Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Violating Sherlock Holmes.

What follows is a blog that was written more than a week ago. And back then I had a kindly moment when I thought, "Oh, I should be nicer about mainstream television which plainly has its fans," and held it back. Then, sadly, life happened, and, not being all that evolved as a life form, I suddenly wanted to verbally kick something. Being an ardent Sherlockian offers a few targets for such things (one big one of which is coming up soon), it seemed prudent to pick that which just gets me in the least trouble and go ahead and publish this blip that's been sitting on the shelf for a week or so. And so, here it is, part of the "lost" Sherlock Peoria. (Though lost only a week. There are others which have sat for far longer.)

It took me a while to get to the last episode of Elementary for 2014. But any curiosity I had about it, not really caring all that much about spoilers, was easy to rectify. Why?

Recaps! Sooooo many recaps! But don't go by the headlines -- CelebrityDirtyLaundry.com went with the sensational headline "Sherlock Is Violated" for their Elementary recap, and for a moment I thought the show might actually be heading to a dark and dramatic place for their mid-season finale. Having Mr. Elementary, a smaller and less action-oriented consulting detective, go through the trauma of being raped, perhaps even after having those singlestick skills he's so proud of proven ineffective, might have forced the writers to come up with some ongoing character-driven subplots that would have taken the show to a new level . . . and made up for all the weird slut-shaming of Joan Watson that went on earlier this year.

But, no, Mr. Elementary's "violation" was simply having his addiction support group statements quoted on the web. A mildly interesting contrast, given that BBC Sherlock's John H. Watson published his casebook as a blog, gaining Sherlock more cases and fame, and while Joan Watson secretly wrote up Mr. Elementary's cases, they remain unseen by the public at large. (And hopefully Joan kept her own copies, as Kitty Winter destroyed the only one known to the viewers.) CelebrityDIrtyLaundry was plainly sensationalizing the whole "violation" thing.

Unless they actually were writing about Sherlock Holmes and not Mr. Elementary. Then . . . well, then Sherlock is actually in his third season of the ongoing violation.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Sherlock Holmes wine tour.

It isn't often that I recommend a book to myself, but occasionally some artifact travels through time in a manner that causes such an event. This week, it was a pretty little book entitled The Oenologic Holmes by Steve Robinson. I met Steve at the home of noteworthy Sherlockian John Stephenson, back in the 1980s, and at some point now escaping my aging memory, agreed to write an introduction to a book on Sherlock Holmes and wine Steve was working on.

I enjoyed what Steve had written then, and wrote a pleasant little introduction that also made reference to one of those embarrassing incidents that happily slips one's mind with time. And then moved on to other things and forgot all about it, not being a regular wine enthusiast, until recently when Steve let me know the book was being published at long last, and generously sent along a copy.

Having more recently developed a taste for moscatos and rieslings, I am still not what one would consider a connoisseur of fine wine, but the chance to wander back through the wines in the lives of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson always makes one feel just a little more cultured, no matter what one's level in the world of wine. And in The Oenologic Holmes, Steve does a great job of capturing not just the details of each wine the detective and the doctor encountered, but the context in which each was drunk, and what that particular wine revealed about that moment in their lives.

The best Shelockian scholarship has always enhanced Dr. Watson's writings for us, and Steve Robinson's monograph on wine does exactly that. And given the subject, it would make a fine basis for a Sherlockian evening of discussing Holmes while sampling the modern incarnations of what he drank back then. (Coppola claret, anyone?) So, having recommended this book to myself and reread it now that it's a published work, I can heartily give it another, more current, recommendation.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Non-compliments of the season? Isn't Elementary on break?

Today is the day, the second day after Christmas, when Sherlockians traditionally wish each other "compliments of the season," as Watson called upon Sherlock Holmes to do in "The Blue Carbuncle." And I offer those greetings to all my Sherlockian friends out there, and also those who happen to wander by these pages just to see "what that deranged fellow is up to now."

But among my Christmas gifts was a very thoughtful gift from one of my nephews, who plainly had read enough of my blog to know what Sherlockian item I would not have on my selves already: the DVD collection of season one of Elementary. The note enclosed read simply, "I figure you'll either burn this in effigy OR hate-watch it on an infinite loop." (An Amazon gift card was also enclosed as a "palate cleanser," but I was quite happy to get the set for future reference, without the emotional distress of having to actually spend money on the thing and risk encouraging such behaviours.)

With the DVD set, however, comes a new well of unseen Elementary material: the DVD extras, and a load of material about the thoughts behind this show. And boy, do the producers, writers, and actors have a lot of thoughts about the show. A lot of thoughts . . . and most of them like they're making Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson up from the whole cloth, which, to be fair, they were.

"I re-read a few of the books . . ." -- Rob Dougherty

"It's more about sort of developing a take, and then trying to find what pieces sort of fit your . . . my . . . parameters of that."  -- Rob Dougherty

"I think Watson exists, in some ways, to challenge Sherlock." -- Lucy Liu

"It's such rich material that there's a hundred ways you could go with it really." -- Jonny Lee Miller

"I'm smarter than everyone I meet, Watson. I know it's bad form to say that, but in my case, Watson, it's a fact." -- Mr. Elementary

"Will another client make you happy?" Joan Watson's mother on the prospect of Joan leaving Mr. Elementary

"This is Joan Watson. She keeps me from doing heroin." -- Mr. Elementary

"When you first meet the guy, he's going off on theses elaborate theories, and it sounds like nonsense." -- Jon Michael Hill

"How did you know I used to be a surgeon?" -- Joan
"Google. Not everything is deducible." -- Mr. Elementary

Ah, memories.

Combined with CBS promos for the show, it all takes me back to a time when Elementary was all shiny and new, and I was still trying to figure out how anyone could possibly accept this as a Sherlock Holmes pastiche after we just had Sherlock. This wasn't 1980s syndicated genre television, where Elementary packaged as Sherlock Holmes: The Next Generation might have fit right in, slotted alongside such shows as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. As we come to the last week of 2014, a little looking back is in order, but now it's time to look ahead again . . .

But . . . oh, wait, they're already re-running the Martin Freeman Saturday Night Live from a few weeks ago, where Sherlock didn't get a single mention. And watching Freeman in the monologue, I wonder how Elementary would have looked had they cast him in the lead role, and kept Jonny Lee Miller in England to play Watson on Sherlock. There's a pair of alternate universe DVDs I'd like to stumble across, to sit on the shelf next to the collection from this universe I now own.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

E3:8. The Sherlock Peoria Christmas Show has a special guest.

Sherlock Holmes had an elder brother named Mycroft, whose powers of observation and deduction were even greater than his. I have a particular sibling who shall remain anonymous, including whether said sibling is older or younger, whom I invited to join me in viewing the most recent episode of CBS's Elementary, which I had yet to see. (Why do I keep calling it "CBS's Elementary," now that it's an established show in its third season? Credit where credit is due, for better or worse.)

I wanted to see what reaction someone with my basic genetics would have to the show. A bit of alcohol was involved, but only a bit, and that only acts as an honest-opinion-enabler, in any case. What follows is a transcript of that watching, with the occasional comment from the good Carter or myself.

So without further ado, let me present the Keefauver sibling on CBS's Elementary:

A little laugh . . .

A whisper. "What are you typing?"

"I have trouble coping with the dull routine of existence. I wouldn't say I abhor it."

"I'm trying to sleep." (Carter)

"I like his shirt. Very Stylish. The young people are wearing checks these days. His pants are a little tight. I'm not sure how I feel about the tight pants thing on men."


"They all have got tight pants, don't they?"

"Just type 'absolutely futile.'"

"I hate commercials. I don't hate many things."

"They're not going to rest . . . they're not going to rest until they find him."

"Basically, I don't think I care about this show."

"I appreciate the effort at fellowship, but I'm not really getting into this."

"I don't know why I thought this was a Sherlock Holmes thing. Is he going to come in at some point?"

I point out that Holmes and Watson are both in the show already, and have been for some time. After I get done silently laughing hysterically, of course. Seeing Mr. Elementary proven unrecognizable as Sherlock Holmes in even this little experiment is a lovely validation.

"Oh, is that them?" (Joan Watson and Detective Bell are interviewing a client.)

"This is like 'Where's Waldo?' It's 'Where's Sherlock?'" (Carter)

"There's an aloe vera plant in the window."

"Is she going to do kung fu? It's not racial, she's done it in movies!"

"Is she Watson . .  I mean Holmes . . . is he Holmes?" (Kitty Winter and Mr. Elementary are on screen, and by process of elimination, we've finally found the show's "Holmes." I particularly liked the Kitty Winter guess.)

"Was Sherlock Holmes gay? This show is insinuating it. It's the suit."

"Just put 'can you be a snappy dresser and be hetero?'"

"I love commercials. Did I tell you that?"

"Do you want me to tell you how to make cornbread in a cast iron skillet? You could tell your people that. Oh, the show's back on."

The bird sanctuary lady is discoursing on things a bit like Sherlock Holmes would do. This show has so many people who serve as Sherlock Holmes. (That was me. I think she's fallen asleep. No, wait, sibling is moving one foot. The appendage, not the measurement.)

Sibling makes horse clopping noise.

"That was not good." (On the second cop killing, not the show. Yet.)

"You take two tablespoons of butter. You put it in a skillet in a four hundred degree oven. You take two cups of corn meal, two teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon of baking soda. Mix that up together. You take honey and drizzle it over that dry mix, as much as you would like. Then you take your fork and incorporate that in. It incorporates very nicely. Then you put one egg in. Now you're ready for your moisture. You put a cup and a half of half and half, of cream corn, of chilis, whatever moisture. You can get creative with your moisture. You can use buttermilk. You take your hot butter out, swish it around the pan, then dump the extra in your batter, mix it around a little bit, then put the batter in the hot skillet and put it back in the oven. Twenty-five to thirty minutes. Four hundred degrees."

"You're going to lose followers on this one."

"I'm sure you'd have chafing on your finger from taking your ring off and putting it back on." (That struck me as an overkill attempt at an observation myself. Still, I'll give Miller points on his delivery on this one.)

Why is Joan Watson  an apparent partner to Detective Bell this episode? This show has the weirdest relationship between cops and detectives I ever saw. (Me again.)

"What is he doing? I wondered when his pipe was going to come into this story." (Blow pipe for meditation, three pipe problem . . . perhaps the most interesting modern upgrade to the Canon the show has done in three seasons. Joan Watson, however, still comes up with the revelatory detail.)

Hey, this armory raid is actually kind of exciting. How did that happen on this show? (Oddly, me.)

Mr. Elementary sulks while Joan Watson finds the key piece of evidence. Detective Bell goes off and catches the perpetrator with a little panache.

"It's a stupid show. If you text 'knock, knock' it doesn't mean they're there and going to answer their . . ." (Long complaint ending with beginning to sing the theme to Big Bang Theory.)

The show is over soon, and after a long weary pre-Christmas-eve day, there's really not much to dwell on. I have noticed it getting better at being a TV show this season, but there are so many intrinsic flaws in the basic build of the show, I doubt it will ever ascend past a certain level, which, in truth, isn't expected of a CBS police procedural.

But at least one would hope a show purporting to be about Sherlock Holmes would let it be about enough that a casual viewer could pick him out of the cast before the fifteen minute mark without help . . .

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The powers of detection, 2014.

Since the BBC first brought Sherlock to the modern day, we've had plenty of interesting conversations about how Sherlock Holmes would work in the modern day. Where the text message making a handy replacement for the telegram, that sort of thing. But as we focus on the remarkable personality of one Sherlock Holmes, we often miss what is happening to the rest of us.

Our powers are growing.

Take observation, for example. Sherlock Holmes had the ability to notice the most minute detail and then draw inferences from it. Paying attention was a key part of his methods, living in the moment and taking in all the visual information presented at any given second. Such skills were rare and amazing, something none of us had . . . until suddenly we all had them, in our pockets.

A smartphone can capture a scene with so many megapixels that we can look at the minute details for as long as we want. One second can now last for days as we magnify and scan each bit for all the information it has to offer. Sure, we might not recognize every facet of everything we see at first. We lack knowledge, right?

Well, that used to be a problem. Now we're connected to the biggest repository of human knowledge that ever existed as well. Research on obscure subjects is not dependent upon travel and tutelage. The web may not be omniscient, and it does have it's fallacies and falsehoods, but so does any human mind you'd care to name. And the web contains a lot more valid data than that same mind.

All this has its flaws, yes, but before you cite your favorite failing of modern technology as a reason we can't raise ourselves to cyber-Sherlock status, consider this about Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Before Sherlock came on the scene, even a goodly number of his devoted fans would have told you that he could not work in the modern day, that his skills were too closely tuned to the habits and world of the Victorian age. But that argument has always missed one key point about our friend Sherlock.

It wasn't about the specific facts that Sherlock Holmes knew. It was about how he gathered them.

If you go back to A Study in Scarlet, you'll find one of the great factors Watson brings out is that in creating a profession all his own, Sherlock Holmes used cross-discipline studies to make himself the best detective possible. He looked at every bit of knowledge from every field he could and thought "Could this be useful to a detective?" and then kept or dropped it accordingly.

A specific set of Victorian data wasn't what made Sherlock Holmes. It was his ability to use everything that came within his reach to its fullest potential. Whether it was in 1887 or 2014, that ability would still serve him well.

So as technology takes our personal powers to the next level, Sherlock Holmes, we will always find Sherlock Holmes, the true Sherlock Holmes, still one step ahead of us, should he come around.  He'll be using every bit of tech we have, and then some of the new things we weren't even thinking about as useful in the art of detection. And that's what makes him Sherlock Holmes.

Once, long ago in the early 1980s, my friend Bob Burr and I spent an evening making merry at the expense of a book of pastiches called Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times by Ira Bernard Dworkin. We considered the author something of an Ed Wood of literature, more enthusiasm than talent, and were reading passages from the book and getting quite the chuckle. In the final pages of the book, Sherlock Holmes and Watson have a very odd conversation.

"But Holmes, how will you keep up with technology," Watson asks, then rambling for a full paragraph in the style Dworkin favored, finishing with the words, ". . . even with your keen mind."

Holmes's reply is equally rambling: "Yes, Watson, you are right. My methods are old-fashioned, outdated. I must go back to the university and learn about the Third World, computers, laser beams, space technology, aerodynamics, automation, nuclear weapons, germ warfare, new energy sources, artificial insemination, women's liberation, clothing, new religions, plea bargaining, affirmative action, ad infinitum."  (Mr. Dworkin definitely had forgotten, as many writers do, Holmes's "brain attic" speech. Ad inifinitum was definitely something Holmes held back from. I also enjoy that he needed to learn about clothing, apparently, having gone nudist at some point.)

But then Dworkin's Holmes says something that is actually very profound, given what we've seen in Sherlock: "But I do not have to relearn the meaning of justice. My knowledge of and the quest for justice is still the lodestone of my existence." Despite all his literary quirkiness, Ira Bernard Dworkin got one thing right, back in 1980, in a book that was surely a vanity press publication. It isn't about what Sherlock Holmes knows, it's about his goals in using it, and his focus upon them.

Even in Modern Times.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who do you believe in?

Do you believe in Sherlock Holmes?

Do you believe in Stephen Colbert?

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

If you were looking for three wise men this season, you could make worse choices. The only thing is . . . there are those who consider each of those fellows fictional creations. Yet there are others in the world who find reason to believe in each of them.

Stephen Colbert's last episode of The Colbert Report was tonight, which on the surface would seem to have little to do with Sherlock Holmes. But the character he created was interacting with reality in some bizarre ways over the last nine years. The things he did weren't fictions on a movie screen. No, they took place in the real world, and seemed to cross that line that Sherlock Holmes has been dancing on for a whole lot longer.

Along his goofy, self-promoting, uber-conservative way as Stephen Colbert, Stephen Colbert should us a lot of truth about ourselves and our world, despite certain fictional threads in his nature. Just like Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And guys like that . . . well, they require you to make a choice. They make you choose whether or not to believe in them.

Which brings us to the last guy on that list -- the one most Americans truly believe in for a while. But then they decide not to. And some of them later decide to believe in one of those other guys, but never get back to their first flying leap into belief in a person who is something beyond what most call reality.

So if you find a reason to believe in our old friend Sherlock Holmes. maybe it's time to give that non-Mycroft fat guy another chance for a little while. 'Tis the season, after all.

And why not?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The awful, awful truth about Clyde the turtle.

Anyone who follows CBS's Elementary with any interest at all knows it's cast of characters and their Canonical tie-ins well. There's Mr. Elementary, the man who uses the same first and last names as Sherlock Holmes. There's Joan Watson, who shares a last name with John H. Watson, M.D. There's Captain Gregson, getting his last name from Inspector Gregson. And Detective Bell, an obvious tribute to Joe Bell, Conan Doyle's instructor and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Fifth in the list of Elementary's players is Clyde the turtle, who appears to have no connection to the original Sherlock Holmes stories whatsoever. This has always baffled me, as, given the producers of Elementary's loyal following of the source material for inspiration, one would think that even though he's a reptile with no empathy toward the show's human characters, he would also have some tie to the real Sherlock Holmes.

Well, in researching something completely different today, Clyde's connection finally appeared to me . . . and brace yourselves . . . it is not pleasant.

You can't go looking for the name "Clyde" in the lore of Sherlock Holmes, as he's not one of those "in name only" sort of characters. You can't go looking for turtles in the tales, either. Turtles just didn't move fast enough for the original adventures. In fact, if you're looking for Clyde in the Canon Holmes, you have to look at one of the slowest points of the Victorian age: the person of Mr. Mycroft Holmes.

Just head for "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter," where you'll find the words:

"Mycroft took snuff from a tortoise-shell box, and brushed away the wandering grains from his coat front with a large, red silk handkerchief."

Oh, Clyde, poor Clyde . . . it seems like the wrong Holmes brother got to you first in Victorian London.

That scene of Canonical Mycroft getting into Clyde's shell is even more shocking that when CBS Mycroft got into Watson's knickers. At least the latter wasn't just using his brother's friend for snuff storage.

Three seasons into CBS's Elementary, I am probably the last Sherlockian to make this horrific discovery, and I appreciate that you wiser and kinder Sherlockians out there have been keeping this awful, awful truth from me all this time.

I'll be sure to eat some salad in your memory tonight, Clyde of the Canon. Ye left us far too soon.

E3: 7. The acid-thrower and the teenage daughter.

I was merrily moving through the end of my week today when a news story about one of those countries on the other side of the world where acid-throwing is a crime their culture seems to find appropriate. It's as horrific a crime as I can imagine, as it does damage at so many levels, so cold and cruel that I cannot even imagine the mindset it would take to perform the act. Even murder itself seems to pale in comparison, in so many ways.

So when it seems acceptable, in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," that Kitty Winter commits some serious acid-tossing on Baron Gruner, we know his unspecified crimes must have been pretty horrific. Kitty was a good British sort brought low, and not, as far as we know, from a culture that did such things when they got crazy.

And then, after having all these thoughts, I went, "Oh, yeah . . . there's that show with that cuddlier version of Kitty Winter . . . I totally forgot it this week."

Life must be good.

But let's talk about the episode of Elementary in question. Sherlockians know the basic patterns of a Sherlock Holmes story, which tend to center around 221B Baker Street. Except, of course, for those times after Watson has moved out, resumed his medical practice and taken up married life. Elementary, of course, has developed its own patterns. Where Sherlock Holmes was a welcome surprise in John H. Watson's life, Mr. Elementary seems to constantly barge in like a sort of consulting curse.

This week's case starts with Joan Watson taking a client in her kitchen. A sexist nod to the sort of thinking that even female detectives should stay in the kitchen? Whatever the motive, Joan's client is coming to her over an old missing-person's case where a woman went missing and "a serial criminal" was suspected because of the smell of nutmeg at the scene where six different women disappeared. An interesting thought, as missing persons don't typically have a crime scene, since no one knows if a crime was truly committed.

Kitty Winter shows up to announce that Mr. Elementary wants to stick his nose into Joan's case, since he doesn't have one. (Curious business model, but nothing on this show has ever made economic sense.) Joan finds this acceptable, and off all three go to barge into the local FBI office . . . who also don't seem to have a problem with these silly people barging in.

Mr. Elementary's typical consulting detective style is in full form this week, as he does a pretend smart thing then tells Joan and Kitty he did it. This week it's speeed-reading at a rate faster than Mr. Data from the old Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mr. Elementary tells Joan it was a part of her training he didn't get to, so apparently she's not as finished a consulting detective as we thought, by his standards.

Without a cast of characters involved in this crime, the show brings in additional help on the case to fill out its story. Miss Hudson makes her annual appearance at last, this time assigned to use her considerable intellect to listen to the police scanner for mentions of the smell of pumpkin pie. Really. This show is not really about how superior Mr. Elementary's skills are, but how all these women submit to this one man's dominance for no other apparent reason than he's the star of their world.

Should I write of how quickly Mr. Elementary gets to discussing Joan's love life after he shows up in the episode? Or how Joan's ex-boyfriend shows because his work ID badge went missing and he thinks that's appropriate work for a detective? (No discussion of hourly rates, of course.) But it gives Mr. Elementary more fodder for discussing her relationships later and using the term "inflated genitals."

But here's the thing: this week Elementary's random mix of colorful nonsense is actually watchably written and directed this week. There's a fun old Irregular character who is really good at smelling things -- and Mr. Elementary only knows him as "the Nose," yet somehow has contact information. NYPD makes a quick cameo, and by limiting the duration of the stone-faced cops, it may bring the show's dullness level down. Kitty lies on the floor as a fetching fake murder victim. It's all as ridiculous as ever, but like one of those goofy bad movies that it's still fun to watch, it seems to hold up more as an entertainment than it used to . . . relatively speaking. Somebody is doing a better job amidst all the usual schlock and nonsensical behaviors.

"You three are cops," a suspect states upon meeting the detection three-way that serves as the show's leads.

"To varying degrees," Mr. Elementary replies.

Or "no," an answer that also would have worked had the fellow stated, "You three have something to do with the Sherlock Holmes stories." Elementary has become its own thing, apart from anything Conan Doyle ever came up with, and it seems to be getting better at whatever that thing is. And now, in that time of year when most of the fall shows have had their mid-season climax and are taking Christmas off, Elementary's ratings are creeping back up up toward its season premiere level. Will that be enough to keep it going for a fourth season? That question will be more suspenseful than anything else the show has to offer.

And the Kitty Winter in this strange alternate universe? She's nothing so disturbing as an acid-thrower. At the episode's end we see her portrayed a Mr. Elementary's teenage daughter who likes playing her rock and roll music too loud up in her bedroom, but she's the perfect "teenager," as a few words from "dad" and she quietly switches to classical.

Conan Doyle should really have given Sherlock Holmes a cute teenage daughter to live in the spare room at 221B Baker Street. Wait . . . did I just say that? Oh, Elementary, what are you doing to our little Sherlocki-fan world?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Talking about a Sherlock Holmes book.

"The most talked about Sherlock Holmes book to date" read a tweet I received today.

 The author who sent those words was promoting his book and his Twitter feed was full of such remarks, some identical to that, some close. He's plainly quite proud of his book. But also a little unaware of what I've spent most of my life doing as a hobby.

The most talked about Sherlock Holmes book to date? After decades of hanging around Sherlock Holmes fans, I'm not even sure which one that is. The first one, A Study in Scarlet? The most famous one, The Hound of the Baskervilles? The one where Watson meets his wife, The Sign of the Four?

Well, I'm pretty sure it's not The Valley of Fear, even with the Moriarty reprise.

And what of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution? The best-selling pastiche of all time, adapted for a major motion picture, raising the bar on Holmes's cocaine usage on a cultural level, and causing the biggest post-Doyle, pre-BBC Sherlock wave of popularity the detective has ever had?

Well, even that book wasn't talked about as much as single stories from the Canon.

With entire evenings and events based on single stories from collections like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with lectures, papers, and demonstrations based on single facts from those stories, with all the junior high school classes reading "The Speckled Band" and discussing it in class . . . well . . .

After considering matters, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes surely must be the actual most talked about Sherlock Holmes book to date. And as far as recent books go? Well, I haven't even finished The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton to write a blog about it yet, but it seems to be the one actually being talked about in hardcore Sherlockian circles outside of the Canon these days.

AH! But a Google search at the last, for "the most talked about Sherlock Holmes book" reveals the trick answer that actually can't be denied.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, I'll take that.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A couple Mark Gatiss quotes for a Sunday.

Mark Gatiss seems to get plenty of interview time these days, and this morning his quotes seem to all be coming out of India. It's more of an appropriate setting for a Watson than a Mycroft, but he's always interesting to hear. (Links for full bits here and here.)

Perhaps it's just the obsessed anti-Elementary fan in me, but I can't help but see a little "without naming names" commentary about the show in some of Gatiss's words:

"We have been very clear from the beginning that the series is made by people who adore Sherlock Holmes. It is not a cheap gimmick for us. We were just trying to find a new way to reintroduce the character to a younger audience and I am glad that people have taken our version to their heart."

When he says "not a cheap gimmick for us," the implication that Sherlock is most certainly a cheap gimmick for somebody out there, and there aren't that many somebodies out there these days to fill that roles. Especially "taking Sherlock Holmes and placing him in the current day" somebodies.

But Mark Gatiss isn't shy about plainly stating their mission with Sherlock:

"From inception, we saw it (Sherlock) as a restoration, not a reinvention of Doyle’s vision. Over the years, the characters of Holmes and Watson had become secondary to the trappings of the Victorian world, and we wanted to just get back to that, to the essential friendship between the two men and the strangeness of Sherlock. So, what we had to do every time is to find the essence of the original story."

And whether you agree or disagree with the results they came out with, one has to admit that the attempt is definitely there. One can watch Sherlock and see Conan Doyle's work somewhere on the writers' minds. When I look at Elementary these days, all I tend to see is the subtitle to Conan Doyle's The Firm of Girdlestone, which ran "A Romance of the Unromantic."

Sherlock has fought its way to popularity in America, on PBS, on DVD and Blu-Ray, and on BBC America. No easy time slot on one of the traditional "big three" networks for it. Word of mouth over deus-ex-machina post-Super-Bowl time slots. It has catapulted its stars to major celebrity, getting them attention that resulted in some seriously attention-getting gigs, and is at the very heart of a Sherlockian fan resurgence like nothing than came before.

And one can't help but see all of that success having its roots directly planted in Sherlock's steadfast attempts to see what they could do with Doyle's vision, from Milverton's repugnance to their hypothesized sequel to The Sign of Four, even their greatest reaches have stood upon that solid footing, even if they got a bit tippy-toe in their stretching up for a result.

And for his part in that, Mark Gatiss deserves to get all the interview questions that India, or anywhere else, wants to throw at him.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

That legendary beastie we call the Watson.

I was thinking this morning about how much we'd all love to have a Watson.

Sherlock Holmes is always thought to be the rare and special individual in the Canon Sherlockiana and all its subsequent iterations. But these days . . . how many Watsons do you truly know?

In CBS's Elementary, almost no value is given to the Watson role -- all the regular characters are either consulting detectives, apprentice consulting detectives, or NYPD detectives. Everybody trying to solve mysteries, and often rattling off answers in interchangeable dialogue as if they're competing for air time. But here's the thing about that: It kind of reflects our current version of society.

Social media, social action, social anxiety, all of our "socials" seem to be about making people aware of what's in our heads and getting them to synch up with what we're feeling/realizing/truly understanding way better than anyone else. And we're all hoping someone out there will go, "Amazing, Holmes!" and follow us on our merry chase of a life.

We all really want a Watson. Someone to listen. Someone to be glad to know us. Someone who'll be there when you make that call.

Only sometimes, these days, it seems like most of us are trying to be Sherlocks.  Maybe it just seems that way because Watsons have "that grand gift of silence" and can go un-noticed. Or maybe it's that the perfect Watson, as Conan Doyle painted him with his words, is a mythological creature that has never truly existed in a pure state. Watson, as created by Doyle, may have been just half of what is in every woman and man, with Sherlock filling out the other half.

We talk a lot of spectrums these days -- spectrums of autism, spectrums of sexual identification, spectrums that show us we can have varying levels of all sorts of things within us. Perhaps there's a Holmes-Watson spectrum that depicts our balance of declaiming and listening, of leading and following. For even John H. Watson, M.D. wasn't a pure Watson.

Sure, he was Sherlock Holmes's Watson. But ol' John H. has had Watsons of his own, who sympathize with his every word and go, "Excellent, Watson, excellent!" Yes, as humble as we may consider Watson, he was a published writer, and you know he had to have a prideful moment when a key issue of The Strand came out.

Oddly, I think it was Sherlock Holmes who offered the best advice on our personal Holmes/Watson dichotomies. His words went something like this:

"Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior! We can but try -- the motto of the firm!"

Holmes is our Busy Bee, and Watson our Excelsior. Working as hard as we can on our own goals and  yet still lifting up our fellows as best we can. A good motto for any firm human being, especially these days.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Adventure of the Two Collaborators -- THE SEQUEL!

Once upon a time, in the land of famous authors, J.M. Barrie hand-wrote a short story for Arthur Conan Doyle on the flyleaf of a book. The story was called "The Adventure of the Two Collaborators," and it was a pleasant little postscript to a very unpleasant experience the two had shared during an attempt to work together on  a stage play. The tale was a happy testimony to the friendship between the two, that lasted long after their theatrical ordeal.

And last night, over seventy-five years since both men passed from this mortal coil, the shades of J.M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle unwittingly found themselves working together again, to boost CBS television's ratings in the nine o'clock hour.

Barrie's part in this plan was to write a 1904 stage play called Peter Pan, which then inspired a musical adaptation in 1954, which in turn inspired a live three hour performance of said musical on NBC television last night. And that performance actually inspired over eleven million Americans to tune in and see Peter Pan whisk the Darling children off to Never-Never Land.

Unfortunately, all that inspiration wasn't up to a three-hour production's holding power over an audience, and two hours later, that eleven million number had dropped off to just over seven million viewers. Which left four million people needing somewhere else to go. Some probably wandered off to bed. None probably went to the ill-faring rerun of How To Get Away With Murder, a show whose plot twists demand first-run viewing. And the others?

Well, Conan Doyle once wrote a series of stories about a detective named Sherlock Holmes, which then inspired a BBC television show called Sherlock, which then inspired a CBS drama called Elementary. And in the final hour of prime time television last night, at least 480,000 of those four million Pan-fleeing viewers wandered from the Barrie-inspired effort to that Conan-Doyle-inspired effort to stop it's steady decline since its season premiere this year.

Barrie and Doyle, working together again, to give CBS television a little ratings bump.

T'was a little bump, to be sure, but a larger crowd than the two collaborators were able to put together in their earlier work. And if their simultaneous grave-spinnings were able to line up in frequency at some point during that last hour of prime time last night, perhaps Barrie and Doyle got to enjoy a sympathetic moment together, once more.

Just not quite as amusing this time.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

E3:6. "The master beckons."

"From these scratches on the drawer, it appears someone tried to pick the lock," Kitty Winter observes, being sent to a crime scene in Mr. Elementary's place. And I busted out laughing. Why? Because the scratches, in a three inch radius around the lock, locked a bit like a monkey with the shakes was trying to attack the lock with a rock. Are the criminals in Elementary-land really that bad?

Well, given that just about anyone can be a consulting detective in this universe, well, maybe they are. Later, we learn that the crime scene is mainly a cover-up, but even for that . . . monkey with the shakes. Seriously.

Joan Watson is back this week, and she and Kitty start the episode by bonding over talk of their mutual issues with their teacher, the guy who still occasionally stands like he should have a knotted handkerchief on his head ala a Monty Python Gumby. And then they all go on an investigation with him, a consulting detective three-way at this point, and one wonders how they bill the client for the package deal.

"I have some more of Clyde's things," Kitty says upon showing up later at Joan's apartment, sent there on an errand by Mr. Elementary to deliver a turtle's things. The point of this, so ridiculously made, is that Mr. Elementary monopolizes the time of his apprentices with his own demands. And what is Joan's solution to this issue?

She offers to stick help Mr. Elementary out in Kitty's place so Kitty can have time off to have a social life.


Why isn't every feminist and self-respecting female in America protesting this subservient female crap? Joan is apparently Mr. Elementary's equal as far as NYPD is concerned, after her year of "training," and yet she is constantly putting up with this utter ass because . . . why? He's the dominant male of the consulting detective species?

When Sherlockians called Sherlock Holmes "the Master," as they have for the better part of a century, it wasn't because he treated anyone, Watson, Billy, Lestrade . . . anyone, as a slave. And maybe Mr. Elementary isn't treating "his girls" as slaves. The point, one supposes, is that his skills are so great that, like many an eccentric genius, they tolerate his failings to spend time with his greatness. And yet Elementary had never put that greatness on display -- especially with its crying need to elevate Joan to his level as an equal at detection. Lord, what a mess this show is.

You know, I would actually like to analyze the mysteries themselves in these episodes on occasion, but the interpersonal drivel is just SO irritating. Kitty exposes a corrupt casino, causing the casino head to become the most reasonable, generous, understanding guy running a casino ever. And then Joan solves the case. And yet they both tolerate the seriously handicapped male who . . .

Okay, is this show a fantasy fiction for women who think all males are just irritating and replaceable, or men who like bossing women around and having them take it? Or trying to play both sides of that fence?

Mr. Elementary's final explanation that he kept Kitty busy to keep her from being too interested in a boy, followed by Kitty's admission that it made her feel protected and loved, followed by Mr. Elementary's offer to invite Kitty's boyfriend to hang out with them both . . . weird, weird, weird.

In order to suit the demands of its own contrived premise theories, Elementary has constantly twisted the facts of human relationships, rather than let a factual-seeming relationship or two drive its premises. And you know what the true Master of criminal detection called that?

A capital mistake. Two and a half years in, one would think they'd be getting that figured out.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The strange career path of Miss Joan Watson.

The absence of Joan Watson from last week's episode of Elementary gives one pause to consider the considerable strain the makers of that show have put on their Watson character. Without her, the story seemed comfortable simple. Kitty Winter's lack of backstory actually let her fit in more perfectly as an apprentice/sidekick to the show's star. Because Joan Watson just never has had the luxury of making sense.

Joan Watson was a surgeon. You know, someone who became a doctor, which takes much dedication and study, then goes through a lot more dedication, study, and trial to rise to the next level. It is a long, focused path. But someone dies during a procedure on Joan's table, and she gives it all up. Not just surgery, but medicine itself, unlike such TV medicos as Doc Martin, who just left surgery to become a simple country practitioner.

Perhaps it was just a matter of timing which led her to her next job in the controversial field of "sober companions." A very wealthy man, looking for such a caretaker for his formerly addicted son, might just recruit from able medical personnel who had recently given up their previous roles. Most sober companions are ex-addicts themselves, but Joan did not seem to be coming at it from that angle.

When she got laid off from her sober companion job, Joan Watson was hired by her former employer's wealthy son to be his paid apprentice. Consider that for a moment. Hired by an eccentric ex-addict to be his student . . . and this, a grown woman who had already graduated as an M.D., and then again as a surgeon.

Joan Watson's next step comes when she leaves that job because a.) She entered a relationship with her master's brother. (Hey, she's an apprentice, the word for him is "master.") and b.) the guy paying her left the country. She then becomes a consulting detective for the New York Police Department. Which has its own detectives on the payroll who probably were angry enough to have one "consulting detective" meddling in their investigation without his junior partner coming in to make up for their deficiencies after only about a year of training. (Sure, that is the way most companies in America hire their consultants, with the thought that anyone outside the organization must surely be smarter than anyone in it.)

Anyway, after a year of training as a criminal expert, Joan Watson is a free-lancer making enough money to survive in New York City. Six months from now, she's liable to be doing something else entirely.

Which makes me rather appreciative of Dr. John H. Watson, M.D. The doctor, the friend, the room-mate . . . the steady companion. Reliable, no surprises. And not the punching bag for Mr. Sherlock Holmes that some folks seem to think he was. Because the thing that makes the least sense about Joan Watson's career path is the unpleasant character her career choices seem to revolve around.