm well-being and a timeless, imperishable content."

Perhaps the language is a bit fancy for the average modern, but the gist is still plain to see. And the being Smith speaks of is very hard to see in that shirtless wannabe rock star, twitching and sniping his way around New York City at the center of Elementary. If anyone out there sees themselves in Jonny Lee Miller's character with the same name as Sherlock Holmes, I can respect that. But to me, Mr. Elementary is something else . . . a freakish parody that, instead of inspiring, makes the common man feel better about being less bright than Holmes by making him a damaged, diagnosable mess. Instead of looking at a symbol to aspire to, modern audiences would rather look at reality show train wrecks like Honey Boo-boo and feel better about their current state. Personally, I see Mr. E. as a result of that culture. Mr. Elementary and Honey Boo-boo do get the ratings, but what do they say about us?

As much as I may seem to have insulted fans of Elementary in this blog, I fear the show itself insults them more. So I'm afraid I have to drop out of "Elementary school," my attempt to find some reason to like the show. I just can't. It goes against everything I love about Sherlock Holmes. But as James O'Leary concludes in his article, "Love it or hate it, Elementary is a permanent presence in the Sherlockian world." It won't, and can't, be ignored.

So it's just going to have to be dealt with. And that, I have no problem with. 

Stay tuned. Or should I simply shout, "WOLVERINES!"


  1. Loved your analysis. I agree wholeheartedly that the problem I have most with Elementary is that it is not a show on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson yet they are calling it so. If the character were renamed I am sure no one would be complaining about it.

  2. I am indeed quite grateful you took the time to read my post and even more grateful that you gave it your usual thoughtful analysis. I would like to point out two things: the thrust of my post was not to proselytize. I do not think that I can change someone's views on "Elementary"; further, I think that such an attempt shows disrespect for another person's viewpoint. As I stated to you just two days ago my article was an attempt to answer your November 7 post, "Loving things that suck", to explain why I like "Elementary". I did not expect that anyone would agree with me; I was just expressing my opinion. The fact you thought I was looking to make converts, leaves me feeling chagrined; I still have much to learn in the area of writing.

    I do have to disagree with your statement that "O'Reilly's concluding paragraphs are as insulting to those who find fault with Elementary as anything I've written here". I never characterize those who dislike "Elementary" as "'lemming-zombie-monkeys". "Indeed, I have called them 'wretched,' 'mindless,' and a few other things," you have admitted. What I said is, "I do not understand the vitriol aimed at Elementary, lighting up the message boards like so many Kitty Winters with jars of acid. It seems more emotional than based on a thoughtful consideration of facts," and "To disparage those who enjoy the show, as I do, with the same smug condescension to the natives as those Brits who sat on their veranda sipping gin and tonic while the Mutiny boiled around them, serves no good purpose. It stifles the good-natured back-and-forth and bonhomie that characterizes Holmesian discourse. And instead of decrying the great unwashed, uninitiated masses for having a taste for network pabulum, say to them, 'You like Elementary—great. Have I got a series of stories for you!'" If you equate my saying those who disparage "Elementary" fans with "smug condescension" to you saying they are self-deluding as in your November 7 post, or mindless as in your December 7 post, wretches in your January 5 post, or needing help in your January 15 post is to show yourself to be thin-skinned. Since I know you are not, I am assuming you are using a rhetorical device to show that I, too, resorted to name calling. I have tried very hard not to do that. You and I disagree on "Elementary", and I do not enjoy being insulted for liking a TV show, however, I've always said I like your writing and I respect you as a Sherlockian. When I read opinions on how bad "Elementary" is, before the show even airs, then I know that response is emotional and not based on a thoughtful consideration of facts.

    Great quite by Edgar Smith; by its lights, "Elementary" is not the only series that comes up short.

    1. Let's make no mistake: I wasn't prejudging Elementary as a whole before it aired. I was taking all of the evidence presented before it aired and judging that. Any movie or TV show that can't cobble together an exciting preview from its best moments is usually in trouble, and such turned out to me the case. Elementary had as much chance with me as any other vehicle with Sherlock in the name, and while others may have their faults, it had no redeeming qualities for me to make up for its faults.

      Emotional? Indeed. But aren't we all?