Well, I tried being positive about CBS's Elementary. Pretending it was a bit of harmless televised fun, "all Sherlock Holmes is good Sherlock Holmes," and all that. Go team. Rah.
But then a comment came in this week, reporting exactly what I knew was going to happen, way back when this ridiculous show began. T'was a tale of a Sherlockian who went to work on Halloween, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and it went like this:
Here I am, dressed as a classic Holmes, and all the people at work either thought Lucy Liu was Holmes or wanted to know where she was. A few said, "Are you supposed to be that guy, what's the name of the guy on Elementary?" "Oh, you mean Jonny Lee Miller." "Who? Is that his name?" No one person said Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr. or even Mr. Cumberbatch. I need to change jobs or move out of the U.S.A. Curse you, Elementary!
I sympathize completely with the writer of those words, as I've been in similar spots. While any co-workers I've had long-term eventually get a fair education on Sherlock Holmes just by the osmosis of casual conversation over time, there was always a starting point. Most people have had some contact with Sherlock Holmes over their lifetimes. Whether that contact was an obvious parody, like the Dudley Moore Hound of the Baskervilles or the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the Twenty-Second Century, you usually had a baseline of solid Canonical ties to work with. The basic story points were there.
And let's face it, as much as Elementary's supporters might strain to pull out Canonical detail from the show, would you rather encounter a new acquaintance who had never heard of Sherlock Holmes, or one that had only watched Elementary? Personally, I'd rather work with a blank slate than have to undo the web of weirdness that Elementary has laid over the top of our familiar story cycle.
"No, Professor Moriarty was not Sherlock's lover. He wasn't even cute, really. No, Watson was not a failed surgeon who solved half the cases. He was a great guy . . . yes, a guy. Sherlock's brother was actually more gifted than Sherlock . . . no, Sherlock didn't sleep with Mycroft's fiancee. Or Watson's friends . . ."
Given that most of these changes are the sort of lurid details added to feed the ratings beast with casual viewers, the sort that wouldn't be interested in Sherlock Holmes under normal conditions, Elementary's take on Sherlock Holmes can easily be judged as exploitative rather than adaptive. The story it's passing on to its millions of viewers is not the one Sherlock Holmes fans grew to love at some point in their lives. It's something much more calculatedly commercial, designed to appeal to a large television demographic. Which is why a number of Sherlockians actually like it -- it was built to be liked.
The question I still have to raise, however, is "Was it built to be Sherlock Holmes?"
I don't think so. And no matter how positive I try to be about that show, that answer remains solid, with more evidence supporting it every single week. Anyone who comes into the orbit of a devoted Sherlockian is going to learn about Sherlock Holmes. But having that first Sherlock Holmes talk with a new friend is like having a sex talk with your kids: you hope you don't have to undo a bunch of crap they learned on the streets. And Elementary at the moment, seems to be "the streets."