Thursday, February 25, 2016

What would Sherlock Holmes think of "Elementary?"

A comment from Dick Sveum on my last blog post reminded me of some thoughts from our friend Sherlock Holmes that I hadn't thought of in a while: That time early on when Holmes critiqued the previous fictional detectives.

"You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin," Watson had remarked. "I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories." Holmes's reply?

"No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin . . . Dupin was a very inferior fellow. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."

"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" Watson then asked. "Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?" Sherlock Holmes actually sniffs before making his next comment in anger:

"Lecoq was a miserable bungler; he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill. . . . It might be made a text-book for detectives to teach them what to avoid."

Can you imagine what the reaction would be, were Sherlock Holmes to unleash such words on-line in today's highly reactive world? The Poe and Gaboriau crowd on Tumblr would be having virtual brain fever fit. Sherlock Holmes, internet troll? No . . . Watson did bring it up.

But it got me thinking: What would Holmes say today, had Watson compared him to that Mr. Elementary on CBS's Elementary?

Well, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but I did write the first book completely focused on his methods way back when, so I thought I'd try to puzzle that out with this week's show.

Mr. Elementary's first crime scene search yield a puddle of puke with antacid in it, which to him says that the killer used it to fake a seizure and get the drop on the shotgunned gang members. Since people with upset stomachs both take remedies and vomit, he seems to be jumping to definite conclusions very quickly.

The second of Mr. Elementary's methods this week involves acquiring cell phones and looking what's one them . . . given the trouble the F.B.I. is having getting into one Apple iPhone at present, it seems those in Mr. Elementary's world don't passcode their phones with pins or fingerprints like that genius Irene Adler in BBC Sherlock-land. Nothing any other unscrupulous sort in a city of innocents couldn't do, so he gets no points for that.

While Joan Watson and Detective Bell interview a witness, Mr. Elementary finds a silicone mask and wig lying neatly atop the garbage in a nearby trash can. He doesn't seem to care much for talking to witnesses or persons of importance to the case, sending Joan to talk to someone else. The NYPD does some DNA matching on the pukey antacid and the silicone mask, making that earlier questionable evidence more solid, and as the tag-team investigation and theorizing between Mr. Elementary, Joan Watson, Captain Gregson, and Detective Bell, one really wonders if Mr. Elementary could solve a case on his own.

John Noble, as Mr. Elementary's father, is all soap opera cheese this episode. Lines like "To invoke your mother now . . . you haven't changed." "Did you really believe you were the first addict in the family?" "If I could take back the last thirty-three years . . . " The "who attempted to kill Father Elementary" here-again, gone-again subplot meanders around the main plot this week . . . the show's formula always demands a second story of course, which is often where they try to shoehorn what passes for continuity on Elementary. Yet nothing that really ever distracts characters from the main procedural, of course, no matter what. Mr. Elementary's mother was an addict like he is. And she died. And somehow that's dull. And here we find the true key to it all.

What would Sherlock Holmes think of Mr. Elementary's methods on this week's episode of Elementary? I don't think he'd have stuck with this slow-moving, static-shot-of-characters-standing-still-talking-alternating-with-other-character-standing-still-talking, sleep-inducing show long enough to make any sort of judgment on his namesake's detective skills. Holmes had a real problem with boredom after all.

"You say that there's a show with the title of a word I've used on this CBS network. If it were on HBO, it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

Exactly. That's a word Sherlock Holmes used, too. Wonder what kind of show we could build around that?


  1. The writers of "Elementary" are miserable bunglers, they had only one think to recommend them, and that was Clyde. That show makes me positively ill. . . . It might be made a text-book for screenwriters to teach them what to avoid.

  2. So to play the meta-fiction set-up. Why not have BBC Sherlock or CBS Sherlock critique the original stories or each other or Rathbone. Remember Sherlock would not bother watching Sherlock but rather busy himself being Sherlock. It is up to us his fans to be entertained. I know that you want to not like Elementary but why not try to go positive? Write about how it stimulated you to think about Sherlock's parents?
    Despite the canonical fact that SH thought Dupin inferior I love Dupin. Vincent Starrett even wrote a Dupin pastiche. I can only hope that when CBS pulls the plug on Elementary someone will produce a new series with Dupin.

    1. Not liking Elementary isn't a choice, sad to say. I would love to be positive about the show if they would just make A GOOD QUALITY SHOW. Letting crap television slide just because it has the name "Sherlock Holmes" attached does no one any good, and we live in an age where enough sow's ears are being called silk purses. If they do good work, I promise to respond appropriately. Will that day come? We shall see.

    2. Help me understand what you consider a good quality show that is on network television. Given the short segments with advertising it is a difficult format. Elementary, in my opinion is as good as others like CSI, Mentalist, NCIS and Criminal Minds etc. Now if you dislike all network crime shows then you will surely dislike Elementary. But if you like me and and watch one to two hours of television then it might be your favorite especially because of the Sherlockian content. Your blog challenges me to not just consume the entertainment but to try and think about it. Now did Sherlock have a mother?
      I would still challenge you Brad to point out A GOOD QUALITY fanfiction. An art form that you have not been so critical of in the past.

    3. Sorry, but I'm not subjecting some poor fanfic author to the criticisms of Elementary fans who are just out for revenge because I didn't like their favorite show. Good fanfic is out there and recs aren't hard to find. Just like good television is out there, complete with commercial breaks. I enjoy a lot of it every week. (And sometimes BBC America will even show Sherlock with commercials, and it still works.) I'm not raising the bar just for Elementary. All I'm doing is watching it and recording the results.

  3. Richard says, "Help me understand what you consider a good quality show that is on network television." -- Try "The Murdoch Mysteries", it is what I consider a good quality show and the best on TV today. If you haven't seen that show, I'll offer you "Sleepy Hollow", that one has kept my attention with continuity and superior writing. If you want to go back a few years "Monk" was a quality network show. I do however also enjoy "NCIS", and consider that a step above the others you mentioned also.

  4. I like Bluebloods (she said in a small voice).