Saturday, November 15, 2014

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.


  1. Look at this. You give a thought filled review of Elementary and no body responds! What's up with that. I guess your public only wants the oft repeat comments you have for the show.
    I on the other hand, although I don't always agree, like it when you back up your argument.. And I love the line, 'spraying Uzi of Elementary'.
    I may use that sometime and of course give you credit.

  2. But you are my public, John! If we bloggers didn't read each others blogs, who would? (Smiley face, written out, as I'm "literary.")