Monday, September 30, 2013

What doth a Sherlock Holmes make?

Another literary character came to network television this fall, and after all the discussion of the lead character in CBS's Elementary, this one provides a very interesting contrast.

The TV show is Fox's Sleepy Hollow, and the character is Ichabod Crane, played by Tom Mison.

And here's the thing, he's a horrible Ichabod Crane. Handsome, intelligent, charming, ex-military man of action . . . Fox took some serious liberties with the timid little schoolmaster of Washington Irving's original story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."  And the Headless Horseman, it turns out, is Death of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in this version. But turning a single story into an entire season of spooky dramas was going to require a little stretching, so I guess that was to be expected.

Now here's the interesting part: Tom Mison's Ichabod Crane? He actually reminds me more of Sherlock Holmes that an certain other television show that would claim to portray the detective.

He has his own Watson, of course, a local police officer who carries the gun for the team. He has old world style and class, the sort of British cool we expect from a Holmes. He has all sorts of very specialized knowledges that prove useful, he's observant, he's insightful, and, oh, yes, he has a very cool coat. Sherlock Holmes has always been one to pull of the cool coat, even if it's that bloody Invernesse that looks ridiculous on anyone else.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, this Ichabod Crane dwells in a world where the supernatural is the everyday . . . as many of Sherlock's literary descendents have. As much as Holmes proved Dartmoor demon hounds and Sussex vampires were frauds every time, fellows like William Sebastian (of the movie Spectre) and Flaxman Low (of The Experiences of Flaxman Low) took the job in worlds where such things weren't fake at all. Ichabod seems to be the latest incarnation of that twist in the thread.

Like all television, Sleepy Hollow might be to your taste, and it might not. I'm enjoying it a little bit, and I suspect that might be in part to a lifetime diet of Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The big wonderful cosmos of Sherlock.

After listening to part one of the Baker Street Babes's two-part "Sherlock After Dark" podcasts, I remember writing that they spent too much time with the foreplay -- commercials, intro, theme song, etc., before they got to the good stuff. For part two, however, perhaps I was anticipating the episode too much, but Kafers talking about tea in the very opening moments seemed to be bringing the sexy from square one.

(Kafers, of course, has been one of my favorite Babe voices from square one, and now that Curly is back in London, I'm looking forward to some very good things from the sultry-voiced English accent mixing it up with the perky American one. Okay, I'm stopping now before I start writing creepy-old-guy Babes audio slash fiction.)

Since "Sherlock After Dark," part two, is the second half of an ongoing conversation, this one takes no time at all to get to the good parts: sexual inexperience, early porn usage -- the Babes are not shy about bringing their personal experiences to the table to discuss how they feel about Sherlock and his sex lives. (How many of us get to actually have sex lives? Go legendary cultural icons!) But then the conversation actually goes deep: dominatrixes, female empowerment dressing, and the finer points of sequins. There's a reason these ladies have such a popular podcast: They aren't stupid, and their thoughtful musings can even make sequins curiously interesting.

The "After Dark" podcasts aren't entirely about fanfic: Lyndsay's experiences as a female Sherlockian before and after the current wave of Holmes popularity are well worth any Sherlockian's time. I fear those who most need to hear her words won't be listening to the podcast, having already dismissed it as some silly Cumberbatchian fawning. But the fanfic comes back in really quickly.

The comparison of getting into a fandom to deep sea diving (Was that Reapersun or Sketchlock? I lose track of voices in these things sometimes.) is an excellent explanation of how to approach fan fiction. With a range stretching from "fluffy" to "vampire omegaverse," the point that a novice coming into the worlds of fanfic needs to pace themselves is well made. And if you were wondering what "omegaverse" was, the explanation (and its nervous beginning) is worth diving into the podcast by itself.

Listening to the podcast definitely makes one want to track down a few specific fanfics mentioned: "Alone on the Water" and "Performance in a Leading Role" by MadLori, the "Seven Moons" by Ladyflodi, as well as tracking down Reapersun's Red Pants Monday, which is the most specific corner of Watson fandom you'll ever find. (And do the red briefs subliminally represent Watson's classic wound, even if it is psycho-somatic in Sherlock? I couldn't help but think they were there to help classic Watson cover a still-bleeding wound to his butt cheek.) The work of  candle_beck also comes up as a "rec" ("Recommendation," I'm guessing -- these kids today and their hip lingo!). Podfic? There's podfic? How did the world get so freaking big? At some point it gets hard to keep up with taking notes on the recs getting mentioned.

"I think that fan fiction and pastiche -- identical terms. That is same deal . . . [except] pastiche tends to get dollars handed to them." Nice quote from Lyndsay. (Though damned hard to transcribe -- you really need to listen to this podcast.)

If you get nothing else from the second part of "Sherlock After Dark," it's that there are universes upon universes of Sherlock Holmeses out there. Alternate universes, which used to be a unique science fiction concept back in my classic Trek childhood, is now common coin of the fan realm. Imagination rules the internet, more than any of us ever realized it would, and the Babes give a wonderful overview of just how diverse and incredible the worlds of Sherlock Holmes now are.

It's oddly humbling to consider the size of the Sherlock fanfic cosmos after just finishing a discussion of "Elementary is a great show" universe versus "Elementary is an awful show" universe. It's like gazing up at the stars and realizing how small we are in the greater scheme of things. Limiting one's self to the classic Sherlock Holmes fandom of twenty years ago almost starts to seem Amish in the light of all the creative thought going on out there. Sometimes, as we age, we don't mind the Amish lifestyle and want to stick to the familiar paths. But other times, no matter what our age, we crave new worlds to explore. And fanfic, if you find it something you can be open to, has soooooo many worlds to explore.

Yes, you do have to sometimes be open to alternate, and sometimes very alternate, lifestyles. But that's just a part of the infinite diversity (in infinite combinations -- yes, I am an old Trekkie). And this is a wonderful podcast for repeated listenings, just to get plenty of details to introduce you to it all.

And, of course, to hear Kafers talk about tea. (*Sigh like Cecil on Welcome to Night Vale talking about Carlos.*)

Hound, Chapter Fifteen and Final: The perfect evening.

Can there be no more pleasant place than the final chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles?

A raw November night when the evil creeping fog of Dartmoor has given way to its mightier London cousin, the city-swallowing night fog -- the sort of night where a blazing fire in a Baker Street hearth with Holmes and Watson sitting close around it makes for the best of all possible worlds.

And Sherlock Holmes is in story-telling mode.

So we get to gather around the urban campfire while scoutmaster Holmes weaves us a tale of villainy and mysterious South Americans who seemingly disappear into the mists when their plots are foiled. The evil Rodger Baskerville and his sidekick Anthony eerily might be out there still, just waiting for us, having discovered our little known Baskerville bloodline.

And what of James Mortimer, who seems insistent on taking some member of the Baskerville family away from Baskerville Hall? We hear he was originally planning an exodus for Sir Charles, and now is doing the same for Sir Henry. Is his medical prescription for everything, "I shall go on a vacation around the world with you," or does he have some plan for the empty manor house that his cohorts will work when he's away . . . perhaps to dig some rare skull up from the basements of the house.

Whatever these unknown threads lead to, however, it is not Holmes's province to guess what any man might do in the future, or so he tells us. He does not have any problem with planning his own future, though, as this tale ends, not with the boredom and needle of The Sign of the Four, but with inviting Watson out for a date: dinner at Marcini's and a box seat for Les Huguenots. It is a splendid thing to have a friend who buys entire boxes for the grand opera and asks you to come along after telling a wonderful fireside tale.

And on that happy note, September and re-reading The Hound of the Baskervilles both draw to a close. I always forget just how good these stories are, and how rich in lovely detail, when I'm away from a particular one for a while. It's no wonder that The Hound gets so many adaptations by film-makers, and I sincerely hope that Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law get a chance to make an honest big-budget go of it one day . . . or perhaps some other modern actors who can draw a crowd to a big-screen theater. I would dearly love to see some decent modern adaptation of this tale projected digitally on a large screen, with a Hound that is truly state-of-the-art.

And if they can pull that off, did I mention I once penned a script for a modern horror sequel to The Hound, wherein the curse turned out to be real, and a college-aged descendent of Hugo unleashes it upon a college campus? There's a great chase scene where the Hound from Hell chases fleeing co-eds down a highway a night, tearing pieces off their car with his great flaming jaws. Can't remember if I finished it or not, but, hey, Hollywood! Steal the idea! I'd just be happy to see such a thing.

Anyway, thanks ACD, and thanks to you plucky souls who made it through The Hound of the Baskervilles with me this month. It's been fun!

Elementary Leftovers

In containing the length of earlier comments on the premiere of Elementary a few points got left out, and so, for the sake of a lazy Sunday, here they are:

-- Anybody else been noticing that when Elementary contains major Canonical characters or character development, the writing credits are always Rob Dougherty and Craig Sweeney? I'm curious if Dougherty writes the character development part and Sweeney the mystery part, as the mystery always seems separate from the character play. The Mycroft story and the Lestrade story in the latest episodes were separate that way. My favorite episode of the series thus far has been the Miss Hudson "Snow Angels" episode, which featured a single writer, Jason Tracey, and an integrated plot. I look forward to Jason Tracey's return, as he'll be writing an early episode of this season to see if he bump the level of the show up again.

-- That thing where the four masks on the wall didn't line up -- again, Elementary seems to want to raise Mr. Elementary up by making everyone else incredibly stupid. That mask was so hideously out of line that a.) no one could have missed it, and b.) a genius murderer would never have been so inept as to hang his wall masks that sloppily. Did he hire it out originally to cover up his poor lining-up skills? And why wouldn't he have used the original nail hole that hung the mask? (And let's not get into the whole "acetone plus plastic makes a plausible milk imitation." Give it a try sometime.)

-- Mycroft's phone call in French -- was it just to make him sexier to Watson, or the set-up for some later revelation that he's a top-level government spy? It's still hard for me to believe they'd waste the character as a trust-fund restauranteur who got cuckolded by his own brother.

-- Mr. Elementary can follow pigeons. I still want to see him actually do that.

-- After all the fuss last year about how the show is socially forward-thinking by having a female Watson and a transgendered Miss Hudson, the bit where Mycroft was introduced using the overweight person's equivalent of the "N" word seemed a bit oafish. It also emphasized that Mr. Elementary is being portrayed as an out-of-control man-child more than the disciplined, top-of-his-field professional we were used to in the Canon.

-- And how does Joan Watson get away with beating a guy down in the park? She's not a member of NYPD, and even they might take some heat for starting their contact with a non-threatening suspect using billy club. It's a bit of a ha-ha because she's a little lady, but had she been a burly, deep-voiced male, we might see this scenario a bit differently.

-- The return of Elementary's dysfunctional detective made me miss Monk a lot for some reason. Which made me consider this: If Monk had been named Sherlock Holmes and Sharona called Watson, I suspect that show's charm and cleverness would have eventually won me over, despite the fact it would have been wholly non-Canonical. I miss Monk.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hound, Chapter Fourteen: Bring out the virgin!

When Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Inspector Lestrade get together and discuss whether or not they're all packing heat, you know something's about to get settled. And in this case, it's a giant supernatural hound from Hell that's apparently been around for centuries.

But you don't just find such a mythological creature on a map, noooooo. You have to bait him with a sacrificial virgin or something. In this case, Sir Henry Baskerville.

There's a lot of creeping and peeping in this fourteenth chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles. If Holmes's plan went nowhere, it might have seemed a little silly the next day, the three men hiding behind a low wall outside Merripit House, where a dinner party is going on. We can't hear what Sir Henry Baskerville and Jack Stapleton are discussing inside, but given Jack's animation and Sir Henry's paleness, it has to be more stories of big black dog being seen by folk of the moor, and how it liked to kill Sir Henry's relatives. Stapleton has to be laying it on thick at this point, ready for his big play. You know, if he could he'd shout, "Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!" at some point here, but that might blow his whole plan.

Interestingly, it's Holmes and not Watson who wonders why we can't see the lady of the house while they're playing peeping toms. Watson is having a very unobservant evening, but he's not the only one. If the criminal you're after leaves the house for a moment to do something in a shed that makes a curious scuffling noise, wouldn't your first instinct be to go see what was going on with the shed?

But mythological beasts must have their virgins, and so Holmes and company let the drama play out. It's almost like they know they're in a novel as much as we do.

The fog that slowly rolls in over the moor is one of the creepier things about this particular evening on Dartmoor. A chance of seeing a mythical hound is one thing, but something that looks like its being poured out of some weird god's vapor flask spreading acrossing the landscape . . . now that's creepy.

And once that fog has layered the countryside in a thick white cloud of ground cover, then and only then can we release the virgin . . . or Sir Henry . . . to his ceremonial walk of danger. Really, one might as well add native drums in the background here. It's a set-up, we know, but a lot scarier than sitting in a bank vault or some step-daughter's bedroom as in other Holmes cases.

And then we get to see it. The Hound summoned from Hell itself.

For a moment, for all intents and purposes, this thing is a supernatural beast. Holmes, being a scientist at heart, immediately tests that theory with bullets. Now there's a spin-off I want to see: "Sherlock Holmes, Bullet Scientist. Every week the great Sherlock Holmes fires bullets into a new supernatural creature to see if it's really supernatural. Dracula? BLAM! Headless horseman? BLAM! Chupacabra? BLAM! It's Sherlock Holmes, Bullet Scientist!" But for now, Holmes has just tested the hound of legend, and it has, I'm afraid . . . . SPOILER ALERT!!! . . . come up short.

Of course, even with a bullet in him, this non-supernatural dog still wants to get Sir Henry, which is kind of weird, like he's got a grudge or something. Did Stapleton put on Sir Henry's boot and kick the dog all day or somesuch? I'd think a bullet wound would give most dogs cause to give up an idle scent-chase. But not this dog. It takes five more bullets to get his attention away from Sir Henry, and if they hadn't killed him, one wonders if they would have worked then.

Watson, of course, has scientific methods of his own, and when he sees dripping blue flame-saliva, he sticks his hand right into it. Sir Henry is, for all intents and purposes, physically undamaged, but seems a little shook up by the whole dog attack . . . or was it having five bullets shot directly in his vicinity? And while the trap netted the dog, the true villain of the piece still has to be caught . . . which seems like, for all the risk to Sir Henry in this little game, should have been part of the package.

Jack Stapleton's wife turns stool-pigeon on him, they find all sorts of physical evidence, but in this day and age, we don't believe a villain is truly dead until we see the body. Guessing that he just got sucked down by the mire isn't really as satisfying as it once was.

The case seems to be done, but as in any good tale there are still stories untold. Watson mentions how Sir Henry Baskerville and Dr. Mortimer "were destined to travel together round the world before Sir Henry had become once more the hale and hearty man that he had been," which sounds like the set-up for a spin-off show. Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer, traveling the world with the villainous Jack Stapleton (who isn't dead, it could turn out) following and trying various complex plots to kill the baronet with seeming accidents and local legends. What a finale that tale would have, when the two Baskerville cousins inevitably face off!

But as I said, that is another story. For now, it's time to get the hellhound out of Dartmoor and back to the comforts of Baker Street, which is what we get to do in the one remaining chapter.

Elementary Points and Counterpoints, a postscript.

One thinks Elementary hates Sherlock Holmes. One thinks Elementary treasures Sherlock Holmes.

It looks like Bill Mason and I currently live in two different alternate realities, almost exactly the same, but where CBS has two very different shows called Elementary. That's my only explanation for it, as I know Bill, and he's an intelligent and charming fellow, who would surely not enjoy the TV show that I've been seeing on Thursday nights. And I'm sure the converse is true in his case, knowing that I would surely enjoy the Sherlockian delight that he's been watching. That's the only reasonable explanation I can find for what you just read here on Sherlock Peoria.

Had I not met Bill, spent time with him, had a wonderful time at the Grand Old Opry with him and his wife, co-written Sherlockian entertainment with him, etc., I might be tempted to write him off as being completely insane for seeing something so opposite to what I'm seeing. But I know Bill, unlike many other folk whose paths cross mine on the web every day. Without Bill's established relationship, some actually do seem quite insane, especially when it comes to Elementary. But maybe they just live in that other universe that Bill does, where CBS is broadcasting a somewhat different show. Someday, perhaps I'll meet them and find out they're quite lovely folk, just like the esteemed Mr. Mason.

But like it or not, Elementary is a Sherlockian phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Never has a single entertainment featuring a character called "Sherlock Holmes" been distributed to so wide an audience over so long a period of time. Good, bad, or indifferent, Elementary is an important event in the history of Sherlock Holmes. And that is why it seems to be the most potentially divisive element in Sherlock Holmes fandom that has ever existed.

While some are going, "Great! More Sherlock Holmes! Spread the word!" others among us feel compelled to practically cry, "Fraud! Arrest that man for pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and despoiling his good name!" We are, both sets, passionate about Sherlock Holmes. Which is why I've resisted actually doing a head-to-head debate on Elementary, and will continue to. We're not talking about a matter with a logical conclusion that can be rationally settled here. We're talking an ideological war, where there the only winner is the one left standing over the bloody corpse of the other -- the only way to be completely right in a dispute like this one is for the other point of view to cease to exist. (Which is why we get so many passive-aggressive arguments about manners and not saying anything negative when it comes to Elementary -- they're just non-lethal ways of making the other point of view cease to exist.)

So for now, I'm going with this alternate universe theory, just to help acclimate myself to living with an alternate point of view that doesn't seem to be going away.

So Bill Mason and I may live in different universes, which is true of every human being you'll ever meet. We all have our personal mental universe, born out of lifetimes of different experiences and different genetic makeups. But like countries that neighbor each other, those universes don't have to go to war. We just to have to acknowledge that they are unique places unto themselves, and maybe go, "Good for you, strange other opinion!" Because even though I'd rather he be on my side, I can still be glad Bill is having fun with this Elementary thing.

This, however, is Sherlock Peoria. And while I don't speak for all Sherlockians or all Peoria, I do speak from the universe in which I live. Bill is welcome to come and visit these pages as a guest blogger any time he wants, but mostly, what you're going to get here is that view from the universe where Elementary is a much-hated abomination of a show. I'll try to be nice about it, but hey, it's the show that's coming in on my TV. I have to write about what I see, and I do get a bit passionate.

Another season of Elementary begins, for all of our neighboring universes. So I'll sing this blog out:

"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
"A beautiful day for a neighbor.
"Would you be mine?
"Could you be mine?"

Friday, September 27, 2013

Elementary Points and Counterpoints, Part Two

Brad Keefauver's Counterpoint:

People ask me why I watch Elementary, a show I really don't like. And my answer is always the same: I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan. Bill's review of the second season premiere would have had me watching the show, even if I had given it up entirely sometime last fall. But I doubt my reaction would have been any different.

Obviously, I didn't revel in the plethora of Canonical references, as Bill suggested I might. Everything that surrounds them just goes against my Sherlockian grain far too much, which is why I have such a very hard time seeing things from the Elementary Sherlockian fan's point of view. "It's had to enjoy the icing when the cake is bad," a fortune cookie I saw recently read, and I agree.  A Sherlock Holmes story, to me, has always been a positive experience. Elementary has a decidedly negative spin, with unpleasant and unlikeable folk at every turn. Even Joan Watson is only there because she has to be, having killed a patient. And she seems lukewarm about the role she's been placed in.

“We get along, basically,” Joan Watson explained her relationship with Mr. Elementary this episode. I expect something more from an exemplary friendship that has shone brightly in our culture for over a century. Lucy Liu's Watson is steady, but perhaps too steady, given the partner she has to work with. If Mycroft has to blow things up to get Mr. Elementary's attention based on her advice, why don't we see her blowing up more? She certainly has good reason to. And we know that Lucy Liu has it well within her most enjoyable acting range. Joan's quietly tolerating this jerk is one of the hardest things for me to believe about this series . . . well, other than the fact that the guy is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes.

Lucy Liu's Watson does remain the sole delight in a dismal Elementary world, so I will give Bill that. While Mr. Elementary continues to dress like Jethro Bodine or a twit from Monty Python, Joan Watson has some very nice togs. I just wish they'd give her more to do. 

Like the whole series for her own.

Bill Mason's Counterpoint:

“Art in the blood, Watson. It takes the strangest forms.”  Thus spoke Holmes in the closing line of Elementary’s premiere—another of numerous homages to the Canon.

The art of adapting Holmes to a modern setting is akin to what contestants do on Chopped.  Familiar ingredients, breaking them down, repurposing them, presenting something wholly new but still fundamentally true.  Elementary places new emphasis on familiar points: Lestrade’s credit claiming becomes an addiction to fame he cannot lose; Mycroft doesn’t preserve 221B during a hiatus, he transforms it; Mycroft rivals Sherlock in more than just intellect. Transforming Sherlock’s occasional use of cocaine into addiction has been a running theme. Brad objects to this repurposing, at least inElementary, but if you really want reality and mystery to mix, this is essential.  This repurposing doesn’t insult Holmes; it keeps him alive.  Just as we in “the game” insist.

Brad has singled out Elementary’s use of Langdale Pike for criticism, but this transformation not only works, it's clever and believable. Instead of gathering information “in the bow window of a St. James’ Street club” (3GAB), Pike does so through London’s surveillance cameras.  This is just the sort of informant a modern era Sherlock Holmes would need and utilize.  Well done.

I share to some extent Brad’s discomfort with the arrogance and obnoxious rudeness of Holmes.  Perhaps, in television versions, this is a device (unneeded in a short story) to set an incomparable Holmes apart from the rest of humanity. Miller, however, has not taken this to a Mr. Data/Sheldon Cooper automaton extreme.  Like the Canonical Sherlock Holmes, he does indeed have real emotions, though tightly controlled.  That he doesn’t suffer fools gladly is a positive rather than otherwise.

The Elementary chemistry between Holmes and Watson is pitch perfect.  I cannot agree that the show “hates” Sherlock Holmes; it clearly treasures him.

Elementary Points and Counterpoints, Part One.

Bill Mason's Point:

After a year of establishing the reborn characters of Holmes and Watson, Elementary got off to a rousing start in its second season. The action moves from New York to London to search for Lestrade, who has gone postal after being persecuted by a ruthless publisher.  Finding Lestrade is no problem; rehabilitating him is more difficult, requiring solving a murder committed by the publisher’s arrogant son.

Any devotee of the Canon should revel in the plethora of references  to the original stories: proof positive that the writers not only have read them, but are determined to repurpose them.  Lestrade (Sean Pertwee), whom Holmes describes as “the best of a bad bunch” despite his “limitations” certainly has “bulldog tenacity.” 221B Baker Street is Holmes’ “womb of creativity.” The Norwood Builder, the secret London hideaways, brother Mycroft heretofore hidden from Watson, Holmes on all fours at a crime scene, his use of burglary tools, Inspector Hopkins, Lestrade’s credit hogging—all make their appearance.  And Holmes solves the case as he should, by observing what others do not: a mask out of place, a bottle of milk in a lactose intolerant household.

Watson (Lucy Liu) continues to be a delight and the strongest character, among the best of Watsons on the screen.  No bumbling, confused simpleton is she; nor is she suffering from a seemingly chronic case of irritable bowel syndrome.  She is a worthy companion, a woman of action and perception, a loyal friend.  Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is true to the Sherlockian essence, brilliant while vain. The addiction references remain, but are muted. Yet Mycroft (Rhys Ifans) and his adversarial relationship to his brother are weak spots.  He is supposedly a restaurateur (who can build a bomb), and we wish for a major role in government or at least business for him. 

The best episode yet; Holmes and Watson have hit their stride.

Brad Keefauver's Point:

With its second season premiere, CBS’s Elementary has proven what I suspected last year: this show hates Sherlock Holmes and everything about him. I used to think they were just trying too hard not to be BBC Sherlock, but in one episode, they turned Holmes’s best friend at Scotland Yard into a broken man, lowered Mycroft to a skirt-chasing, trust-fund foodie, and not only turned our beloved 221B into a sanitized yuppie condo, they blew up all of its contents so it could never exist again . . . for the sake of a cheap, one-time joke.

This is not a show about anyone close to the man I know as Sherlock Holmes. “Mr. Elementary,” as I can only call him, still makes an extra effort to be rude to people for no reason. Not because he's got some bogus version of Asperger's. Not because he's just not empathizing while intent on investigating. Just because he's an ass. Sherlock Holmes was not an ass.

And, typically, it seems that Mr. Elementary was once caught having oral sex with his brother’s love. Is there no depth to which this show will stoop to titillate its audience? The mystery itself seemed to be written by someone who thinks reality and mystery don’t mix. It was about as grounded as believing Mr. Elementary can magically follow a pigeon across New York City.

Yes, they use random lines from the Sherlockian Canon. And since they can’t have their Mycroft be like Sherlock’s Mycroft, they haul in Langdale Pike to man the CCTV cameras. But this is not the creation of anyone who loves the character of Sherlock Holmes, or even respects him and the world Conan Doyle created. It’s more like a kid tormenting a bug he found.

And about as fun to watch.

Coming soon . . . Bill and Brad's counterpoints. (You might want to save your comments until after that one.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hound, Chapter Thirteen. Mind the gap.

When Sherlock Holmes shows up at your house without a suitcase . . . well, since when does Sherlock Holmes show up at anyone's house with a suitcase? If the guy you bring in to solve your problems brings a suitcase, you should probably get someone else.

Sherlock Holmes is finally at Baskerville Hall in the thirteenth chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the sight of him means one thing: This is back to being a short story. Holmes doesn't like to waste his time, and he's definitely not wasting it here. Time to let Cartwright carry your bag of roasted peanuts in the shell and step back and watch the master at work. (Hey, what's the sense of having servants in a place like Baskerville Hall if you can't drop peanut shells on the floor like it's Texas Roadhouse? Whaddaya mean, "ugly Americans?")

Sir Henry has certainly picked up the mantle of baronet privilege quickly enough -- when Holmes brings up the possibility of arresting the household for helping Selden hide, Sir Henry doesn't even take a moment to go, "Yeah, yeah, whatever . . . ." He just acts like it wasn't even said.

And Watson is still a little in love with Holmes: "The lamp beat upon his face, and so intent was it and so still that it might have been that of a clear-cut classical statue, a personification of alertness and expectation." Not picturing Michelangelo's David, are you, Watson?

At least Holmes has his mind on the paintings at hand in the Baskerville collection.  Holmes knows his art, having been descended from artists . . . you know he had to try his hand at painting somewhere in his youth, unless Mycroft got there first.  And Sir Henry has his mind on his ancestors: "Rear-Admiral Baskerville," whose first name might well be "Rear-Admiral" for all we know, and the aptly named William "Bill" Baskerville who served in Parliament.

One served under Rodney, one served under Pitt, and then we come to Hugo, who was served under the Hound.

Later, when Holmes takes Watson on a review-tour with his bedroom candle, Watson must be a little sleepy, as he misses the chance to take a lovely shot at his friend:

"It is the first quality of the criminal investigator that he should see through a disguise," pronounces Holmes. And then the conversation could have well gone like this:

"Really, Holmes? The name Irene Adler ring a bell? How about Mrs. Sawyer?"

"Those were cross-dressers, Watson. They don't count."

"Little girl with yellow Halloween mask?"

It's no wonder Holmes liked fooling Watson with disguises later on! Oh, wait, that was an imaginary conversation -- A headcanon must be a little elastic, you know.

Speaking of elastic, here's our agenda for the final day in Dartmoor:

1. Get up early. (Holmes gets up earlier.)

2. Have breakfast with Sir Henry.

3. Take two hours to go from Baskerville Hall to Coombe Tracey in a two-wheeled carriage.

4. Spend thirty seconds talking to Cartwright at Coombe Tracey station, wait a few minutes for him to get a telegram from the station office.

5. Go to Laura Lyons's place. Talk to her for five minutes.

6. Go back to the station, stand and wait for the 5:40 train.

7. Have dinner with Lestrade.

Okay, perhaps it's just me, as I get a little cranky when I miss lunch, but we missed lunch in there. And I think we stood at the station for something like five hours, and I'm being generous. We could well have been there for seven.

What happened in between? Well, what was the last thing Sherlock Holmes said before that large gap in time?

"We must wish you good morning now, Mrs. Lyons, and it is probably that you will very shortly hear from us again."

Very shortly. And Watson never mentions talking to Mrs. Lyons again. What might Sherlock Holmes, the good doctor, and a typist have spent the whole afternoon doing? Hmmmmm . . . .

Get your mind out of the gutter, she's a typist. You read a written account of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Maybe they were just taking advantage of her typing skills.

Of course, I still am missing a lunch.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steamy? Punky? Well, it's iPad-y!

Well, the Kickstarter project, Steampunk Holmes has come to fruition at long last, and has accomplished its goals as set out in its initial crowdfunding appeal. I'll be curious to see how it gets reviewed by the unbiased Sherlock Holmes fans who pick up the iPad app and give it its full workout.

As a backer of Steampunk Holmes, I've discovered one of the problems with the Kickstarter model and the updates and rewards you get along the way . . . it was a little like walking through the kitchen too much while the cooks are working. By the time the meal is prepared, all of the tasty surprises are expected . . . and maybe not as impressive as they might have been had the plate just been set before you.

The text of Steampunk Holmes came out in book form a long time ago, and as a paperback book, it seemed a lot like just another fannish pastiche. A goodly shared of the art was previewed on the Kickstarter sight to begin with, and the fact that it was now animated a wee bit (which has a suprising creepiness in some of the portraits) didn't blow me away as much as if it was the first time I encountered it. The map whereupon you can follow the story was one of the coolest features of the app to me, mainly because I didn't remember it being mentioned before.

So I really don't feel like I can give Steampunk Holmes the review it deserves. I think my main criticism of the new app itself is that I'd really have liked cover art to come up when it starts up, instead of the first couple pages of text. But that's a small enough thing.

With another steampunked Holmes work in Barnes & Noble's featured stock (Sherlock Holmes -- The Stuff of Nightmares), the Asylum movie of steampunky Sherlock silliness, the steampunk influences of the RDJ movies, and even what I hear is "steampunk style" on Elementary, we may be seeing an entire genre of Holmes rising up, and someday Steampunk Holmes will be seen as an early example of that.

Lukewarm praise, I know, but I just saw too much along the way to get excited. Still, it's always good to see a Kickstarter come to fruition. Take a look for it in the app store if you have an iPad and give it your own fresh review.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hound, Chapter Twelve: No face like Holmes.

What was I saying in the last chapter about Watson getting a little girl-crazy with the lack of female populace on the moor? If you think that's bad, consider how long he's been away from Sherlock Holmes?

Drink the man in, ladies, because here, amid the wild moors, the booming bitterns, and Flintstone architecture, we're getting treated to the sexiest Sherlock Holmes you're ever going to see. Bronzed by the sun, dancing grey eyes, not a hair out of place . . . Watson's even talking about how athletic his build is!

And you want relationship moments? We've got those, too! Watson, all hurt and upset because Holmes didn't let him know he was here all along, voice trembling because Holmes probably didn't get his letters. And then Holmes, pulling said letters from his pockets, and telling Watson how intelligent he is, touching Watson's heart to get him over his anger. Holmes sees "the shadow rising from [Watson's] face." Maybe I've spent too much time listening to the young ladies of fandom this year, but after a close-up view of that scene, I found myself practically wanting to shout, "God dammit, just kiss him!"

It's a scene straight out of a romantic comedy, I swear.

But then Holmes shocks Watson back to the case by telling him somebody has a wife. (Luckily, it's not Holmes.) We're not just getting super-sexy Holmes here, we're getting a Holmes with answers!

And after being knocked out of the relationship scene with that revelation, we're knocked out of the revelation scene by . . . well, was there ever another case where Holmes says, "It is murder, Watson -- refined, cold-blooded, deliberate murder," and almost immediately somebody starts screaming like they're about to be killed.

And then the Hound of the Baskervilles starts howling.

This is the part where you discover if you're the person who runs from the fire, or toward it. Holmes and Watson, of course, run toward it, and we can't help but follow.

This part of the novel alone is what makes it such a treat for movie-makers to adapt. After all this time talking about a mythological demon hound, somebody is actually getting killed by the thing. And, sadly, it looks like Sir Henry. But now comes the moment where I actually wish Robert Downey Jr. and company would do a Hound. Could any other Holmes prior laugh and dance over a fresh corpse the way Downey surely could?

Man, I love this story. It has such moments. Holmes dancing, laughing, and squeezing Watson's hand in excitement. Where do people get the idea this guy is a no-fun sociopath or disconnected autistic savant? Party over the dead guy with a beard!

Well, he wasn't anybody we liked, right?

As much as I like to give Watson a little poke about his own emotional state, though, we're about to see him show a little more of what he's made of out here. Holmes has already remarked on what a zealous and intelligent investigator he is, and now we get to see Watson display discipline, control, and guile unlike most movies ever show. He and Holmes are about to face a murderer, who at this point they know is a murderer, and pretend they don't know a thing.

Which is funny, because the murderer himself is putting on a big act in the last part of this chapter. It isn't a good act . . . "But, dear me, is somebody hurt? Not -- don't tell me that it is our friend Sir Henry!" Sheesh. And there's Watson, watching this bull-crap act and resisting the urge you know he had to be feeling, to just call the guy out.

For unlike the typical, short story case, this is a novel, so Sherlock Holmes is going to have to take the time to prove that which he's already figured out. And it's going to help if the bad guy doesn't know that's what he's working on. So let the fun begin!

P.S. Something we don't often think about -- since the novel was published just before "Empty House," this chapter is really a dress rehearsal for Holmes's return from the dead. If Watson wasn't happy Holmes didn't tell him he was on the moor, consider how he felt when Holmes didn't tell him he was on the Earth. But, alas, "Empty House" was a short story, so Watson didn't get into it quite as much as he could have.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hound, Chapter Eleven: On the face of things . . . and ladies.

Usually when wandering The Hound of the Baskervilles, one likes to keep a certain distance, to take in the amazing scenery, to see the details at the edges of Watson's experience. But going into the eleventh chapter, and having Perkins drive us into Coombe Tracey as Watson follows one of his two leads, I find myself wanting to go into extreme close-up mode. And it's Watson's fault.

I sympathize with the man, I do. After all, he's been trapped on the moors for weeks with only the . . . well, unexciting, shall we say . . . Eliza Selden Barrymore to look at, peppered with occasional sightings of Beryl Stapleton at a distance. So when he finds himself in a room with a reasonably attractive woman, what's his first impression?

"Exteme beauty." Not just regular beauty. Extreme beauty.

Fair enough. Laura Lyons was an artist's wife, and artists are going to tend toward models. But then Watson starts going wild with detail: rich hazel eyes, rich hazel hair, freckled cheeks, "flush with the exquisite bloom of the brunette, the dainty pink which lurks at the heart of the sulphur rose." Holy cats! If you hear those words coming out of any man's mouth (or pen), he's completely smitten. You don't just lay that kind of prose down about any old female. Mrs. Barrymore certainly didn't get her category of pink categorized so exactly.

Watson even makes what I believe is a partial statement in his enamored view of the lovely Laura: "The freckles started out on the lady's face." At first that phrase made no sense to me, then I listened to it again: "The freckles started out on the lady's face . . . ." and then they went where? Oh, Watson! There's apparently more than one hound on the moor! No wonder Laura Lyons flushes that sulphur rose pink so much.

But that's all first impression stuff. Unlike many another lady given the full Watson appreciation treatment, Laura Lyons gets a recorded second impression, where suddenly she's coarse, hard, and has "some looseness of lip." Looseness of lip? Huh-whah? As one who has appreciated female beauty for at least four decades now, I don't recall ever noting a woman whose lips were loose. It sounds almost like Watson is making some non-lip-related slur as he lays out his second impression . . . a second impression which seems like it may have found its inspiration in "sour grapes."

Was Watson, in imagining Laura Lyons having been trysting with the late Sir Charles, suspecting that he was interviewing a woman in need of a lover, and got a little bitter when she wasn't falling easy prey to his charms? This is a man with an experience of women on three continents after all.

In watching Watson's little scene with Laura play out, it's hard to imagine what a Victorian's point of view on it all would have been, since we're definitely not of that era. Would some of Watson's slight adjustments of tone have been throwing a bit of suggestive invitation into the mix? He definitely leaves thinking that she's held something back from him, and he talks about being blocked from "the object of my mission," which we assume is the case.

Were this the age of cell phones, we should not be so surprised to find Laura Lyons's father standing beside the road when Perkins drives Watson past his house, ready to give him heck for being so forward with his daughter. But what Laura Frankland Lyons's father is up to always seems a little worse to me.

Yes, on the surface he seems to be the Andrea Plunket of Dartmoor, using money and lawyers to bother people for his own entertainment. But as I've said before, and I'll say again, a guy who says, "I have brought off a double event," during the years of the Jack the Ripper murders is not a guy I want to hang with. The "double event" is a phrase too well known to Ripperologists. But let's skip that detail and get to something more pertinent to the case.

And that is Old Frankland's arch-enemies, "the Fernworthy folk," who seem to burn him in effigy on a regular basis. They picnic in the woods with their papers and their bottles. Okay, bottles, I get. A little wine is a classic romantic picnic treat. But papers? It wasn't like they stopped at the Coombe Tracey McDonald's before heading out to the woods. We'll soon be seeing an example of a moor picnic, with tinned peaches, tinned tongue, a loaf of bread, a definite bottle . . . and no papers.

We usually assume the bottles and papers are litter, but why would one have papers in the woods? Perhaps to do a little sketching of some scenery, perhaps with a lovely artist's model posing au naturale in the midst of Nature herself? Was Fernworthy, perhaps a minor British art colony? Artistic rages would explain something as over-the-top as burnings in effigy. And it would also explain Franklands enmity towards them, if his son-in-law was a member of the Fernworthy community and some of those "papers" contained nude sketches of his own daughter. Bottles and papers were much more irritating that mere litter to Frankland -- they were alcohol and exploitation.

But Franklank, however valid or invalid his crankiness, leads us to our next destination with his moor-peering telescope. Somebody is camping on the moor, and they're apparently using the Victorian version of Jimmy John's to get their lunches.

Moor camping in the neighborhood of Black Tor, Belliver Tor, and Vixen Tor comes with your choice of old stone huts, which apparently are arranged in a circle like a sort of "cozy court" motel. You want to check-in early of course, to get the one with the most roof. You can have your own stone slab to sleep on, wood fire heating, a bucket for washing and drinking, and all the tongue sandwiches you can construct with a loaf of bread and a can of tongue. It sounds like great fun for a fourteen-year-old boy, so it's a wonder that Watson didn't suspect the kid he and Frankland saw crossing the moor as having his own little adventure.

Of course, the cold and wet life on the moor might be a little rougher than a kid would take to voluntarily. You'd either have to be a desperate criminal or a man of incredible discipline who could do without the slightest comforts.

And who might we know like that?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The rare guest blog.

Over the years, Sherlock Peoria has been offered a guest blog or two to run on these pages. It has usually been our policy to say "no" to such things, as it is so easy to create a blog these days that anyone who wants to write a blog can just create their own blog. But ongoing pressure from one particular fan of the TV show Elementary has finally pushed a guest blog into the site. So, without further ado, let me present this weekend's special guest blogger, Kendall J. Pagan.

Why CBS's Elementary is just as good as BBC's Sherlock and deserves to be treated with equal respect and given Emmy nominations, too!

By Kendall J. Pagan

I like CBS's procedural starring Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller as Dr. Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes. It is presented weekly on the same 26-inch cathode ray tube made by Samsung that once showed me a PBS show about a modern day Sherlock in London, but that show is hardly ever on, and yet people want to tell me that it's better than the modern day Sherlock show we get here in America. In America! Made by Americans! Yes, they had to hire one British guy to be Sherlock Holmes, but Dr. Watson, Captain Gregson, Mrs. Hudson, and Detective Bell are all from the U. S. of A., and I have to respect them for that. Too many American shows are hiring British guys with fake American accents these days or filming in Canada. So before anybody goes claiming that that Sherlock show that PBS had made in England is better than good old American-made Elementary, know this fact: Kendall J. Pagan is an American, where we're free to watch the Sherlock Holmes show we want instead of one the government forces upon us, as happens in small European countries.

But I didn't mean to get political, here. I want to talk about Elementary, and why its as good as any old Brit show. Like I said, it's on TV, too, and every week! It's set in the modern day, which is ground-breaking and new, and in New York, which is even more ground-breaking and newer. But let me address some specific gripes about Elementary that I've heard:

"Elementary doesn't use the hot movie actors that Sherlock does." Jonny Lee Miller was in Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp is a lot hotter than Chris Pine, who starred in Star Trek: Into Darkness with Benedict Cumberbatch. And Martin Freeman is in a Peter Jackson movie or three. Well, Lucy Liu was in Quentin Tarantino movies. Quentin Tarantino. There.

"Elementary doesn't follow the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle original stories." No TV show ever did follow the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, including that PBS one from before where Mycroft had x-ray vision. There.

"Elementary sucks!" People say other Sherlock Holmes shows suck, too. I have actually heard people say that the BBC's Sherlock sucks, too, and people don't usually say that about shows from England, like Downton Abbey. There.

"Elementary copied off of Sherlock." Both shows use actors. Both shows are shown on television. Both shows use the name "Sherlock Holmes" to get people to watch their show. So if one of them sucks, they both suck. There. Oh, wait, that part about sucks should be in the last paragraph. But, there, anyway.

"There is plenty of room for hundreds of books and movies and television shows about Sherlock Holmes, and we should like them all equally and not criticize any of them, because all of them have fans, even if it's just the one guy that wrote it. The more Sherlock Holmes the better." I don't like Sherlock Holmes. I like Elementary. You can gripe about all those other Sherlock Holmes things all day long, and I don't care. But Elementary is a good show because I like it. There.

 I hope that explains my point and I don't have to create straw man versions of a specific Sherlock Peoria blogger to argue these points further. Because I can and will. And the internet is a big place, so I know someone will post my arguments somewhere, even if I can't get on here ever again.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences should also nominate Elementary for an Emmy for something besides editing, sound, music, and craft services. I forgot I was going to say something about that, too. There.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hound, Chapter Ten: Barrymore, in the library, with the gossip.

When you get Dr. Watson away from Sherlock Holmes for a while, as happens in The Hound of the Baskervilles, eventually, the real Watson starts coming out. Normally, in London, describing cases that he records as short stories, the good doctor remains in the background and doesn't tend to put too much of himself in the narrative. He describes things, sure, but he doesn't spend much time on his opinions . . . at least not as much as he does after weeks on the moor.

And I like opinionated this Dr. Watson we find here in chapter ten!

"A spectral hound . . . if I have one quality upon this earth, it is common sense, and nothing will persuade me to believe in such a thing."

"Holmes would not listen to such fancies, and I am his agent."

Of course, in most horror movies, the guy that starts going "This is a load of bull crap!" isn't someone you expect to be around for long. Especially if he decides to put on a raincoat and go out alone on a bleak and rainy day on the moor, to climb the black tor where he thought he saw someone. In any horror movie, of course, but this isn't a horror movie, this is the real world, right?

In the real world, you go for a walk through the rain on a dreary day, and if you're lucky, some neighbor you know will drive by and pick you up, and that's what happens to Watson. Yet, since there is still an element of horror to this case, and horror demands a sacrifice, we hear from Dr. Mortimer that his pet spaniel has gone missing. Sad, but better the dog than Watson, don't you think?

But enough spooky stories, let's be like Watson, use common sense, maybe play some cards with Dr. Mortimer or Sir Henry. Or get into the main past-time at Baskerville Hall: asking John Barrymore things!

It doesn't matter if you're in the study, the library, or the billiard-room, in this game of Clue there's always one guy you go to with your guesses, and that's Barrymore. Excuse me for a moment, but I'm reminded of a song, and I have horrible attention focusing skills :

"Barry-more, Barry-more, creeping through the night!"
"Barry-more, Barry-more, with his little light."
"He isn't that poor! He works for the rich!"
"Stupid . . . ."

Well, okay, then, back to the story. The convict, the girl with the crazy father and loser husband, the strange guy on the moor . . . if you want the local gossip on anyone, you go to Barrymore, who some think to be quite handsome despite the fact Sidney Paget later seemed to think that meant "Amish beard."

If I seem to be just blithering idiotically here, it very well could be because at this point during my fateful 1995 tour through this novel, I had lost all of the tour group but one by this time. And I was starting to see the hand of Moriarty in every corner of this countryside. Somebody we don't know has been contacted to smuggle an escaped convict off to South America, the sort of thing that takes organized crime. And that "James Mor . . .  timer" seems a little too close to "James Mor  . . . iarty," a man who was known to have at least one other brother named "James." By the time I made it through this chapter in '95, I was even starting to look at Watson funny.

This time, I'm going to try to keep it light. I think I'll go see if I can learn to play ecarte now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Welcome to Elementary Vale.

The pellucid marble that is our universe spins down its invisible track of brass rails. Great forces whirl and explode outward. The smallest of creatures runs on an unending track. An ancient bell does not ring, and yet a hollow god smashes to the floor. Man is trapped and the marble rolls on.

Welcome to Elementary Vale.

Ta ta ta ting . . . .

Well, dear readers, it has been a full summer since Mr. Elementary came wandering into our homes on Thursday nights, to spend an hour showing us how to dominate conversations and limit beard growth by seeming force of will. So that his reappearance does not cause a disturbing transition period for anyone, I am happy to give a brief review of facts about Mr. Elementary which you may have forgotten, or had removed by targeted alcohol consumption, during your summer fun.

Mr. Elementary likes to apply his own tattoos. Most pretend not to notice that he has, through sheer chance, been covered in tattoos identical to that of actor Jonny Lee Miller. Miller has been quoted as saying, simply, that it is a parallel he shares with Mr. Elementary. Mr. Elementary, curiously, has never been heard to mention the actor’s name.

Mr. Elementary can hypnotize himself.

Angus, the phrenology bust, sacrificed himself in the single heroic act in his self-centered life. He is dead now, despite anything you might hear or see to the contrary.

Mr. Elementary has used children to find a serial killer. But not that time a children was a serial killer.

Dr. Watson proudly acquitted her gender reassignment by the Creator, and has all the fellows cheering as a beautiful, if reserved, co-tenant for Mr. Elementary. We can only hope that Hudson, that Miss who might one day hope to be a Mrs., gets more opportunities to do the same this year.

Mr. Elementary named a species of bee after Dr. Watson, the Euglassia Watsonia. Canny watchers noted that a man named Jack Tracy once named a book after Sherlock Holmes in a similar fashion, called The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana.

She of the long blonde tresses, who was once Mr. Elementary’s lover, successfully passed through her Irene Adler personality, as well as her Moriarty personality. Viewers were left wondering whose personality she might adopt in the coming year. Our office betting pool has Violet Hunter in the lead, followed by Kitty Winter, with Jabez Wilson holding down the long shot position. We already have a Dr. Watson, thank goodness, so he was not allowed in the pool, despite the wishes of Bismark the intern!

Mr. Elementary’s friend Clyde is not a bull pup, but a turtle. Off screen, it is said he has a bull pup that can get quite nasty when one denies his turtle heritage. We still do not know, however, if it is a temper or a gun.

Mary Watson is Dr. Watson’s mother.

Mr. Elementary had never heard of Sebastian Moran until Moran told him his name and told him to look him up in the papers. He did not specify which papers.

Remember, good readers, that the following things that were NOT revealed in the last season of Elementary:  Mr. Elementary’s time as a Baker Street Irregular, working for Mr. Sherlock Holmes, before the madness set in. The dates and amounts of the payments that Father Elementary made to certain corrupt NYPD officials. The exact make-up of the mixture mentioned in an otherwise redacted document called “Nielsen Plus” that was designed to combine with fluoride in the water to form a psychoactive compound. These things, having not been revealed, are best forgotten, and were certainly not mentioned in the paragraph preceding these words.

On that note, dear readers, I will leave you to await the week ahead before Mr. Elementary comes stepping back into your homes on photonic beams. And when I say “a head,” I definitely do not mean Angus, or what is left of Angus, or might be called Angus when he shows up in Mr. Elementary’s rooms unbidden. He was only a phrenology bust, after all, and nothing you should give a thought to as you close your eyes to go to sleep tonight. So good night, dear readers. Good night.