Thursday, November 22, 2018

Do we need a minimum standard for Sherlocks?

Since it's Thanksgiving, one of those holidays when the blog traditionally has less readers, it's a good day to raise a controversial topic. If you're reading this, you probably aren't getting to argue politics with your weird old uncle at the dinner table, so allow me to help you fill that holiday void by giving you something to argue about online. Here's the question:

Do we have any sort of standards for a Sherlock Holmes?

When CBS came out with Elementary all those years ago, I argued mightily that it was a "Sherlock Holmes in name only," not adapting Doyle's classic character so much as slapping the name on the main character of a typical low-ambition CBS procedural cop show. There were those that argued as hard for Jonny Lee Miller's character as a valid Sherlock as any political supporter of a dysfunctional candidate, and grasped at any Canonical straw CBS's writers tossed our way.

This morning, the Twitter feed of the much-respected journal Canadian Holmes took the trend a little further in making this statement:

Canadian Holmes won't be the first or last Sherlockians to call Detective Pikachu a "Sherlock Holmes movie" based on the two facts that it has a detective and a deerstalker cap. But isn't that lowering the bar a little too low?

Whether or not you think of what Will Ferrell does as comedy, there is, at least, a parody aspect to his film Holmes and Watson that comes from at least attempting to tell a Sherlock Holmes story with laughs. But slapping a hat on a rodent just to show people he's a detective? Are we going to insult The Great Mouse Detective, an actual Sherlock Holmes movie, by putting Detective Pikachu at that same level?

Let's look at another "Sherlock Holmes movie" by applying the same standard. Who Done It? is a 1942 Abbott and Costello movie described as "Two dumb soda jerks dream of writing radio mysteries. When they try to pitch an idea at a radio station, they end up in the middle of a real murder when the station owner is killed during a broadcast."  Abbott and Costello wear deerstalkers in all of the promotional materials, hold pipes in their mouths, wear Invernesse capes . . . declaring themselves a pair of Sherlock Holmeses. They don't wear that garb in the movie itself, however, so does that one difference from Detective Pikachu make Who Done It? not a Sherlock Holmes movie, while "pika pika" boy gets the nod? Is that where we finally draw the line? Or are Abbott and Costello an acceptable pair of Sherlocks?  (Which definitely raises a second question: Are they both Watson too?)

That little Mary Morstan Sunshine of a phrase, "All Sherlock is good Sherlock," is a chipper and upbeat way of saying "Let's all just enjoy our happy hobby in a positive way!" but it's not a standard we would apply to anything else in our lives. "All surgery is good surgery!" "All bananas are good bananas!" "All people breaking into your house are good people breaking into your house!"

Perhaps some sort of rating system is in order, with Abbott and Costello in Who Done It? at one end, scoring a one, and the most Canon-faithful Granada TV episode with Jeremy Brett at the other, scoring a ten. Because if we ever need to fill some spare holiday time with debate, a screen-Sherlock ranking system would definitely fill the bill.

Have a happy day, whatever you're doing with it!


  1. In 1951's 'Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man' Bud Abbott does dress like Sherlock Holmes. Does that raise him another point?

  2. My bad - it's LOU COSTELLO who dresses as Holmes! Does he lose that point?