Saturday, September 29, 2012

Elementary? More like "by the numbers."

With much fanfare and fury (as in splashy summer ads airing all summer long) CBS delivered a standard, by-the-book American television mystery, with not altogether unsuccessful stabs at being wry and witty. Using different names for these characters the network could have easily added this to its cadre of Mentalist, CSI, mystery-esque dramas. So, why then this desperate (and blatant) attempt to ally itself with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes? Unlike the recent BBC series (a splendid, breathtakingly daredevil approach to updating a classic), it would appear CBS is employing “Sherlock Holmes” as little more than a brand name, playing a safe, but weak card in the television entertainment game.

Jonny Lee Miller would make a splendid Sherlock in his own right and presents here a modernized Holmes with an appealing blend of quirky self-assuredness, petulant child (with enough allusions to his demanding father to make the old man a central character) with flashes of bravado and a yearning to be misunderstood. His in your face bluster is counterbalanced (a bit overcautiously) by the timidity of Dr. Watson, whose character has undergone sexual reassignment, and is now in the guise of an attractive female physician. Having fallen from grace herself, the pair emit a palpable chemistry; two walking wounded/damaged souls trying to find a place of trust, comfort and perhaps, understanding. The writers’ challenge here is to find a way to take a detour from the traditional (and naturally occurring) sexual tension without turning the pair into lovebirds. Sadly, it's that one thing American television almost never succeeds in doing, preferring to go for the easiest (and often lowest) common denominator.

I'd imagine it's already a difficult enough task to transfer Holmes not only to the 21st century, but to Manhattan, but some of the elements in last night's episode stretched the possibilities to the point of incredulity. A nice touch regarding Watson's purchasing the pair opera tickets, with Sherlock's response a passing nod to those not only familiar with opera in general, but difficult avant garde opera at that (György Ligeti's Le grand Macabre). Sadly, the operatic link disintegrated at the opera house when Holmes, during the love duet of Tristan und Isolde bolts down the aisles shouting for Watson, clumsily climbs over the audience, insists on having a conversation during the performance, then commits the ultimate sin, making a phone call from his seat. Right. That could happen. (Any opera buff knows the man would've likely been tackled to the ground and hauled off to the curb before such a disturbance could've been completed.)

Needing a Sherlock Holmes' fix, I was hopeful (though admittedly anxious) about Elementary. Now, I'm merely disappointed.

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Blogger Will said...

Fritz and i have enjoyed the also updated BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The possibility of a sexual connection between the two manages to be brought up in each episode only to be shot down by one or the other (usually Freeman's Watson with something like:

Character X: Are you two . . . ?"
Watson: No, just friends and collaborators.

However, given the tenor of the times, I suspect the possibility, now planted, might be developed more in the upcoming next series that will begin from the massive cliffhanger of Holmes' almost certain death about which Watson collapsed in tears that ended the previous series.

October 24, 2012 at 5:59 PM  

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