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.