Sunday, August 28, 2011

- 'Sherlock' Open Thread


  1. I watched the first episode in this British drama series last night and found it to be quite an enjoyable show. It is the Sherlock Holmes detective story set in present day England. Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson humanizes the tale, but is a much stronger character than the Nigel Bruce version we are all familiar with from the Basil Rathbone movies of Holmes from the late thirties and forties. No mere pleasant bumbler, Watson is damaged goods from earlier experiences in the military, yet his unshakable commitment, loyalty and calm nerve in tight situations are more than once on display. He is somewhat in a whirl trying to keep up with the deductive powers of his young flat mate, but where else would he rather be?

    It's a great start. Come join us as we take a look at the series.

  2. I didn't know you were going to make a thread out of this.

    What surprised me most was how easy it was to accept the update to present-day London. When I first heard about the series, my first thought was "gimmick"--or an obvious attempt to avoid the cost of historical recreation. But it works. And it may help draw in younger viewers who don't seem to be too keen these days to learn anything about the past. Great stories well-told always make for good viewing.

    I'm in the middle of BBC's attempt to find their Mad Men--The Hour. Instead of advertising, the show revolves around a new kind of BBC news program. Well, at least new to the late 1950s. I knew the "heroes" of the show would be earnest folks with socialist leanings and I wasn't wrong. Yet, I am somehow find myself caught up in the show. Sigh.

  3. Second episode tonight. That understated humor just kills me. Cathy, you should check it out.

  4. Did you finish with all the episodes? And what happened to you, Cathy? I never saw you miss a
    communal viewing before. This thread sort of died before its time.

  5. The final episodes - no. They are still to come.

    I have really enjoyed this so far. One thing that clunks somewhat in the modernization are the references to a male friendship being mistaken for gay-man-love, but once they broached the subject and got a laugh or two out of the awkwardness, they moved along nicely.

    One thing I appreciate about the Sherlock Holmes stories is the on going steady friendship that develops between Holmes and Dr. Watson. It is one of the more endearing aspects of the stories. Like Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in the O'Brian stories, it is a comfortable friendship where each person appreciates the strengths of the other. They challenge each other, and at times can be rather cross with one another, but each trusts the other implicitly, and would place their life at risk without hesitation to protect the life of his friend.

    I loved how in the first episode Watson follows after Holmes after he gets in the cab, Holmes so enticed by solving the mystery that he loses all thought of prudence, and Watson ends up in the wrong building, unable to reach his friend, when suddenly there is a violent disruption in Holmes enquiry. And after, as Holmes is speaking with Lestrade, and begins to describe the type of man he should be looking for, he sees a sheepish Watson standing off across the way, and realizes the less said the better. That was really rather fun.

  6. I liked what you describe in your last paragraph, too. Until I realized that it was only necessary because of today's PC BS. The original story had Watson proudly admitting his shot--and Lestrade not having a thought of initiating charges against Watson for illegal possession and use of a handgun. Doctor Who had a scene where he was "forced" to strand that human version of himself in another universe because he was guilty of "genocide"--having destroyed the Dalek "race," even though they had just come within a few seconds of destroying all life in the infinite collection of universes--all reality. The inter-universal "UN" takes no account of trifles. And just like our UN, they can't and won't stop the bad guys before it comes to a critical head. Heck, that judgement of "bad" is the only thing they stop cold.

  7. I thought you didn't like Doctor Who? Poor production values, and who can really believe those microwave looking things would be lethal?

    Well, there definitely is a pc twist to it - the gung foo master is too much for Watson, but his date makes short work of him - a well timed blow to the head or some such, but it's the world we have to live in to watch these shows. And given the givens, that particular moment demonstrated what will come to be a common, enduring thread, that however incredibly valuable Holmes' deductive powers are, Holmes himself is equally happy to be in company with a man whose friendship is unwavering, and whose courage and commitment he can rely on totally.

    Do you ever wander over to Matt's Movie Tones blog? It's pretty great, really. That guy is a gifted writer. He recently did a piece on James Mason, and he referred to a Holmes production called 'Murder By Decree' that Mason did in the late seventies where he played Dr. Watson to Christopher Plummers' Sherlock Holmes, and as stories go that was excellent in its conveyance of the friendship between Holmes and his valued, trusted friend, Dr. John Watson. (Plummer was excellent as Holmes, by the way).

  8. I thought you didn't like Doctor Who?

    I don't as a matter of principle--science fantasy vs. science fiction and all that. But I have to view everything ever made to stay objective. ;-) The latest series that began circa 2005 (with Billy Piper)is a big improvement over what came before and hasn't made me put my fist through the monitor yet. Production values and special effects are a lot closer to US-produced TV series, as well. There are still lavatory faucets and mechanical egg beaters in the TARDIS controls, of course. But I can look away for a second and let them have that.

    I have been a visitor at Matt's blog, based upon your recommendation and I agree with your assessment. I just have to go there more often.

  9. And what happened to you, Cathy?

    Oh, dear.

    Not only do I have to confess to not having finished these three shows (are there more I'm missing?), it seems I need to go back and re-watch some bits. I thought they left the question of Holmes' sexuality ambiguous, if not implying that he was gay. (It really bugs me when an already established character is "tweaked" in a significant way, but apparently Arthur Conan Doyle left Holmes' intimate life out of the accounts of his sleuthing, so I guess he's fair game. Not that they didn't use a free hand in re-creating Watson.) But now it seems from Jim's comment that I misread the awkward-roommate scene. I must really be getting cynical, or something.

    However! There's a lot I like about the show so far -- I'll try to watch the third one today and form some coherent comments.

    Thank you, Darrell. :)

  10. Holmes is not gay, not that there's anything wrong with.. wait a minute! It would be totally wrong to make Holmes gay. As Cathy points out, his character is well established, and even though I am a big believer in artistic license and the freedom one should have in interpreting works of art as they relate to the reader or viewer, creating the possibility of sexual interest would utterly ruin the most endearing quality of these stories. The tension of 'will they or wont they' between pursuer and pursued may be fine for Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard in 'Moonlighting', but it wouldn't do, it just wouldn't do at all for Sherlock Holmes. My word, the man is the epitome of concentrated mental focus. How could you toss in a keg of gunpowder?

    Anyway, in the novels there is one woman that Holmes views as the great love of his life (there always is that one woman somewhere for most of us). She was an extraordinary woman of considerable intellectual resources, but it wasn't to be. Star crossed lovers as it were. In this particular rendition Holmes states he is flattered by Watson's interest, but he cannot reciprocate, much to the embarrassment and consternation of Dr. Watson, whose inquiries have in this instance been misunderstood by Holmes. Later we see Dr. Watson quite peeved by Holmes' intrusion on Watson's date, a date in which Watson had high hopes of "getting along".

    Let us put this question to bed, as it were. There can be no great male friendship when it can be confused with eros, and the story itself will not countenance the loss of this friendship.

  11. I'll third the motion. Holmes and Watson are not gay. Although I think the current show runner considered it. It is pretty clear in the novels and short stories that Holmes is incapable of forming close personal relationships--save for Watson--most likely because of an inherent mental disorder, like autism (Asperger Syndrome). His brother, Mycroft, who serves as a "human computer" for The Crown and goverment, seems to share this affliction.

    The BBC has been fooling around with Miss Marple for years, making characters in stories gay that were not so in the books, and even changing the murderer in one I saw--the book (and other film versions) had a lesbian as the murderer and they made it someone else.

  12. Well, I did catch the third episode last night, which I guess concludes the first season. What started off with great promise in the first episode left me a bit distant by the third. It is difficult to follow a series if you do not care for the characters, and as pleasant as Dr. Watson is, Sherlock is far too removed from the pain and travails of the various criminals and victims to remain a character I could have much interest in. That plus the repetitive crying innocent civilian with cruel bomb vest in place, red dot from a laser range finder dancing all around grew a bit tiresome. Tell me, not one of these characters were angry? Not a one had any life of interest? It is the people that flesh out a story and make it interesting. How is this story being fleshed out? Poorly, I dare say.

    No, I believe Holmes here, though peculiar and gifted, is far less appealing and human than in every other portrayal of him that I have seen. Of course, Moriarity shows up as the gay twerp that he is, but the high pitched squeeling? I'm sorry, he was not a compelling bad guy, and that is needed to keep us interested. I suppose Holmes has far more compassion and character than Professor Moriarty, but only just. If he didn't have to create little travails for Holmes to work through what would the fool do, go on murdering people that rub him the wrong way, all the while acting like a door mat? Not likely.

    And what about all those criminals he assisted as a consulting criminal. Do they really believe he will help them pull off these crimes and then just go away? They do not perceive risk in associating with this guy? Rather short sighted of them. If you do a crime, are you not keen to be sure there is little that could be used against you later on? Every one of these crooks left themselves open to extortion later on, yet none of them think that's a problem? These wanna-be crooks are not much for chess playing, if you ask me. No, I'm sorry, they will have to rethink how they are handling the story if they hope to retain me in the audience.

  13. I think you must have been in a bad mood when you watched it. ;-) The fact that they made the chosen vehicle for getting Holmes' story and legend out to the public Watson's blog, would have made me think that they would have captured you're interest and affection.

    The Sherlock Holmes that they present is very true to the character that Arthur Conan Doyle fleshed out in his books and short stories--IMHO. Holmes was NOT a man most would choose as a friend. Either by nature or by "deleting from his hard drive," social skills--at least those necessary for maintaining interpersonal relationships--are not part of his toolkit. Watson see the value in the man (to society and perhaps himself) and has a high tolerance for his nonsense and disagreeable nature.

    Moriarty as a criminal genius and "consultant" to other criminals is true to Conan Doyles' original. Do you know that those sort of people really existed in real life? Don't you remember that episode of The Untouchables where an expert in math with a genius toward putting together complicated systems and plans got together with this information broker with an eidetic memory for people and skills (with a willingness or history of breaking the law) and sold their consulting services to Chicago gangs that had particular problems? Eliot Ness knew something was wrong when a gang he was about to put away had all the evidence against them destroyed in a single night while also hitting a large government shipment of medicinal ethanol that was being stored temporarily in Chicago prior to nationwide distribution. When Ness plotted all the things that happened that night on a city map and the precision timing of the events that kept the police and his crew away from the unfolding crimes, he knew that the gang didn't have the brainpower to put something like that together. The crime syndicate did act as consultants to crews that came to them for permission to pull off a crime. They also evaluated the plans and added people with the skill set they thought was needed [safecracker, muscle, sniper, etc] to pull it off--for a big chunk of the haul. But crews had to pay tribute anyway for operating in the territory. The criminals that Moriarty was dealing with heard rumors of his reputation and ruthlessness and knew that the body count behind all that precluded him from ever going to the police. He also seemed to have shadow like power over all the things that they would need to be successful, In an age of brute force crimes, one could see that these services put crimes into reach that otherwise wouldn't be.

    Moriarty is supposed to be the anti-Holmes--evil vs good. In fact in some of the stories you are lead to believe that there isn't a separate person at all--Moriarty is a split personality of Holmes' himself. No one ever seems to be present when Holmes has life and death fights with Moriarty--they always arrive after he gets away even though at times the people wonder how that was possible without being seen by them. You have to remember the time when Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: The beginnings of psychology, Darwinism, moral relativism, forensic science, "Bohemian" lifestyles. New concepts for readers then.

    This series at least has Watson seeing Moriarty for himself. At guess they are going to try to dangle multiple personality disorder as a worm in front of us.

    I'm watching No.3 again based on what you said. More later.

  14. Well, that is very interesting stuff, Darrell. I am certainly game to keep going forward, if and when there are any more episodes to watch. I will add that I loved the musical score for the show - it was perfect.

    Now whatever happened to that girl?

  15. What girl?

    The Baker Street Irregular that gave Holmes the location of the Golem? The lab tech (who was dating Moriarty)?

    The only thing that bothered me was when Holmes
    Corrected the prisoner at the beginning who wished to hire him--the one that confessed to stabbing his girlfriend multiple times but saw that as an "accident." Holmes said he wouldn't be hung, but he may well be hanged. Yeah, right.
    We all know that they only do things like that in backward countries like America. I watch the BBC, you know, and somtimes read The Guardian.

    Btw, Moriarty stated that he was just pretending to be gay. He didn't even say NTTAWWT. That makes him un-PC in the UK these days--probably the crime they would go after him for first.

  16. "What girl?"

    I'm being somewhat vague, but Cathy of course. We hardly hear a peep from her, anywhere these days. Not a good thing, certainly.

    Was not that prisoner supposed to be in some far off country in old Russia? I was thinking he was going to hang because he committed the crime while abroad. You know how those Brits love to travel.

    And Moriarty pretending to be gay as a cover was read by me as one protesting too strongly. His frequent high pitched sqeals and mannerisms may have fooled others, but it seemed pretty gay to me.

  17. Well, I'm a sucker for a good set, and I LOVE the apartment on Baker Street. Half-lit rooms with just enough Victoriana to evoke the original stories' time period but still feel believable for a contemporary setting. Just disorganized enough to suggest near-constant activity -- but all purposeful. And though I haven't noticed anything else in the wardrobes particularly significant, I find that great flapping overcoat a touch of genius, and the scarf a happy alternative to the now-ridiculous deerstalker.

    But, well, now, these characters. I generally complain quite a bit when a character is re-defined in an adaptation or re-make, but I never cared for the (sometimes comically) phlegmatic Dr. Watson of earlier versions, and I quite like the John Watson of this series. (I don't know why they felt he had to be incapacitatingly traumatized at the beginning -- I found the psychology of his psycosomatic and/or hysterical disabilities somewhat garbled.) I like the way he goes back and forth between being willing to humor the weirdly brilliant Sherlock, and just being good and ticked-off at his unreliable flat-mate.

    Moriarty. Aggrieved sigh. Those high pitched sqeals and mannerisms Jim mentioned made him seem more like an arch-villain from a Batman show than the criminal mastermind of Sherlock Holmes' adventures. I get that they want him to be a madman, but he is really just repugnant. But what bothers me the most about the casting is that Moriarty is a hugely successful criminal -- and this guy is simply too young to be believable. (Really, I think the actor who plays Sherlock's brother would have been great as Moriarty. He has the years to match the scope of his criminal organization, and can certainly play that chilling low-key menace that is needed.)



    Sherlock himself seems rather on the young side, but it's not so undermining for him. We can chalk it up to "child progidy." I think the oddness of the actor's looks -- sometimes much more odd than others, very intriguing -- suits the strangeness of his character. How true to Holmes as Arthur Conan Doyle envisioned i don't know, but he feels very much like someone who cannot bear to have his mind anything but fully engaged. He doesn't strike me as heartless so much as too good at compartmentalizing. He snaps at Watson about how little good he can do the first of the bomb-hostages by being upset on her behalf, but later his concern for the victims is clear in his urgency and distress when he tries to stop the old woman from describing the bomber.

    As for the story-lines, I've felt less than satisfied about the motives for the criminal plots. The terminally iil taxi-driver, killing strangers as piece-work for Moriarty, doesn't make sense to me -- and even mad men make some sort of sense. And the motive in the bombing episode made even less sense to me. It had seemed that the whole set of tests that Moriarty arranged for Sherlock were a diversion from the problem of the missing thumb drive, but then Moriarty tossed it. And killing him to stop his interference was treated as an afterthought. So the whole shebang was to make Sherlock "dance"?

    As always, clarification welcome!

    The premise that people would go to a shadowy Mr. X for solutions to their problems (thus putting themselves in his power) is not so unusual -- in most scenarios they learn at some point that a return of the favor is expected. What seems hard to fathom is that, in this case, Mr. X would, in effect, rat out the people whose problems he had solved -- that seems a poor way to promote that particular line of the business.

    So I think there are some places where the writing breaks down -- it may just be that they aren't explaining well enough -- but so far, I like the guessing-game that is offered the viewer, the interactions between the main characters (I enjoy the rather dry humor, too), and the atmospheric elements. So, yay, more episodes in 2012!

  19. Mycroft, yes, he was very good, and in fact when we were first introduced to him we were led to believe that he very well might have been Moriarty. Excellent. And it is fun to see John Watson caught between the two brothers. They are both so blasted fast it is hard for him to avoid being toyed with. He does an admirable job though, and we feel for him.

    Perhaps with the excellent Mycroft they felt they needed Moriarty to be decidedly different? Shame, really. I should think he could be similar and yet twisted in some manner, like the phantom was in Phantom of the Opera. Now there was a cold, scary, brilliantly calculating and incredibly vengeful character.

  20. I see it more as a Joker, Riddler sort of thing--over the top. And also as a disguise, hiding the true Moriarty. As to giving up his clients, it speaks to his state of mind and his willingness to play the Devil in their lives--he gives them freedom then snatches it away for no other reason than he could. I suspect he doesn't need low-end clients anymore and playing with desperate people is so much fun. [Just think, the banker and his wife just went from desperation to a belief that all their problems are solved and the art dealer thinks her 30 million Pound ship has is minutes from its dock] Moriarty takes the cabdriver into damnation as he destroys the lives of random strangers and their loved ones. Something he continues with his bomb victims. As to his age, I would suspect that he started early--as a child--like Holmes did. Could he have arranged to kill that visiting swimmer for a fellow student or to finally cross the line? Holmes was a child when the incident drew his attention. I'm pretty sure that this particular episode is taken from several actual stories/short stories. The Bruce-Partington Project is obvious. [The original dealt with submarines in the time of Victoria] Since there are sixty of them, and the last time I looked at someone's complete collection was when I was in high school, it is all fuzzy, but I suspect three or four stories modified and woven together. With Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss at the helm, you can expect some Doctor Who silliness in the mix.

    The original Watson returned from Afghanistan with physical injuries after the Second Anglo-Afghan War(1878–1880). This time it's the "same" war, but his injuries are psychological--no surprise there in PC World.

    These first three episodes were not as polished as they might have been because the BBC changed the format at the last minute, going from 60 to 90 minutes. I expect better things in Series 2.

    Yes, James, that prisoner is in Minsk. I didn't realize that Holmes' TARDIS was back from the shop.

    Sorry about the disjointed reply. It's only hit and run addressing some of the issues raised.

  21. A TARDIS? I had to look that up, and find that it appears to be a Police Box (?!) but in reality is a machine for traveling through time and space, far larger inside than what anyone would guess by looking at it on the outside - another one of those BBC cost cutting measures I dare say. Darrell, you are far more the Dr. Who fan than I ever suspected!

    But anyway, yes, lets look forward to picking this show back up again if they run another season. Pretty good!

  22. As I said, I had seen a handful of the new series (beginning circa 2005) Doctor Who episodes on broadcast PBS over the years, but decided to give in and catch up this Summer. I can't say that I am disappointed. BBC finally broke down and gave the show production values on par with a typical American show, as opposed to the silliness they put out with their versions from the 1970s and 1980s. The same crew
    (showrunners) is involved with Sherlock.
    It's still science fantasy as opposed to science fiction, but it's a lot more palatable than it was. The PC nonsense is in abundance, but if one uses that as criteria to watch anything out of the BBC, you won't be able to follow a single thing.

    Time And Relative Dimension In Space. You just have to accept it. In one of the recent episodes his current human traveling companion, Amy Pond, asks The Doctor why the TARDIS always appears as London police calling box from 1963, especially since nothing like that has been around for years. He explains that
    the TARDIS is the most sophisticated machine ever devised and upon landing in a new environment scans 1000 square miles in order to
    choose a visible shell that will blend in inconspicuously with the current time and location. She then interjects that it's always the same London police call box circa 1963. The Doctor says he is beginning to suspect that something has gone a bit wobbly with that system.

  23. Gone a bit wobbly? You've got to love those curious Brit expressions. I may have to check that show out. Lately I've been watching the Jesse Stone series with Tom Selleck and The Good Wife with Julianna Margulies, and if I could just skip the stuff where people are climbing all over each other (which I pretty much can by capable use of my remote) they're both pretty good shows.

  24. Agree with you about Jesse Stone. The only think I liked about The Good Wife was Julianna and it had nothing to do with her acting ability or politics. If you too enjoy Julianna, you'd like Canterbury’s Law, a prior series that was cut by Fox after six episodes. It is available at Netflix. She was ever hotter there, if you can imagine. She is still a Left-leaning lawyer, though. Imagine that.

  25. I like Will Gardener, the way he carries himself, and I like the law. The constant pressure of Lockert Gardner going under while they operate out of an expansive office with a large support staff seems a bit of a stretch, but hey, it's TV, plus I don't have any real experience with Chicago law firms and may end up having you and Cathy read me chapter and verse on how that's exactly how it works in the real world. : )

    And though Julianna Margulies is an attractive woman, it's her character that I find appealing: principled, strong, wounded. Chris Noth's character puts me to sleep, and Diane Lockert as played by Christine Baranski is just silly. Yep, there's a lot of fast forwarding going on, but you get through the episodes a lot quicker that way.

    I definitely will look to add Canterbury's Law to my list. Now I wonder when we shall hear again from young Mr. Holmes?

  26. Early 2012, according to the BBC. that's exactly how it works in the real world. : )

    You become a Green law firm and take a $Billion in stimulus loans or fees for hooking up other