Now, look away little Elementary fans, you ain't a gonna want to see this.
The good Carter was watching Monk when I came upstairs for supper this evening. Monk, that closest-thing-we-had-to-Sherlock-on-TV we had for a while. It was an episode that I'd seen before, but its cleverness, its happy timing, its lovable female Watson . . . it all drew me in as if it was new. There was a reason we loved Monk. If the show's creators had wanted to do a modern Sherlock Holmes in America show instead of Monk, I have no doubt they could have pulled it off.
Which brings me to last night, and a new episode of Elementary dropped on the viewing audience, "The Red Team."
I could go on about all the usual problems with Elementary, from its very concept to the throwaway character point of the week. But this week's episode serves as a classic example of one of the hallmarks of bad Sherlock Holmes writing: writers who aren't half clever enough to write a smart person, so they try to cheat.
At the climactic point of this week's episode, Mr. Elementary (supposed smart person) goes in to talk a hostage-taker (another supposed smart person) out of killing his hostages. How does Mr. E do it?
He explains to the other supposed smart person that his own genius has figured out the brilliant plan the other supposed smart person has been dealing with at the core of his crimes. Only Mr. Elementary does it completely off-screen, and we're just supposed to accept all the brilliance flying around sight unseen. No actual cleverness is ever demonstrated. It was the most blatant demonstration of what has been wrong with Elementary from day one. One of the basics of writing any fiction is "show, don't tell."
Unfortunately, Elementary likes to tell us more about how smart its main character is than show us. Unless you count the parts where he just says obvious things faster than anyone else in the room and monopolizes conversations, which is Elementary's standard way of portraying intelligence. If you're the only one talking most of the time, of course you sound smarter than anyone.
Watching Monk tonight, I found the quiet moment so refreshing. Mr. Monk would actually look at things. And then he would relate an observation that was actually clever. Just like our old friend, real Sherlock Holmes. I understand that people like to shut their brains off, zone out, and watch some television. But Sherlock Holmes was never meant for that. Holmes has always been a character with which a clever writer can dazzle us with wit, charm, and the gracefully played moments of a man of brillance scintillating.
Geniuses like Sherlock Holmes aren't just in fiction, you know. That's the key to how Sherlock Holmes has seemed so real to readers and audiences for generations -- he seems like someone who actually could exist. Someone we might even meet someday. And occasionally we do run into someone of an Sherlock-like level of brilliance, if we're lucky. But I'll tell you one place we won't be running into one of those folks anytime soon:
Writing for Elementary.
If I didn't know better (and if there weren't so many years between us) I'd swear we were twins.ReplyDelete
'...likes to tell us more about how smart its main character is than show us...' - Exactly! This is it precisely. 'Twilight', anyone?ReplyDelete
I haven't watched 'Monk' yet - but I will try to, now.
I liked Monk until his OCD went from disability to punchline. As someone with OCD, that pissed me off. But that said, it is so very obvious to me that Elementary is less of a remake of Holmesian canon than it's a blatant attempt to woo the Monk and House markets.ReplyDelete
I take your point. However, let me express another point of view. In Gore Vidal's 1978 novel "Kalki" ex-US Army chemical-warfare chemist and purported 10th reincarnation of the god Vishnu James J. Kelly manages to kill off the entire human race. Vidal mentions the agent Kelly uses but in a postscript writes that the agent used in the novel wouldn't wipe put the entire human race, just most of them. There was a real agent that he could have named that would have done the job, but in the cause of good citizenship, he didn't name it. Now the McGuffin of the show was a small group came up with a plan for a devastating attack on the US--so devastating and one for which the government has no countermeasure that they classified it--and you *want* the show to describe it?! Doyle was unfairly maligned for his submarine warfare story "Danger!" for giving the German Navy ideas. Now you want Al-Quiada to go "Hey! I just saw this great idea on a decadent American TV show on how we can kill tens of thousands of infidels. Let's try it!"ReplyDelete
You're still giving the writers too much credit. If they set up that McGuffin properly, wrote a little more build-up to it, revealed its scary edges, mad us believe there was actually a plausible plot too terrifying to reveal . . . then I'd say, fine, that works. But the way they sloppily slapped it in? Good writing can make anything work. Unfortunately, these guys aren't Gore Vidal or Arthur Conan Doyle. They should write to their strengths, and this sure wasn't one of them.Delete
I think that is a fair point. I think the show would work better if it were like "Columbo" or "Sherlock", a ninety minute show on eight or ten times a season were the writers can really work on a plot. But that's not how American TV works. Events in the script did seem rushed. The first murder of conspiracy blogger Len Pontecorvo, didn't resolved in a satisfying way; so he really was murdered by his fellow conspiracy blogger? That plot thread was dropped way too quickly. However, I don't feel the way the writers didn't tell us about the Red Teams brilliant plan was a weakness.Delete
Just curious; has your opinion changed about the casting of Aidan Quinn as Gregson changed in light of his Miller punching abilities? Do you feel Clyde has the potential to team up with Liu to solve crimes? So many openings for your delightful wit.
I still wish all concerned were just being cast in a different show. Gregson still hasn't had any read development. I feel like he could walk onto an episode of "Sherlock" and get more interesting very quickly.Delete
"Now the McGuffin of the show was a small group came up with a plan for a devastating attack on the US--so devastating and one for which the government has no countermeasure that they classified it--and you *want* the show to describe it?! Doyle was unfairly maligned for his submarine warfare story "Danger!" for giving the German Navy ideas. Now you want Al-Quiada to go "Hey! I just saw this great idea on a decadent American TV show on how we can kill tens of thousands of infidels. Let's try it!"ReplyDelete
I think this is the silliest thing I've so far heard in defense of that show. It needn't be anything that would work in RL - it just has to make sense within the universe of the show.
"I think this is the silliest thing I've so far heard in defense of that show." On the contrary, if the writers of "Elementary" came up with something that didn't work in real life, critics of the show would gleefully point that out as another reason why the show sucks. It's a no-win situation.ReplyDelete