Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Elementary-sized chunks

During last week's episode of Elementary, I was struck once again by the TV procedural format itself. Each act much come between commercial breaks, with a stinger of a tease to get you to stay through the random ads instead of changing the channel. How many TV viewers are that non-committal about what they're watching? I don't know, but we have a whole art form based on the premise.

So I started to wonder: What if Conan Doyle had been forced to work in a TV writer's room to get his stories on the air? How might our existing Canon have changed?

And so, the idea for this morning's experiment began. Could I take one of the sixty and give it commercial breaks? What extra material would that take? What were the commercial cliffhanger moments? Would a "Yellow Face" or a "Gloria Scott" even work? One of the novels might go easily into it, due to all that material. But one of the shorties? Let's try "A Case of Identity."

As the episode starts, Holmes and Watson are sitting in front of the fireplace at Baker Street having their little debate about how whether truth is stranger than fiction. Watson cites how crude the crimes of the police reports are, hitting upon the Dundas separation case, whereupon Holmes does a conversational riposte and scores one on Watson. Then he shows off his golden snuffbox.

We cut to Hosmer Angel rolling up to his fiancee and her mother in a hansom cab, a bit addle-headedly not realizing they wouldn't all fit in it, then putting the two women in the cab and getting in a four-wheeler to follow. (Never mind, they could have all gotten in that four-wheeler.) The cabs make their way to the church, and when the door to the second cab is opened, Hosmer Angel is GONE! Shocked look on the fiancee's face, roll right into the opening credits and theme music.

So far, so good. Following the story, got the pre-credit *zing!* in, and a nice moment with Holmes and Watson. Doyle did good work.

In the fifteen minutes that follow, Mary Sutherland is immediately present at Baker Street, telling her tale: "I came to you, sir, because I hear of you from Mrs. Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up for dead."

We could probably get ten minutes out of Mary Sutherland's telling of her tale, with Holmes's questions along the way. Another five minutes of Holmes and Watson discussing her case after she left and the ad describing Hosmer Angel. At this point, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson he should be able to settle the whole case by only writing two letters, because it's so obvious.

Our Canonical tale is about two-thirds done. An episode for CBS is only one-third done. What do we do? Well, in Elementary fashion, that last scene doesn't end with Holmes having the solution practically in hand. It ends with the screeching hard turn.

Inspector Lestrade shows up with news that the French vineyard Mary's step-father worked with had just been caught smuggling rare extra-virgin olive oil from a medieval Italian monastery in its wine bottles. Watson goes with Lestrade to the wine warehouse on the docks where the olive oil was discovered and talks to dock workers there, while Holmes goes to the local monastery of the order of medieval monks to find out what, if anything, they knew about Hosmer Angel. The monks are doing some really kinky stuff with that olive oil, and Holmes eventually gets the chance to tell Watson, "There were no angels at that monastery, Hosmer or otherwise."

James Windibank sends a note that says he's coming by Baker Street to find out if Watson has discovered who is doing the smuggling, and Holmes announces, based on that letter, that he has solved the case. Windibank shows up, Holmes asks Windibank pointedly if he only dates family members, and the true identity of Hosmer Angel is revealed . . . immediately before we go to the last bunch of commercials.

After the commercial break, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson take turns explaining everything that they figured out and scare Windibank straight with the thought that they're going to beat him soundly.

That doesn't seem to have nearly the number of twists and turns as the average Elementary episode, and I don't think the show would spend nearly so long talking to Mary Sutherland as Doyle did. But at it's core, the tale needs a good extra twenty minutes of red herring to fill a prime-time television hour. The basic elements still work, though, with some extra mystery added in. (And possibly a touch of the season's overarching plot . . . "Hey, Odin Reichenbach called. He said he still wants to talk to us.")  And that, after over a century, is kind of nice to see.

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