Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Many Sherlocks Do We Need?

Clearly neither Lucy Liu or Johnny Lee Miller is a
huge fan of the Dewey Decimal System
Yesterday on Xfinity Cable (ghastly name) here in Seattle you could choose between at least eight different versions of Sherlock Holmes. Fresh on demand we had CBS's brand new series Elementary starring Johnny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson. On PBS we have 2 versions of Holmes, the newish and still rather excellent Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch (on which Elementary is based) and of course, Sherlock Holmes an earlier series from the 80's with the impeccable Jeremy Brett. Continually playing on half a dozen channels is House with Hugh Lawrie as a diagnostician version of Holmes and Robert Sean Leonard as Watson (actually Wilson on the show). The movie version of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jnr seems to be always on some kind of loop on TBS or TNT and there are at least two other series based on the Holmes character The Mentalist and Psych. The cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is still in syndication and although I didnt see this myself I'll bet that somewhere on TVland or one of the higher cable stations the great old Basil Rathbone series is still playing. (I've always thought that Dr Who is a version of Holmes too, but I don't need to stretch a point...)
Do we need eight or nine versions of Sherlock Holmes? Well, I watched Elementary and was not convinced at all by this iteration, especially by the need to make Holmes sympathetic and vulnerable. I was no slavish fan of the BBC's Sherlock but after seeing Elementary I appreciate how well that show was cast and directed. The BBC made it look easy didn't they? For me the biggest attraction of the Sherlock Holmes character is that he is competent at what he does. So few people in this life are actually good at their jobs that its a pleasure to watch someone who does theirs so well. I think this explains the success of so many reality shows too. Of course I also like Holmes's cleverness, passion (in the newer versions) and eccentricity (one of the reasons I like Columbo too) but I never really dug Holmes's other tics: his aloofness, his snobbery and his arch seriousness. (It was a good move on the part of the creators of House to give Dr House a cutting, bitter sense of humour.) Elementary is Sherlock Holmes transplanted to modern day, yawn, Manhattan. This is a hobby horse of mine but honestly, in a good year there are only about 50 or 60 murders in Manhattan, fewer than a dozen of those of are white victims but on TV they bloody always are, aren't they? In fact there are far more people killed every year on Law and Order CSI NY etc. in Manhattan than in real life...Ok, back to Elementary. No in fact enough with Elementary, you've seen the previews so you get it. Needless to say Elementary doesn't work at all. The chemistry is awful, the cast is dull and there's no zip to anything. Its not really the shows fault, if it had come along say 10 years ago it might have seemed new and interesting but there are too many versions of Holmes on TV now already and most of them are better. Don't weep for Johnny Lee Miller: he's rich, handsome and the lucky lad was married to Angelina Jolie before she went crazy.
And enough is as good as a feast isn't it? Please network heads enough with the Holmes clones already. Last night I started watching the incredibly cheesy Crucifer of Blood starring Charlton Heston (!) as Sherlock Holmes; I turned it off and as an antidote to all the Holmesiana I watched an old episode of The Rockford Files on Channel 97: it was a real joy to watch a detective who made mistakes, ate at the Jack In The Box, lived in a trailer, who was clever but not superhuman smart, who limped on bad knees, and who had no hope at all of getting the girl (Blair Brown in this case).