Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"Elementary" versus "Holmes and Watson"

Over the course of this incarnation of "Sherlock Peoria," longtime readers may have noticed two extreme reactions to Holmes adaptations: First, my long-standing beef with CBS's Elementary, which just got an announced starting date for its final season -- May 23 -- not quite Reichenbach Day, but close enough. And second, of course, my mad love for Farrell and Reilly's Holmes and Watson.

How, one might wonder, can a person be so down on one seemingly popular incarnation and then so up on a popularly reviled incarnation? Is it sheer facade, played out for clickbait? Pandering to some audience in the minority of potential readers? Or could it be that this might be the way one writer's brain actually works?

Let's have a look and find out.

CBS's Elementary targeted one aspect of the Sherlock Holmes character from the start: chemical dependency. The drugs. An actor well known for the addiction movie Trainspotting was cast as Holmes, and Sherlock's entire reason for meeting Joan Watson is as she's hired to be his "sober companion." He has left London, the site of his descent into addiction, in hopes of making a fresh start in New York City. His powers seem to come from being on the autism spectrum, but he eventually takes Watson as a student, who works her way up to his peer, even though their relationship has many ins and outs. After six seasons, the word "love" gets a serious mention regarding their relationship.

The movie Holmes and Watson targets another aspect of Sherlock's character, his infallible abilities and the hubris that comes with it. He's made headlines since he was a boy detective, judges hold up major trials to await his wisdom, and when he arrives the crowd chants his name. His detective powers are the result of childhood trauma, and following that incident John Watson immediately befriends him, offering his first friendship. From then on Watson is faithfully at his side, companion and best promoter, whether it's writing up Holmes's adventures or announcing his entry to a room. After a whole movie and one nasty betrayal, Sherlock Holmes discovers his love for Watson (who has plainly loved him all along) and sings a whole song about it.

One a formulaic police procedural that tends toward the "tragedy" half of the theater double-mask, and the other an insanely random comedy that . . . well, comedy. Curiously, both show a deeply flawed Sherlock Holmes, one pushing his darker aspects to a dramatic extreme, the other pushing his more successful side to its limits. In Elementary, drugs are one of the humanizing elements, making Holmes more tragically normal in our modern culture of addiction. In Holmes and Watson, drugs are near omni-present, just another detail of Victorian life, made everyday as a part of the parody. Both also show a Watson who eventually earns Holmes's respect as a "co-detective."

There are those who find both un-Canonical and worthy of shame, and other happy souls who enjoy both ends of the Sherlock spectrum represented in the two productions. And others who will look at all the details above and go, "Yeah, but one worked and the other didn't!" -- maybe for those very reasons. And I've always been in that latter camp, most enthusiastically on both shows.

But "Doyle's Rotary Coffin," as Paul Thomas Miller created it, came into being with the members agreeing to the following statement: "I vow to honour the code that All Holmes is Good Holmes, especially Dreadful Holmes, Bizarre Holmes, and Sacrilegious Holmes." You'll note that is doesn't say that "All Holmes is Good Holmes" as a stated fact, but that the members are vowing to honour that code in their Sherlockian dealings. It's really the best any of us can do, because at some point in a Sherlockian life, at least one loose adaptation is going to come along that sets your hair on fire unless you're a sociopath, devoid of all emotions. (Hmm, childhood trauma involving a donkey's behind, perhaps?)

And, sated to the gills with enough Holmes and Watson bliss to last out the year, I'm looking forward to Elementary's last season. Because when one fully accepts one out-there adaptation for all its Sherlockian strangeness, how can one chase another odd duck of a Sherlock off one's virtual lawn? Each has something to tell us about all the other Sherlocks if we let it.

No comments:

Post a Comment