The Elementary Particle

by Malcolm Parker on January 1, 20123 comments

Update:Note to fans, sleuths and redoubtable sidekicks: season 2, episode 1 airs today on the Beeb.

Original: I got around to watching the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes reboot this past weekend. I had been anticipating it because the reviews were good and because of the tea-and-crumpet naughtiness of ‘Cumberbatch’. I overcame my initial negative reaction to the vinyl HD sheen of Watson sitting on his couch and was soon smiling and enjoying myself.

It was fast and smart and pithy and integrated the essential characters well.  The actors were all good and the primary relationship quickly got to the odd-couple snappiness this version wants. There were plenty of moments for the writers to show off theirs and Holmes’ cleverness, and the director used the graphics well enough without being too showy and didn’t get in the way of the story. It was capable and enjoyable.  Then it destroyed itself.

The Holmesian detective — the rational man in an orderly universe into which an agent of chaos has been injected – depends on the detective knowing.  He is a genius polymath but it’s not simply about being smarter.  It’s not that he has more information from a scene than us (but way more stored in his head); it’s that he observes in a way we do not (thus, the close-ups on objects as Holmes enters a room and we can almost see the electricity flashing through his brain as he unweaves a web of causality) and deduces. When he announces the facts to the incredulous, they doubt. Then he explains – pulling back the curtains on a Vegas magic show, an extravaganza of lights and action and ta-dah! – and they gasp slack-jawed and know he’s right. And – from Sherlock to Scooby Do — we love it because we like intricacy and puzzles and cleverness.

But this Sherlock, upon seeing the cab at the restaurant, chasing the cab and finding the wrong guy, didn’t see the answer before him in the front seat [spoiler but not really]. And when Watson traced the phone and it was in the house (hello, horror film trope) and the housekeeper announced the cabbie who was there on the stairs in shadowed, lurking threat, Sherlock became the character in a slasher film at whom we yell, “The killer is behind the door” and slap our foreheads when she ignores us and gets skewered.

It was obvious to us and hidden to Holmes. But in a true Sherlock story, Holmes uncovers what is hidden to us but obvious to him.  We never say ‘duh’ to Holmes.

(what’s the fan fiction for Holmes? Maybe an oleaginous affair between Jeremy Brett’s Holmes and David Suchet’s Poirot?)

Originally posted Dec 14, 2010

3 comments

Nick Glossop on December 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm. #

I don’t mind if they give Holmes an occasional blind spot or weakness. What most needs fixing in this series is the character or Professor Moriarty. They could not have picked a duller option than the generic power suit they have occupying that role right now. Also the whole love-struck lab assistant schtick must go; those were weak weak scenes.

Tony Longworth on December 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm. #

‘Sherlock’ was resolutely the best new show of 2010 for me. That said, I do have an issue with the fact that Holmes doesn’t actually solve any crime in the first episode. The criminal, basically, turns himself in.

Also, I’m forced to agree with Nick, Moriarty was a terrible piece of casting. I appreciate that they reinvented the character as younger, but the actor failed to give a compelling performance in a pivotal role.

Malcolm Parker on December 15, 2010 at 5:41 pm. #

It’s not a character flaw (Holmes is a drug addict, a pretty major flaw – too bad they didn’t make him a raving junkie) or a change in character that irks me : they could make Holmes a mulletted lesbian with a nun fetish and I don’t care. What they can’t do is make us smarter than him. It’s a structural thing, not a character thing.

Moriarty as a civil servant guy? Makes perfect British sense to me with the over-patrolled state they have but, really, he should have been a banker.