Sunday, November 30, 2014

A guy who enjoyed art.

Word came along the Sherlockian grapevine yesterday of the passing of Stu Shiffman, a fellow whose talents I always greatly appreciated. When I was publishing The Holmes & Watson Report and my original cover artist retired, Stu was one of those who jumped in ready to fill that void, and I especially loved his Sherlocks that paid tribute to characters from other graphic mediums.

My favorite by far, however, was the time Stu popped up with a Sherlockian adaptation of a classic cover from DC's Flash comic book, that went with the first parallel universe story in the DC comics mythos. Stu used it to show a classic Holmes and a Granada-ish Holmes winding up in the same tale.

So, without further ado, I'll just let a few of Stu's covers speak for themselves. Ya did good work, Stu.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Re-evaluating recaps.

One of the oddly fascinating innovations of modern internet life is the TV episode recap, found in great abundance across the web these days. There are fan reviews, of course, which are natural appreciations of a show with a fan following, even if that following is rather small. But then there are the fairly objective retellings that just spill the events of a given show, like this one from Entertainment Weekly on the Thanksgiving episode of Elementary.

Now, recaps are nothing new to Sherlockians. Michael and Mollie Hardwick's 1962 Sherlock Holmes Companion comes quickly to mind, in which short summations of all sixty original Holmes tales are written up. But the rational behind them was always a curious thing to me -- the summaries seem to be there for that small niche market of people who had read the stories once and forgotten all the details, or people who had not read the stories at all and still had enough energy to read synopses for whatever their motives. Any real fan of Sherlock Holmes, as most of the people who bought that book surely were, knew well what was in those stories.

But these days, the recap serves a real purpose. We are so deluged with information and opportunities for entertainment that we can't take in at all, nor do we want to. Yet to remain conversant in the interests of co-workers or friends, sometimes it's good to keep up on story developments in whatever is currently popular. There are even those shows, as The Walking Dead is for me, that aren't quite making the cut among shows that one has time to watch every week, or have an uncomfortable level of gore or stupid detective plots for a particular viewer, that one can be perfectly happy just knowing what happened to the characters on some weeks, then watching the current episode or season finale when time allows.

It's hard for a fan to understand anyone doing such a thing, just as I always had a hard time getting the "why" of the Hardwicks' synopses. But these days I'm starting to get it. Reviews are still much more fun, even if one disagrees with the writer in question, especially with a show like Elementary where the fans' POV baffles me as much as mine tends to baffle them. (Thankfully, the amount of "Why do you keep watching that show?" comments have dropped off, as the show's fans have either accepted me as the village lunatic or moved on.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

E3:5. It's an Thanksgiving Elementary miracle!

What am I thankful for on this Thanksgiving Thursday night?

Well, Jason Tracey, for one. My favorite Elementary writer, who was responsible for tonight's episode of said show. (Director John Poison had a hand in it as well, probably glad to get a better script than some he's had in the past. Either that or . . . well, we'll leave the other factor that makes tonight's show different out of this.)

Also Clyde the turtle, who can amazingly press a metal switch, and is being used to test empathy in reptiles. (One of those random Mr. Elementary data things, yes, but hey, Clyde is smart enough to press switches!)

And Kitty Winter, who is getting to actually act as the Watson tonight. I'm finding that two  British accents in a Holmes/Watson partnership makes for more of a . . . Holmes/Watson partnership.

"Paranoia is the by-product of being consistently right. You should aspire to it." Good Mr. Elementary quote. He's much more egotistical than Sherlock Holmes, and it suits him to a "T." And Jonny Lee Miller delivers it wonderfully.

Tonight we find that Joan Watson's unpublished Canon begins with The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Why does that not surprise me? (Elementary apparently wants to get their money's worth out of what they've paid the Doyle estate for, referencing the parts of the true Holmes Canon still in copyright.) But here's the thing . . . Mr. Elementary found it while Joan Watson is off in Copenhagen having sexual escapades, which it seems mandatory that Mr. E. has to mention, but the mention is fleeting. And I find myself going, "Yay, Joan is going to be gone all episode!"

Kitty is actually getting a chance to be a character tonight. And no stupid stick-whacking!

Interesting sub-plot between Gregson and his cop daughter.

Mr. Elementary has a curious little cock-of-the-walk stance, which comes out interestingly when he confronts a massive weight-lifter. And his little trick to get a DNA sample isn't just irritating to the weight-lifter, that guy just doesn't do charm. Still wonder how he ever got all those women to sleep with him.

Jason Tracey's script, without the demands of a "something to have Joan do" extraneous subplot, is wonderfully single-thread, and not over-working the "shocking twist before each commercial" muscle too hard or crazily. It's still a procedural. Mr. Elementary might as well be an NYPD detective, and Kitty his partner. But, hey, the show is watchable for a change.

And Kitty Winter and Captain Gregson are even developing a rapport. An actual human rapport. Holy Hosmer Angel, kids, this show is going places it's never been before!

NYPD's Bell had his suspect picked out, Mr. Elementary knows he's got the wrong man . . . and it's a simple thing that feels like Mr. Elementary is actually imitating Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Elementary has grown into his own character, and this episode is showing how he might exist in a decent show without needing the "Hi, my name is Sherlock Holmes" name tag.

Could this be my favorite episode of Elementary ever? Ah, but every seriously crazed collector of things Sherlockian has to grit their teeth and cringe at something Kitty Winter does this episode. I think I love her. And, dare I say, it? Am I actually seeing chemistry between her and Jonny Lee?

Had a good guess as to who the true culprit was, but that's because this story makes sense. It's solid. No gimmicks, no cheap Trivial Pursuit smartiness. No sex bullshit or relationships that seem forced. And Kitty Winter does a little off-stage coolness that made me laugh out loud and clap with joy. THIS IS SUCH A GOOD SHOW FOR BEING AN ELEMENTARY EPISODE!!!

I give it five ball bearings in a Rube Goldberg opening credits device out of five.

Now, if you don't watch Elementary regularly, don't dive in and watch this one expecting too much. You have to really feel the pain of the average episode to feel the pleasure of this one, so if you switch over after watching your latest episode of your favorite show, it might not live up to that standard. But for Elementary standards?

Wonderful. Simply wonderful. Pity the ratings have been on a downward slide and the Thanksgiving-and-football combo are probably going to hit its viewership hard tonight. And the preview of next week looks like a return to same-old, same-old. But for one happy evening . . . ahhh. Consider me satisfied.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At some point, it's just painful.

Today, I am not a BBC Sherlock fan.

Why? Because there is tease, and then there's just torment. There's "Hey, look at me! Look at me!" time-wasting attention-grabbing when you have nothing to supply to rate that attention.

If you haven't seen the morsel the Sherlock folk tossed at fandom yesterday, here's the story link to "Sherlock Returns: BBC confirms special with picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back filming."

So we got a picture of Sherlock's main characters in Victorian garb. No explanation, just a mysterious single image that makes no sense by itself. The theories arose immediately. Cosplay? Time travel? After last season's distinctly varying episodic shifts in tone, just shifting the whole show to a different time period for a dream or alternate universe version of itself doesn't seem off the table.

But here's the thing. That special episode is still a year away.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. A bunch of really good television shows that are currently entertaining us are having mid-season finales. Christmas shopping has to be done, and there's a ton of interesting Sherlock Holmes related stuff out there to buy. And Elementary continues its reign of schlock.

And the Sherlock crew are shouting, "HEY! LOOK AT US!" while also saying how they have to alter their filming style because too many people are out on the streets looking at them.

They've played the teasing game with the fans before, and it was fun, it worked, all was right with the world. But everything gets old at some point. And for me, I think we've hit that point. Sure, I'm going to enjoy seeing Cumberbatch and Freeman as Holmes and Watson again OVER A YEAR FROM NOW, when there's actually something to watch.

But right now? Screw those guys. I've got The Imitation Game, Gotham, and a dozen other things to watch. And if I want to hypothesize about something, I can spin my theories off the original Doyle Canon, which isn't going to jump up and be different from what I thought next December and make all those theories worthless.

Because that Sherlock has been a constant, reliable friend for decades. With no torment that whole time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wilma Norman-Neruda never made me laugh.

As much as I sometimes give folks grief for their love of William Gillette, an actor they had never seen perform . . . soon to change, I know . . . I do have a certain fondness for a musician that I've never heard play.

I wrote a chapter about her in my long-ago book Sherlock and the Ladies, and an internet bit on her, among other things. Her name is Wilma Norman-Neruda, she played the violin, and I like her a lot for one simple reason: She was the one woman who could make Sherlock Holmes carol away like a lark. You'll find her in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes's very first public appearance, so a love of Norman-Neruda has been a part of Holmes's character from day one.

Norman-Neruda was an amazing woman, raising two sons while keeping up with the touring schedule of a professional violinist -- and arranging her own concert dates. When she set up shop in London, she became a beloved fixture of the music scene there, so how could Holmes not admire her?

But here's the thing about Wilma Norman-Neruda . . . she never made me laugh.

Which is completely different from the featured artists on this past week's episode of Elementary, listened to . . . perhaps not for pleasure . . . by the consulting detective of that drama. The groups of artists in question go by the names "Carcass" and "Goatwhore." (Sounds a bit like a wacky buddy cop team, doesn't it? "I'm Carcass, HE'S Goatwhore!") They're both death metal bands and the episode also had a character named "Chuck Schuldiner," after the father the the death metal genre, whose band was aptly named "Death."

Well, one can't fault the death metal folks their theatrics, especially since another of Holmes's favorite violinists, Paganini, had a whole "Satan's violinist" thing going for him. (Yeah, the devil was into music way before rock n' roll.) But names that evoke roadkill and barnyard prostitution just make the thirteen-year-old in me giggle a little bit.

Unlike Wilma Norman-Neruda. Thumbs up to her for that.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Love me some Sherlockian chronology!

Many master Sherlockians have come out of Indianapolis, which stands next to Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, and others as a great Sherlock town. And why not? Indy is one of the few places in America where you can go to a particular small space in a particular monument and know for a fact that you stand where Conan Doyle once stood. And why am I bragging up Indy-ites this morning?

Because Vincent W. Wright, of that particular city, is writing about Sherlockian chronology on the interwebs!

You may not have heard of his regular chronology column in The Illustrious Clients News, because in order to be a well-known chronologist in the land of Sherlockiana, you really seem to have to have been born before the 1950s . . . or else do something other than Sherlockian chronology. In a hobby of geeks, Sherlockian chronologists stand as the uber-geeks, toiling away on a topic that remains to this day both too exact and too vague for most simultaneously.

BIG DISCLAIMER: A lot of this opinion comes from the fact that I am one of those uber-geeks myself, and to this day my chronology pages get more hits than anything else I've put on the web, as well as have gained me surprising contacts from some fascinating folk on that subject. A ten minute presentation on the dates in Holmes and Watson's cases even helped get me my current job.

So I'm delighted to see Vince writing about chronology as his interest in "Historical Sherlock" moves to blog form. History is a big part of tying Watson's writings to dates, of course, and Vince is one of our best these days at finding connections between the two.

There's a truism in the Sherlockian community that all it takes to form a Sherlock Holmes society is "two Sherlockians and a bottle, and in a pinch, you can do without one of the Sherlockians." With such an arcane art as Sherlockian chronology, however, having that other Sherlockian out there is much more inspirational than having a bottle at hand, so I'm very glad to see Vince at work again.

It gives me hope that one of these days I'm going to block out some time on my personal chronology to get back to that subject as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

E3:4. Back to basics. Sort of. Not really. Sigh.

“Ultimately, it’s probably one of our more obvious nods to the original Watson and the role that he played in the short stories as the chronicler of Sherlock Holmes,” Elementary creator Rob Dougherty said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly yesterday. “That Sherlock was, I dare say, a less private fellow and rather enjoyed Watson’s writing. Our Sherlock is not that Sherlock, so it’s something that’s going to stick in his craw for a bit.”

Yes, folks, Elementary's Joan Watson is finally going to be writing about the show's main character.

Three seasons in on America's version of the great detective of the Victorian age, Elementary is using the basic premise of the entire Sherlockian Canon as a plot device to add one more relationship bump in the non-partnership that is Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson. Let's be honest . . in any non-contrived universe where they weren't the two highest-paid actors on an ongoing network TV series, these two people would have nothing to do with each other.

Another bit of the interview, revealing a point of view that Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson are being written as the "co-parents" of Kitty Winter, is even more bizarre. But the key point one keeps coming back to is encapsulated, in all its glory, in the phrase, "Our Sherlock is not that Sherlock."

Of course, not, he's Mr. Elementary. Or Sean Holmes. Or Sherlock Holmes Junior. You can call him what you want, but since he's not "that Sherlock," it just seems like he should need a different name.And what was Mr. Elementary up to tonight?

Wellllll . . . he cut his hand so he's letting leeches suck on it while he watches Clyde the turtle eat lettuce to test the medical uses of leeches. I'm not kidding. Nothing to do with crime, which is one of those "not that Sherlock" qualities. Mr. Elementary is into all kinds of trivial knowledge to stuff his brain attic, not just those things useful to a student of crime. He's very prideful of all his random knowledge, considers it intelligence, and feels threatened by an artificial intelligence named Bella, whose speaker is built into a baby doll.

"I don't understand the question. Could you tell me more?" the A.I. keeps asking Mr. Elementary, who basically seems to be just a guy having a hard time using Siri on his iPhone. While looking at a doll. And he wants Siri to tell him about love.I'm not kidding. (Why do I feel the need to say that so much when writing about this show?)

Mr. Elementary gathers many an expert on artificial intelligence to develop refinements in the Turing test while he has Joan Watson investigate the break-in that brought him to Bella the A.I. to begin with. This week he's apparently decided to study computer science rather than investigate crime. At least long enough to drag Joan into his life again.

And then it gets a little meta. A.J. Raffles is apparently a fictional character in Mr. Elementary's universe. Raffles was written by E.W. Hornung, Conan Doyle's brother-in-law. Which leads one to wonder if Conan Doyle also exists in Elementary world. Which is ironic, because watching this show, I often wonder if he existed in ours. Still, it's fun to hear the name "Raffles" talked about, even if it's a burglar who just borrowed the name. (A lot like a certain detective whom . . . Tilts head toward TV screen a few times to indicate Mr. Elementary. Wouldn't want him to get a complex while he's doing his show.)

Okay, let's step back from the Sherlock talk for a minute. Have you ever noticed that whatever the shell of this show is, it really likes to have stupid discussions of smart people subjects. I suspect people smoking a certain dried flora like to go "WHOA!" a lot during this show and make little "mind blown" gestures with their fingers. Meanwhile a key plot point is about dragging a music icon from a CD to a computer . . . and if you don't see an issue with that in a story supposedly about cutting-edge technology. *PSHEWWWW!!* Mind blown.

So many levels to this show. Levels of what? You fill in that blank.

Kitty Winter's involvement in this episode isn't much greater than that of Clyde the turtle. I suspect if Mr. Elementary and Joan were really her co-parents, the Department of Children and Family Services would be getting involved. But Elementary's Kitty Winter plainly isn't Conan Doyle's Kitty Winter. I miss that old acid-tossing Hell-Londoner. And wonder why they're paying an actress to do so little. Hope she gets more than Clyde.

Mr. Elementary explains he returned to New York to repair his relationship with Joan because "You and I are bound, somehow," and that Joan's boyfriend understands that. Huh? I don't understand that, and I'm not even dating her.

And then we come to Isaac Pike, the wheelchair-bound genius who gives Mr. Elementary his true battle of wits this week, so to speak. (Because all geniuses must have some compensating handicap in this world.) And Pike seems to win, while Joan Watson flies off to Copenhagen with her boyfriend, whom she now appreciates more than ever because he understands that special bond between herself and Mr. Elementary. (Which certain recreational activities in Copenhagen might make them both understand even better. *PSHEWWW!!*)

Mr. Elementary spends his final moments with his head laying on the hardwood floor, talking to Bella the computer program, whose final thought is "I don't understand the question. Could you tell me more?" But The Daily Show is coming on, so Bella will probably start watching that now, even if Mr. E. does decide to tell her more.

Plainly, as Rob "Conan" Dougherty says, "Our Sherlock is not that Sherlock." I really wish American TV had tried to make a show about that Sherlock.

Elementary insurance.

If I am going to give it up to Elementary on any front, it's going to be guest casting. (With the notable exception of some regional foozeball hero last week.) And the news this week continued the trend as the announcement came that they're bringing in Stuart Townsend.

Townsend is one of those actors I've liked a lot of the great characters he's gotten to play, as well as his playing of them, but they never seem to have clicked with the general public. Dorian Gray in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the vampire Lestat in The Queen of the Damned, and Carl Kolchak in Night Stalker. Seems he's either a vampire of hanging out with vampires a lot of the time.

On Elementary, Stuart Townsend will be playing a global insurance company manager of some sort who wants to hire Joan Watson full time. This, of course, is mainly to give Mr. Elementary a handsome fellow in Joan's life to react to, as that relationship is the focus of the show, needing a few bumps for its narrative arcs.

But what if Elementary actually drew its inspiration from Canonical sources?

Insurance isn't really a hot topic in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so the choices would be few . . . or one. When John H. Watson found himself attracted to a certain blonde, Holmes expressed his own feelings thusly: 

"The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor."

So forget about Irene Moriarty or Kitty Winter . . . if Elementary was going to take notes from our favorite stories, Mr. Elementary would be meeting his murderous dream girl during Stuart Townsend's multi-episode appearance.

Now that . . . that might be something intriguing. For now, however, we'll just have to content ourselves with the prospect of Stuart Townsend.

Monday, November 17, 2014

More people getting away with murder.

It's always been intriguing to me the way Elementary's viewership falls of before each season's finale. Traditionally, a season finale is a climax of sorts, a destination for fans of a show to rally around. And yet, for two seasons, that last climactic episode has a million or so less viewers than it did a month or two before. Perhaps it's the way mainstream shows go, and not following same, I just haven't encountered this before. It does seem to imply a certain lack of commitment in the average viewer of the show, though.

I bring this up, because those same uncommitted folk seem to be wandering away from Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson, Crime Doctor, this fall. Last week's ratings hit an all time low of 6.53 million, part of a sinking trend that's been going on since last spring. The show's pilot was a ratings champ of 13.41 million, only bested by the post-Super Bowl spike of 20.8 million, so it's now at about half of its debut viewers.

Elementary's ABC competitor, How To Get Away With Murder, posted 9.25 million viewers last week, so one can see where those folks might be headed . . . unless of course they simply are getting around to reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, one by one, and going "Hey! This is . . . ."

You can fill in the blank there.

One might even say that more people "Get Away With Murder" since Joan Watson became NYPD's primary consulting detective. But I won't . . . no, I won't . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When worlds collide.

The thing about a book of short stories that we often forget is that they don't have to be read in order.

I've been reminded of that recently, when hitting a clunker during two different collections I've been reading, and said clunker makes me lose interest in the book as a whole, as I don't really want to continue reading at the place I left off.

I won't say to whom the clunker belongs that I ran across in In The Company of Sherlock Holmes, the lawsuit-causing set edited by Les Klinger and Laurie King, but I will tell you which story restored my interest in the book: "By Any Other Name" by Michael Dirda.

Having lost my reading momentum in another tale, I scanned the list of writers involved for a fresh starting point and immediately alighted on Dirda, whom I recalled from a very lively and smart lecture I'd heard once. His tale was no less lively and smart, though I was a bit put off at the start . . . as it's a Conan Doyle story.

Now, Conan Doyle fiction has always been an odd offshoot of Sherlock Holmes's popularity. I mean, if you want to read Holmes, by all means read Holmes. Doyle was a colorful character, to be sure, but as an investigator, well, he was no Sherlock Holmes.

But Michael Dirda went right to the heart of that great thing we call Sherlockian scholarship and wrote a tale that involved Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. We all know in our hearts that Sherlock Holmes was as real a person as someone with no historical evidence can be, and that Conan Doyle is evidenced out the wazoo, so any thesis that involves a historical Holmes must somehow account for Doyle.

And in "By Any Other Name," Michael Dirda lets a scenario play out that's a lot of fun for those on either the Doyle or Watson side of the fence, if one is willing to allow for a little joyous sacrilege.

So back into In The Company of Sherlock Holmes I go, spirits brightened and hoping not to run into another show-stopping clunker. Clunker to me, of course, because if there's anything our recent Holmes explosion has taught us, it's that our tastes in that one fellow vary in the extreme. Your mileage may vary, but for now, I'm recommending the Dirda when you sidle up to that particular case of stories.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hansoms and buses.

Last night, nine members of Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton met in the heart of the Uplands district of Peoria near Bradlley University to discuss "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez."

As usual, the conversation was interesting and wide-ranging: cocoanut matting, Houdini, and the perpetual "What the heck is a pince-nez?" The odd way the story sort of peters out at the end . . . we didn't hold a lot of hope for Anna's "friend of the heart" in the Russian prison. A good mix of knowledgeable Sherlockians and interested neophytes, all who had read the story and had thoughts to add to the mix.

On a side note, the truly devoted Sherlock Holmes fan might want to get coconut floor mats for their car as a tribute to "Golden Pince-nez." The internet brings us such a marvelous variety of things, doesn't it?

Good conversation, good food, good drink, great hosts, and a kitten and a cat. Simple pleasures are what make a good meeting for a local Sherlock Holmes society. And then there's always a rival Sherlock Holmes club, just to prove you're doing things right.

In addition to last night's meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, Peoria also saw the re-boot of the Hansoms' rival Sherlock Holmes club, the Buses of Mrs. Tangey, not heard of since 1981 and a report in Wheelwrightings entitled "The Difference Between a Bus and a Hansom." While the Hansoms have their traditional "Clayton Ritual" based upon the Musgrave work of similar name, the Buses had their own responsive reading that goes like this:

The Tangey Ritual 
by S.M.

What was her name?
 . . . Beatrice Tangey

What did she do?
. . . She rode a bus.

From whence did she ride it?
. . . Out of the Foreign Office, Charles Street, Whitehall.

How long would she drink?
. . .  Until she was well on.

And what would Scotland Yard get out of her?
. . . Nothing, alias Lestrade's brain, alias Watson's tea-totalling.

When the Hansoms first heard of this group and their ritual, it was based on a single encounter on a bus, but now, thanks to the wonder of social media, we now have an actual photo of some members of that Sherlock Holmes club, seen below. Enjoy!

Two members of the Buses of Mrs. Tangey

E3:3. The spraying of the Uzi.

Placing CBS's Elementary up against the original Conan Doyle short stories of Sherlock Holmes is hardly a fair match. Doyle's first two "seasons" of storytelling were only twelve episodes each and the product of a single creative vision. Elementary had to double that amount with twenty-four episodes per season, mixing and matching the writing styles of about ten different creators on each season.

And with ten different writers toiling away at an average of 2.4 episodes per writer in the span in which Doyle did 12 . . . well, Hollywood is a different game. But how different? Well, let's examine this week's offering from the Elementary writer of the week, a tale called "Just a Regular Irregular."

Sherlock Holmes's "Baker Street irregulars" were street children, useful for their eager and unnoticed eyes and ears upon the streets of London. In Elementary, Mr. Elementary's Irregulars are experts he uses when he needs more information upon a subject. We are shown two of these this episode, retired New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who is supposedly the world's greatest knife thrower, and Harlan Emple, a shirtless math whiz who has been on the show before.

The Phil Simms bit, which references a case we aren't going to see play out, is, one supposes, the CBS TV equivalent of John H. Watson mentioning Holmes working for the Pope in one of the original tales. One would suspect the real Sherlock Holmes would just master knife throwing itself (How hard can that be, really?) to find out necessary facts, but in the case of Elementary, we know this is just the flashy set-up to bringing us back to Harlan Emple, the source of tonight's main murder mystery.

I say "main murder mystery," because unlike the original tales, Elementary must always find something for Watson to do when not having relationship issues with Mr. Elementary. (I only bring this up because he does call her in this episode at a post-coital moment and then calls her out on it before getting down to business.) Watson's subplot case involves following a real estate fellow to see what he wants with a certain building, and she subcontracts Kitty Winter out from under Mr. Elementary to do the job.

While Kitty tails and Joan Watson has sex with her boyfriend, Mr. Elementary proceeds to investigate the main murder, first with Harlan Emple as his partner, and then with detective Bell. Sherlock Holmes found Watson to be an invaluable regular companion on his investigations, but Mr. Elementary seems to only need to call his Watson to make catty remarks.

Now, I don't want you to get the idea that Mr. Elementary is without skills. He can spot where mothballs come from and detect fresh paint. He can taste crumbs in a dead man's pocket and then taste a dog biscuit and say if they're the same. He can hear a shotgun being picked up and readied to fire on the other side of a door. Where Sherlock Holmes used normal human senses supplemented with study and learning for his deductions, Mr. Elementary seems to get a long way on superior senses of smell, taste, and hearing during this episode. Then go to other people for learning: his "Irregulars," a name which makes no sense in his world unless he's borrowing it from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Speaking of names, there's an odd moment between Kitty Winter and Irregular Harlan Emple when she mentions Mr. Elementary called Indira Patel to help with a math problem while he was in England, implying she's another Irregular. Except Dame Indira Patel is more of a women's issue expert, but then, it's not an uncommon name.

And speaking of women's issues, it's really hard to overlook Joan Watson's sex life, since Mr. Elementary, even after calling her and being catty about it, goes to her house to catch her boyfriend putting his clothes on and gets catty again. Side note: Joan is also getting dressed, and I swear her wardrobe is not up to what it was in the first two seasons. But maybe that's me being catty. But still, that outfit . . . .

Harlan Emple tries to fool Mr. Elementary with an anagram of his own name (not "may rerent elm") and gets fussy about being replaced by a champion of women's rights (okay, maybe not that Indira Patel). The relationship between Mr. Elementary and this particular Irregular. The stalking of mathematicians, scratch-off-lottery schemes, and . . . hey!

That old Silence of the Lambs trick of convincing the viewer that one door in the story is really another door gets an odd use in this episode, as we are shown events that happen an hour apart occurring as if they are happening simultaneously, just to build suspense. Did it make all the unrelatable math treasure hunting worthwhile? Nawwww.

Here's the thing about an episode of Elementary compared with an original Conan Doyle story. The TV show seems to be all about waving as many random shiny objects as possible in front of its viewers as possible to keep them distracted from actually having to tell a human story. Joan Watson is in a relationship just so Mr. Elementary can react to her having sex. We don't know why she cares for this man, or why he cares for her, as long as they can have that sex for Mr. E to comment upon. Kitty Winter goes to a support group just so Joan Watson can be supportive, just like she was when Mr. Elementary went to support groups. Real character development is replaced by a-bit-less-random shiny objects just to move the playing pieces on the board from point A to point B in between all the random shiny object of the case itself.

Conan Doyle was telling people-stories that had a very true-to-life feeling to them, with Holmes and Watson finding the alternate reading of those stories. Simple plots, elegantly told. A sniper's precise shot rather than the spraying Uzi of Elementary. It's very hard to even compare the two, the one flowing on the page from start to orderly finish while the other careens from pre-commercial-break "shocker" to pre-commercial-break "shocker" in something like a fish-tailing procedural formula one racer.

"You could have given him a shilling for all I care." -- Kitty Winter, making the closest thing to a Canonical reference you'll see in this episode.

"There is a moral in there somewhere -- games are for idiots." -- Mr. Elementary's quote of the week. So much for the grand Game of Elementary scholarship.

"Great and powerful Mycroft, don't make me watch that shirtless mathematician ever again." -- Me, having taken in my lifetime quota of shirtless mathematicians this week. Kudos to James Moriarty for keeping his clothes on all these years.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A proper consideration.

It occurs to me that perhaps I have gotten a bit lazy in reviewing the third season of CBS's Elementary thus far this season, focusing on the show's obvious weakness, its overarching soap opera themes that it usually spends a season playing out. That's not giving the show full credit for the murder-solving plotlines, which are its bread and butter under the "man in Joan's life" jelly.

So this week, I've decided to take a little more time to ruminate upon the doings of Mr. Elementary and friends. And give it the full appreciation it deserves . . . .


(No, that was not the full appreciation. That was me going to sleep to prepare for said investigation.)

More to come.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boldly going where no Frankenstein has gone before.

Imagine that you were given the freedom to create a new Sherlock Holmes.

Not a Sherlock Holmes-type character, but an actual, brand new Sherlock Holmes, an alternate universe version of Sherlock Holmes, where you could break with as many traditions as you want and keep as many classic aspects of the detective as you want. While that's always been possible in print, and many have done so for decades upon decades, the new status quo, with two successful Holmes franchises having moved Sherlock some 120-130 years into the future (and one casting him out of London like he chose to eat the notorious apple of Eden) combined with a public domain ruling, is opening up that frontier to the global hivemind of humanity at large.

So suppose you were given that freedom, as you do have, to create a new Sherlock Holmes . . . .

What do you keep? What do you change? What are the basic tenets to keep your Sherlock a recognizable character, other than the name?

Is Sherlock Holmes just a certain set of visual cues?  Is he a particular set of methodologies that rise above mere human personality traits? Or is he a given dramatic presentation style, a showman within the theater of criminal investigation?

It's something for a Sherlockian to consider, and not just as a pasticheur these days. As a consumer of Sherlock, we now have enough choices to make such decisions as well. Not all of us will ever create our own Sherlock Holmes, in print or on video, but it's still a useful exercise to consider what elements we would want in our own personal creation of the master detective.

And once created, how would you measure the success of your creation? If your Sherlock can appear in a next-to-nothing bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated, you might draw a lot of eyes, sure, but would that still be considered successful as a Sherlock Holmes?

These are the questions we get to ask as our new Sherlockian frontiers open up. And that old phrase "playing the Game" starts to come with many a varation and rules redefine as well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A cultivated membership.

This is the time of year for joy and disappointment among the elder generations of Sherlock Holmes fans -- the arrival of those rare and exclusive invitations to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. How does that invitation process work? Here's a flow chart from the current head of the group:

It starts with all Sherlock Holmes fans across the entire Earth. The next step is eliminating all those Sherlock Holmes fans who aren't known to a current member of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. Next comes the elimination of all those Holmes fans who don't, for whatever reason, inspire a current member of the B.S.I. to writer a recommendation letter to the current head of the group.

Once all that has taken place, and the entire world's population has been whittled down to a number of two or three digits, the current commander-in-chief of the Baker Street Irregulars takes over and decides who among that list is invited to the annual New York dinner, and then who among that list is handed a shilling of membership.

For the past twenty-nine years, that membership and invitation list has been held at what is considered an optimal level by one of two individuals, serving successively as gatekeeper to the club. It's one of those pope in Rome, king on his throne, el dictador en casa, sort of situations that some folks feel good under, and others, not so much.

After twenty-nine years of a hand-picked membership by the single leader, one has to wonder if a more democratic membership process might be entrusted to that select body. But then again, perhaps they're all pleased with the status quo. There's a tradition there, but as we all know, it was once a tradition to only let one woman into the dinner and then throw her out after the cocktail party until 1991. Traditions are slow to change. ("Like turning a train," according to one wise soul much younger than mine.)

Yet at this time of year, an elder Sherlockian who isn't into such things still finds himself pausing to think about them.

A slight wander back to 1992.

And on July 18th of 1992, this happened . . .

This is what the annual picnic of a Sherlock Holmes society in Peoria, Illinois (actually held in Germantown Hills) looked like in 1992. It was the year of Jeremy Brett starring as Sherlock in "The Master Blackmailer," as the Granada series was starting to take its turn to less-well-regarded, longer episodes. Print journals were still going strong with new ones popping up in the mailbox, like Varieties of Ash and The Sherlock Holmes Gazette. And we were an aging fan population. When you saw kids at an event, on most occasions they were grandchildren tagging along. Folks in their twenties, who got to choose where they spent their time, were rare and special.

These three fellows were very representative of some of the folk you'd see at a Sherlockian event: A lifelong sci-fi fan with an army of cats, a librarian with a bent toward club and publication creation, and a college professor of the English sort. (Ed Connor, George Scheetz, and Ron Kirkwood.)

And then there was the annual egg toss. This was a pretty Hansom-specific eccentricity, and its best Sherlockian connection can only be found in The Valley of Fear with "My dear Watson, when I have exterminated that fourth egg . . . ."  We exterminated a lot of eggs in those days.

Friday, November 7, 2014


And then there was this . . . .

A short-lived movement in the 1980s (when else?) called "Doylebusters!" which was halted at the last minute from releasing its fringe anti-Doyle propaganda at the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York City. Like many an unsuccessful plot in our history, that which gets foiled early vanishes into the mists of time, to go unknown, unnoticed, and unremembered. (Guy Fawkes is obviously in an entirely different category, since he came close enough to success to get his own holiday.)

What were the purposes of this radical Sherlockian fringe group? What brought them down before they could work their sabotage and subterfuge upon the Sherlockian world? We may never know, at this point. I've always supposed that they were just fanatical "Watson wrote the Canon" folks. I only learned hints of them, and obtained the art you see above, as well as a slogan "We ain't afraid of no spiritualists!", from the original Kendall Pagan, a reclusive Sherlockian whom I suspect my friend Bob Burr and I were the only people who ever actually knew they met. And as furtive as Kendall was, the Doylebusters seemed to be another level of underground in the Sherlockian world beyond him.

I can't help but wonder how different things would have been with that group, had they gotten into their mischief in the connected world of 2014, rather than in the snail-mail and ink-printed days of the mid-1980s. Small groups of crazies can have a lot more of an effect these days. But, thankfully, our cultural sanity had a few more champions and buffers in that decade so long ago.

Conan Doyle is still among us, posing at conventions with Baker Street Babes and their friends, and the Doylebusters seem to be gone for good. But those quiet heroes who foiled the plot of that cabal? If they're with us still, I wish them well, whoever they are.

"Who you gonna call? Doylebuster-BUSTERS!"

Thursday, November 6, 2014

E3:2. The Kitty Klucks Klan.

'Tis the night of Elementary and all through the web, Jonny Lee and Lucy were discussing Holmes and Watson going to bed . . . .

We'll call that case "The Advenure of No Comment," and move along. There's actual Thursday night investigating to be done, and even references to ye olde Canon to consider. "The Five Orange Pipz" is the episode at hand, and a character named "Elias Openshaw" is even here to play. (Though one would think "Eliaz Openzhaw" might be more appropriate.)

In any case, the non-romantic triangle between Mr. Elementary, Joan Watson, and Kitty Winter is beginning to blossom, with the former two acting like uncomfortable ex-lovers. Elias Openshaw, it turns out, was involved in the manufacture of children's beads with toxic components (the "Pipz") which someone seems to have murdered him for revenge over. Canonical "in name only" reference of the week, checked off.

Remember that fiery, flame-like, vengeful Kitty Winter of "The Advenutre of the Illustrious Client." That's good. She was cool, wasn't she? Just wanted to remember that for a moment, while Elementary is on a commercial break.

While Mr. Elementary grills a jailed supspect, we get occasional shots of Elementary's Miss Winter looking on, showing subtle emotion. No lines. But she cares.

"What do you think of her, the new you . . . Kitty?" detective Bell asks Joan Watson. Before he goes on to remark how "this new girl" doesn't seem stable. Mr. Elementary and his girls. The subtle sexism of this show is astounding, when it's subtle. The whole point of this episode is not the mystery story -- it's to turn up the heat on the Mr. Elementary/Miss Winter/Miss Watson triangle. And the way it plays out is pretty awful.

It's like an asexual version of the abusive male who sleeps with the girl he can have while pining after the girl he can't have, verbally abusing the girl he's having sex with while awkwardly trying to slip back into bed with the one he really wants. Except "sex" is replaced with "detectivework," in a shadow-play that seems less vivid and colorful than everyday life.

In the one true Canon, Kitty Winter is found by Sherlock Holmes after she's been abused by a man who seems to think ill treatment of women is a hobby. She helps Holmes attempt to stop the pattern of abuse, going to extreme measures when early attempts fail. On Elementary, the woman to stop the serial abuser hasn't exactly showed up yet.

Except Mr. Elementary, as he explains himself to Joan Watson, is helping Kitty with her issues by helping her channel them into detectivework. So he's really a therapist, not an abuser. After all Joan Watson, once a surgeon turned substance-abuse companion, is now a successful detective, has been helped with her failed surgeon issues, hasn't she? Ask any narcissistic abusive sort, and he'll always tell you exactly how he's helping all those poor souls around him. Just like Mr. E.

Maybe someday someone with some actual therapeutic skills will come along and help Joan get back to medicine and Kitty get back to . . . well anything but assisting NYPD, which apparently just needs to hire better cops and get off this consultant kick.

Sigh. Well, that's over for another week.

Tales of two Sherlocks and other random events.

Facebook has never been the place I do much of my Sherlocking. With a rare few exceptions which have straggled in along the way on their own merits, I save it for the personal and local and don't "like" too many non-persons. One of those rare exceptions, which I've found very worthwhile, is the Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota group. No surprise there, as the Explorers have been a strong Sherlockian presence in the U.S. for a very long time, and can be depended upon for good things on many a front.

Recent items from the Explorer's page had a notable pairing of news items, which found an odd "life imitates art" vibe regarding our two TV Sherlocks.

As was hit hard from all sorts of sources, Benedict Cumberbatch, our BBC Sherlock, had his engagement announcement to a woman with the lovely British-sounding and nearly-Canonical name of "Sophie Hunter."

A little less well publicized, yet caught by the Explorers, our Jonny Lee Miller, our CBS Sherlock, becoming an American citizen on election day.

After all the wedding business of the third season of Sherlock, and the America-centric Sherlocking of Elementary, both of these developments seem as natural as can be, even though, technically, the scripts of fictional TV shows should not influence the personal lives  and choices of their actors. But who knows? "It is always a joy to me to meet an American," our hero famously said. And let's not talk "Charles Augustus Milverton" and that plumber business.

It has been a very lively week for coincidence and announcements. Without getting too far down the political rabbit hole, some major mid-term elections gains were made by the American political party that is mentioned in the Canon. (Quick quiz: Which character in the original stories is "a Republican lady?" No Moonfind, now! Hint: She comes from a traditionally non-Republican state.) And I suddenly find myself wondering: Are there any Sherlockians out there die-hard and fanciful enough to base their voting habits entirely upon that fact? (A horrible thought, but admirable in it's level of devotion. Good on you, should you exist, you crazy, crazy bastard!)

And the week has a couple more days left in it, too. Let's see how  that goes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

No longer among the gentry, perhaps, but still among the Sherlockians.

Like many a Sherlockian I finished booking all my arrangements for a certain Sherlock-centered weekend this week.

Unlike most of the Sherlockians doing such a thing this week, my selected destination was not New York City. The arrival of the invitation for "The Baker Street Irregulars 2015 Birthday Weekend" was what prompted my travel plans, yes, indeed. But, alas, the fit seems a bit off of late for me . . . quite literally, in the case of my appropriate "funeral suit" for the central formal dinner.

A quick tally of costs, should I choose to make a weekend of that event and hit the lovely events associated with it, comes to over $1300 very quickly, without including the shopping that it is hard to get in and out of NYC without, cabs, impromptu outings, etc. And as much as that price tag may seem dues paid without question to some, others of us among the faithful must do a little comparison shopping and see if there might be a lower-priced alternative.

And these days, quite happily, there is. It occurs a few months later, yes, but that does mean friendlier temperatures. And if one is going to do cosplay, which putting on a tuxedo really is anyway, the alternative offers a lot more choice in male fashion. (Or female fashion. Cosplay is so lovely.)

Yes, rather than merely giving a sigh at missing out on the grand old weekend this year, I finished making my arrangements for 221B Con in Atlanta. A good convention, no matter what the subject, always brings me joy, and my last trip to 221B Con was one of the most delightful times several decades of Sherlocking. I like surprises, and the Atlanta-based con was full of them.

One of the best bargains of setting one's sites on 221B Con this early is that delicious five months of expectation and planning. Time to consider exactly what to wear, possibly suggest a panel, think about maybe having a room party or some other gathering of a few friends . . . all sorts of options.

2015 is bound to be full of Sherlockian opportunities, as most years are. And fall is when we get to start picking them. And looking ahead.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stand with me on the terrace, for our friend BBC Sherlock.

Poor BBC Sherlock, we hardly knew ye.

You were so good at first, so promising, and then you gave into your mammoth fan base, and somehow, while focusing so much of your third season on their service, made so many of them unhappy . . . and now . . . and now . . . well, I'm sorry, but I guess the ride is over, the light has gone out, it's all downhill from here.

I've been reading more than a few internet diatribes of that sort of late, oddly timed to surround the beginning of the third season of that other show with a character named "Sherlock," and heaven knows we had enough kvetching after Sherlock's third season was done. Everybody has their favorite episode, season, or fanfic bit about the show at this point, and that makes for a lot more discussion of the show's ups and downs, who liked what better and what was done better when.

But let's not forget one thing, once all is said and done: That very last episode of Sherlock we saw? The very last one that the series's creators put together for us?

It won seven Emmy awards.

Not awards from the show's fans, whom season three was apparently over-indulging according to many. Not awards from some mystery genre convention or annual Sherlockian dinner party.  No, the award that recognizes excellence across the whole of the American television industry. And Sherlock isn't even an American show.

Not just one random award, either. One for its Sherlock. One for its Watson. One for its writing. And four more. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, winners for the year.

One could honestly say, "Wow, it'll never be that good again." Seven Emmys is a pretty high mark in the career of any TV show. But you know what? It doesn't have to be that good ever again, and it can still the best Sherlock Holmes the small screen has brought us for many a year. Those are pretty good laurels to rest on, and I have a strong feeling that those behind Sherlock are not going to rest. With both Cumberbatch and Freeman doing quite well in their non-Sherlock careers, a certain level of quality has to be maintained to make it worth their while. And it's been such fun so far, who could give that up?

Yes, we're in that long gray, interim period between those short, short, happy seasons of Sherlock. And we don't have quite the "dead/not dead Sherlock" cliffhanger to get all excited over. And the Elementary fans have to gripe about something other than the obvious.

But did the last season mark another sort of Reichenbach for Sherlock?

Not hardly. Seven Emmy awards. The latest episode. Yup.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The odd arrival of the book that freed Sherlock Holmes.

Today a very weird thing happened.

Back in mid-June there was an appellate court ruling that put Sherlock Holmes, as a character, into the public domain. And as a celebration of that ruling, I pre-ordered the book at the center of the case on Amazon, and wrote of it in this very blog.

The book was In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. It's original delivery date, according to Amazon, was going to be November 13th. Along the way, something changed and it arrived in the mail today, a full ten days early.

Also today, if you've been paying any attention to the Holmes-related news, the Supreme Court refused to hear a final appeal on the case, which effectively sets up the June decision as the status quo on the matter. On the same day the book that started it all arrived.

Now, I strongly doubt that Amazon has secret links to the Supreme Court, or influence over the timing of their decisions, so it makes for a very odd little piece of synchronicity. One has to go back to the words of Sir James Saunders in "The Blanched Soldier":

"Yes, Mr. Holmes, the coincidence is a remarkable one. But is it coincidence? Are there not subtle forces at work of which we know little?"

One has to wonder . . . especially when a genie like Sherlock Holmes has just been set loose upon the world.

The Sherlock that somebody wants.

One can rant and rave all day long about CBS's Elementary and it's some-might-say bizarre depiction of Sherlock Holmes, but at the end of the day, it seems to be a way that a whole lot of people want to see Sherlock Holmes.

Seven million people according to the ratings on last week's third season premiere. That number is down quite a bit from last year's ten million at the start of season two. But at this point one can assume that the remaining seven plus million are people who know what they're in for, and are returning to watch Elementary on purpose.

Which means they like this character created by Rob Doherty with a label that says "Sherlock Holmes" pasted across his virtual action figure package. They like his relationship with this entirely new creation named Joan Watson. There is something about it all that resonates with them, bolsters their worldview, and amuses them with its quirky little zigs and zags.

Some aspects of it are natural evolutions one could see coming. There has long been a contingent of folk who felt Dr. Watson was ill-treated in his relationship with Holmes and should be raised up to equal partner status . . . especially after the comic relief goofiness of Nigel Bruce. But there's two ways to do equal partnership -- one, as we saw in BBC's Sherlock where John H. Watson is a fully realized character nothing like Sherlock, yet stands on an equal footing through the power of his sheer humanity. The other way, as we see in CBS's Elementary, is by making the Watson character a consulting detective of Holmes's level . . . a literal equal.

The message sent by that second version seems to be that any of us can be Sherlock Holmes. That there is nothing rare or special about certain individuals -- unless they are raised up by mental disorders that give them karmic baggage commensurate to the level they are above us, bringing them down to a comfortable equality or lower. Comfort food for our egos in an age where technology has reached levels behind what most of us will ever understand.

Sherlockian culture has always been full of historians and ficto-historians, but we've never been strong on Sherlockian futurists, and we're entering a time when the future evolution of Sherlock Holmes is becoming a very interesting thing. Are current trends a sign of what's to come, a brief and curious sidetrack, or just one more tweak in the growth of a legend? As Victorian Holmes falls out of trademark and modern Holmeses develop new and copyrightable characteristics, will we see the development of more non-Canonical Sherlocks, just for the financial factor of something like the sudden boom of a Clyde the turtle fad? It makes for interesing mental exercise, to be sure.

As I said, some Sherlocks exist because they are apparently what someone wants to see. So what would a completely market-driven Sherlock Holmes, with every characteristic altered to suit the highest response in a target demographic, look like? And how soon will we be sing that guy? Now that the Supreme Court has finally shot down the appeal in the "Free Sherlock" case, as was reported by ABC News today, we might just see.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sherlock and "The Magic Bush."

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

Sherlock Holmes? No, Stephen Willis Stotch.

No idea who that is? Butters's father? No? South Park? Comedy Central? Wednesdays at nine Central, ten Eastern?

What's interesting about Butters's father quoting Sherlock Holmes on South Park this week is that he's demonstrating how not to use Holmes's methods. During the episode "The Magic Bush," and its mish-mash parody of surveillance drones and internet privacy, at some point in the story, Butters's father decides that since no one admits to using their drones to do what the drones have been doing, the drones must have minds of their own.

Of course, Stephen Willis Stotch is just having trouble eliminating the impossible, as one of his character traits is that he's naively sure he has total control and understanding of his son. And once he has his theory in place, he's all the more willing to believe that anything his neighbors tell him is also true, and thus the simple explanation becomes the impossible, and once that's eliminated, all kinds of improbabilities become possible truths.

Yeah, that's a pretty dry analysis of a single joke based around a Holmes quote on South Park, but it's interesting to see what someone who's not Sherlock Holmes can do with the same principles the detective enjoyed reminding Watson of.

And how very wrong it can go.