4/11/14

CBS's Sherlock Holmes comes out. Also fights "right-wing" extremists.

4/11/14
In last night's episode of CBS's Elementary, "No Lack of Void", Sherlock Holmes all but says he is gay, while mourning the loss of his friend and former lover, Alistair. This takes place during the Hollywood cookie-cutter plot of battling "right-wing" terrorists.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way: This is not edgy. This is not original. This might have been edgy and/or original 10, 15+ years ago.

Second, disclaimer time: I don't like this episode and I don't like where Elementary is going. This is NOT because Sherlock is gay (well, bisexual), NOT because Dr. Watson is now Joan Watson, NOT because it's a modern interpretation, and NOT because it takes place in New York. It's because the show is getting lazy, and now it's just insulting.

I suppose I'll begin in earnest with what bothered me first about this episode (and, if you haven't guessed by now, expect SPOILERS):

The episode begins with a guy who dies from anthrax poisoning. After some investigation, it is revealed that a group of potential terrorists are making large amounts of the chemical, conspiring to poison possibly hundreds of congressmen. Taking a page out of Law and Order and countless other shows, the bad guys aren't motivated by Islamist propaganda, nor are they just crazy for crazy's sake. But they are ideologically motivated "right-wing" extremists, hell-bent on hurting the government. Transcribed from the episode:
Eugene [the prime suspect] did 3 years in prison for assaulting a census worker. . . . He's associated with a gang of extremists called the Sovereign Army. These guys hate the government, including the NYPD, but they're big fans of violence and the 2nd Amendment. [emphasis mine]
Let's see: a canard, false stereotypes, and a paramilitary-ish name. Remember that census worker who was killed 4 and a half years ago? Well, at the time it was all over the news, and it looked like an anti-government motivated crime. But he actually staged it and killed himself. It must have seemed easy and plausible to blame right-wingers. Unfortunately, people and tv shows still do. (If I wanted to take the time, I could link several incidents of premature and wrongful suspicion for crimes, repeated by the media no less, on "right-wingers").

I used to be a right-wing conservative. Now, I'm very libertarian (there is a big difference). But when I was a conservative I learned, became sensitive to, and started noticing with increasing frequency these cookie-cutter television plots where the bad guy often was some blundering, chauvinistic right-wing stereotype. Whether it was a greedy businessman, corporation, a bloodthirsty military man, crazy pro-lifer, or of the more recent variety: the gun-toting, anti-government militiaman. I still notice them, and even though I no longer feel like they're insulting me, I still feel that they falsely and negatively portray huge swaths of good, decent, law-abiding people. It's cheap, and it's pathetic.

And don't forget the often disproved stereotype that 2nd Amendment fans are both violent and hate the government. Well, they're not, and they don't. But lets not let that get in the way of a good narrative; the media loves this prevarication, and Hollywood plays along.

But wait, there's more! So, after fighting and interrogating these "right-wing" stereotypes, it turns out that it wasn't about ideology after all. The prime suspect and his brother conned the extremists into funding anthrax production, killed the guy who made the anthrax, gave fake anthrax to the extremists (who they later would presumably kill or anonymously turn in to the police), all in order to poison their dairy cows so they could collect insurance money. All that, for insurance fraud. It was greed all along! What a compelling twist.

Oh and the uncompelling and forgettable subplot: Sherlock is gay.

You know what, in the 20th episode of the 2nd season, in what was supposed to be an unconventional, modern version of Sherlock Holmes, after the character has already been so well established, and was revealed previously to have on more than one occasion, heterosexual orientation--this comes off as desperate. And it's kind of insulting to people who wanted a different Sherlock. Why couldn't such important character development be revealed, perhaps executed carefully over a number of episodes--rather than dumped in all at once--in the first season?

The writers of the show must have wanted to do something different and infuse some energy into the show, since lately it started feeling flat and uninspired. It would've been nice if they used some of that effort to try to write a better detective story, rather than invent a whole new side to the main character. Because the primary impetus behind any Sherlock Holmes story is the mystery, and then it's the man himself. The crime, the investigation, the mystery of the day is always first. The mystery of the day is the vehicle by which we learn, little by little, about Sherlock the man.

I'm a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, loved Jeremy Brett's Sherlock, kind of a fan of BBC's Sherlock, and so you could argue that I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fanboy. But I'm quickly losing interest in Elementary.

A gay Sherlock would've probably worked from the start. Many of us fans suspect his sexuality is hardly in the mainstream (I always thought of him as asexual, with "The Woman," Irene Adler, being the exception). A female Dr. Watson has been great so far. Lucy Lui often steals the show (I often think it tries to be a show more about her, than him). Modern is great, New York is fine, being a drug addict is both fine and is sort of from the original stories. All of that would've been fine, great even, if the show didn't feel like every other cop drama. There's way too much reliance on the NYPD aspect. Might as well deputize Holmes and Watson, because they're almost always at the station or hanging around a police detective.

It's way too similar to every cop show ever made: A serious crime happens, they find suspect(s), plot twists occur, a connection is made, perp goes to jail. Sprinkle character development to taste. Repeat ad nauseam.

Now I must admit, even Doyle's original works have much of that, but in his defense he did come before all those cop dramas after all. Yet, contrary to today's cop dramas, Doyle didn't have Sherlock conversing daily with police, he was often engaged in some crazy undercover ploy, experimenting with or observing some obscure but fascinating phenomena, taking cases from seemingly mundane clients--only to uncover the complete opposite. Sherlock Holmes was never so brooding, nor so emotional as he is in Elementary. And when Holmes solved a mystery, he lets you know that he solved it about half-way through the story, if not much earlier. And then he tells you exactly how he did and why he let it go on so long. That's unlike any show on television today, although BBC's Sherlock comes close at times.

Elementary could be much better. But it has no excuse. It takes cookie-cutter cop drama plots, and sprinkles in their new and improved main characters. But their cookie-cutter plots aren't that great, and the characters have been wasted. It's far too late to reinvent them. Especially in such cheap, insulting ways.

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