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Elementary

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I thought Lucy Liu was great, playing a character who is named Watson, but isn't really, though I am indifferent to this Holmes. The problem with doing this show is that, with BBC's Sherlock out there, it has to be magnetic and fascinating, or it comes across as dull. And it's not magnetic and fascinating.

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Reading that felt like you were making a considerable effort (for some reason, I'm not sure why) to be gentle and to come up with some nice things to say. Out of all your writing that I've read, I've never had the impression before that you were restraining yourself until this piece.

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Reading that felt like you were making a considerable effort (for some reason, I'm not sure why) to be gentle and to come up with some nice things to say. Out of all your writing that I've read, I've never had the impression before that you were restraining yourself until this piece.

Restraining myself, I dunno. I have a weird attitude toward the show; I can't put my finger on the exact bit that doesn't work, but it's just so...boring. And for context--I used to love The Mentalist back before it jumped the shark in Season Four. So I have a high threshold for boringness. Elementary is just so...well, it's so bland that I had a hard time coming up with anything to say about it at all. As I say in the not-review, I've only managed to work up enough interest to watch a few episodes, and they have left no impression on me.*

So it wasn't a matter of coming up with nice things to say; it was a matter of coming up with anything to say. And the fact that I couldn't discuss it intrigued me enough to write about the fact that I couldn't discuss it. Because my brain's weird that way.

(See also: fears of old fogeyism. Just because it's new/American doesn't mean it's bad, and I was actively guarding against implying otherwise)

________________

*Besides the fact that the pilot duplicated exactly the same plot twist and macguffin that I had gleefully come up with for a detective novel that was just about finished.... Sigh. At least I know I'm creatively on the level of a CBS writer.

Edited by NBooth

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Perfect storm of actors and no stories?

See, that's another thing. I feel like, even based on the episodes I've seen, we know more about Joan Watson than Sherlock gave us about its Watson, but she still manages to be a much less compelling character. And that's no knock against Liu, who I liked, but....

Well, take the fifth episode, "Lesser Evils." There Joan is encouraged by Holmes to go with her gut and recommend that her friend run tests on a kid who might have the same disorder that Liu's dead patient had. It should have been great, right? It's a character-rich storyline, and it gives us a chance to see more of Watson's background and get to know her better as a character. But it just felt bland and done-to-death.

Compare that to Sherlock--something I very carefully didn't do in my post at Filmwell: What do we know about Watson there? He's an ex-army man with possible PTSD. He's got a sister with whom he's not on speaking terms. That's it. But he feels so much richer as a character, so much more interesting--it's all summed up in that one exchange in A Study in Pink where Sherlock asks if he's up for more adventure and he says "Oh, God, yes."

The same's true for Holmes in both incarnations (and here I think Sherlock definitely benefits by introducing Mycroft). What do we know about Cumberbatch's Sherlock? Virtually nothing--he was a child prodigy, he's got a vexed relationship with his family...and that's it. But Cumberbatch sells it, plays Holmes as a gigantic presence who fits perfectly in a world made up of impossible crimes and brilliant criminals. Miller's Holmes--who's more sympathetic as a character by far--comes across as significantly less in-control of circumstances, less on top of things. He plays into the convention that seems to be ruling these days [everywhere except the two other Holmes adaptations] of having the brilliant investigator characterized tortured neurosis. Like I say in the review, he's much more in line with Monk.

This really does bother me--and I say that as someone who enjoys Monk. Why must the brilliant analyst be a tortured genius? Where's the optimism of the classic Great Detectives--these gargantuan geniuses who rule their environment by sheer reason? [This is not a new complaint]. It seems to me that, instead of expanding to fill the Detective, the show shrinks the detective to fit itself.

Edited by NBooth

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Hi Scott, 

Thanks for sharing. For some reason this article reminded me of one that was circulating a couple of years ago about House, M.D. and talking about how the myth of the "exceptional" individual is that some sort of singular talent was justification for being an a--. I don't have much invested in the Holmes canon, but it feels to me like previous iterations of Holmes leaned heavily into this portrayal -- insisting that Holmes was singular, exceptional, and that this justified all. (The myth of the tortured genius is an old one, and I suppose one feature is the insistence that the torture is mainly from isolation -- not being understood -- being alone. I think the article, if I remember said these sort of gloss over the damage and pain caused by the exceptional individuals. Sort  of epitomized by Libby's speech to Jack Staunton in Primary Colors: 'What kind of s---t is that? Oh, yeah, I forgot, it's the same old s---t that nobody ever calls you on because you're so f---king special!" 

I'm not as big an Elementary fan as my spouse, but I do appreciate the way this iteration (and Miller's performance especially) explores the tension in Sherlock's awareness that he *is* special in some important ways and yet that special-ness doesn't exempt him from universal laws or principles. 

 

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