Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1

Sherlock Series 3

Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have returned after a too long Sherlock hiatus. Like all Sherlock fans I was eager to learn how on earth Sherlock survived. My book club read “The Empty House” this month in honor of Sherlock’s return and I’ve got some thoughts on that here.

PBS has a thorough synopsis here so I won’t offer one. I will have spoilers so watch the episode first online if you can.

I did like the parallels I noticed in the modern “The Empty Hearse” episode. While in the original, Sherlock doesn’t fall all the way down the falls and his death is faked, there’s a modern equivalent solution. This modern fall was also faked for the same reason: Moriarty and his cronies had to see Sherlock was dead. The screenwriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss accomplish this with a plot wherein Molly Hooper gets Sherlock a body to use to replace his corpse and a set up of 13 eventualities that have Watson’s view obstructed and manipulated. It’s clever and does work.

In the original story in which Roger Adair is murdered in a room that seems to not have been entered by an murderer. In the television show the screenwriter replaces the unentered room with a subway car that is entered but mysteriously exited. The last train leaves one station with a sole passenger, but that man has disappeared by the next stop. Quite clever.

I was delighted to see Sherlock, Watson, Molly, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson again. I welcome Mary, whom Watson is going to marry, as he was in the originals. However, there was one odd point in the story when she’s teasing John about shaving his mustache, which is just awful. The actress seems to take on Moriarty’s tics as she teases. It’s a bit odd and I blame the director – and I suppose the writer too.  I’d like to see Mary have her own career rather than just being Dr. Watson‘s assistant. It is 2013 after all. If John had the wherewithal to set up a practice and is bored with his work, he would have had the energy to date, maybe not the first year after Sherlock died, but later. So give him a girlfriend with her own profession.

I didn’t buy how Anderson, the forensic specialist who dislikes Sherlock, now has become a scraggly fan who leads a Sherlock groupies in conspiracy theory meetings. Also, I miss Moriarty. There will be a new villain, but Jim Moriarty was perfectly despicable and two seasons wasn’t enough.

I wish there was more time given to solving the crime and developing the character of this turncoat terrorist. He didn’t get so much as a line of dialog. A lot of time that was spent on jokes that winked at the fans could have been sacrificed to flesh out the criminal.

The scene on the subway when Sherlock and John must defuse the bomb was tense, but it whimpered at the end when Sherlock saved the day by simply flipping the off switch. Too far fetched for me.

elementary

As a Sherlock Holmes fan and a big admirer of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s hard not to view Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu skeptically. Well, they and all the production staff are adults and they must, one would think, know what they were getting into, so I make no apologies. I did tune in, right? What more could they ask?

Alright so the show opens with a slick, choreographed attack and murder in progress, before it cuts to Joan Watson, former surgeon, now a babysitter for addicts, getting a call from the treatment center where her new client, Sherlock Holmes was staying. He’s escaped, one day early.

Why bother if it’s just one day? Indeed. This Sherlock later explains he was bored. Seems that rehab and the group sessions would have been boring from the beginning. I guess the writers thought this was clever. I thought – hackneyed, obvious Hollywood trope.

Joan and Sherlock get acquainted as she follows him around resuming his police consulting work in New York. Highly improbable, you say. Why would they let a consultant work on a case? Indeed. Well, Sherlock is acquainted with Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) who has no problem working with Sherlock. In fact, he’s pretty impressed by him. (These writers don’t understand the power of conflict.) One of the guys collecting evidence does balk at this Brit’s contribution, but he’s quickly silenced and ignored. Opportunity squandered. If the writers saw Sherlock, they’d learn something.

So Joan lives with Holmes in his father’s most shoddy brownstone with wood floors and nice moulding. She’s an addiction companion or some such thing and predictably, they don’t take to each other. She’s got a secret reason for leaving medicine and you don’t have to be a genius to deduce that she killed a patient. Holmes does get more from her parking ticket, Google (yes, Google)  and her demeanor. She supposedly accidentally killed a poor person who’s buried in a potter’s field. Joan’s rather cold and humdrum so I didn’t really care.

The problem with Elementary, which for me ties with the poor Robert Downey Jr film, is that while they throw in some quirks and references to Arthur Conan Doyle‘s characters and stories, the series is in inept hands. I wasn’t wowed with Holmes’ ability to deduce because his conclusions seemed contrived or obvious. I stopped caring about the murder.

Holmes discounts the husband as the killer and they interview an acquaintance. The scene was ho hum, but the duo learn that the victim had plastic surgery.  We never hear the second suspect speak, another opportunity lost. Finding out through exposition, that he was a troubled rage-oholic guilty of attacking redheads, didn’t captivate as exposition usually doesn’t. By the time we find out who the killer was, I was tired of this Holmes who foolishly smashed the prime suspect’s car so he could get imprisoned. That wasn’t eccentric, it was foolish.

Contrivance piled upon contrivance and the writers’ lack wit so the attempts at humor all failed me. Elementary follows the party-line of CBS shows’ formula to the letter learning nothing from Sherlock or the equally brilliant Luther.  I tried to rewatch to make better notes for this post, but it’s ghastly and I really couldn’t.

If you do stick with the series, my money’s on the writers forcing the duo into becoming a couple. Liu brings nothing to the role, neither does Quinn, though I grant both have little in the script to work with. Miller is miles behind Cumberbatch, but since I saw him and liked him in Frankenstein, I think with better writers, he could be a decent, different kind of Holmes. It’s doubtful we’ll see that.

Elementary reminded me why I watch so few programs on CBS. They’re all slick and flashy with anemic stories. No one at CBS seems to understand that the ante has been upped by the BBC.
Tonight I’ll watch my Sherlock  DVDs or maybe an Outnumbered.

Frankenstein

If it weren’t for Theater Mania’s email offering 20% off tickets, I’d have never known that the National Theater Live was broadcasting Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Evanston. What Sherlock fan could pass up the deal?

The acting, sets and costumes were all outstanding. Last night we saw Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Dr. Frankenstein.  I’d caught bits and pieces of old Frankenstein films, which gave me an idea of what to expect. However, I didn’t know the movies departed from Mary Shelley‘s book.

Now I know why.

Despite a stellar performance by Cumberbatch and creative staging, the story fell short of what I’d expected.

Just after birth

The play opened with a scene, a protracted scene, of the Creature’s birth masterfully performed by Cumberbatch, yet the scene dragged. After a while, I was thinking, “We get it, the Creature’s gawky and learning to walk is a clumsy, long process. Can you please move on?” How I wished the director had made that more succinct. I also wondered why Frankenstein hadn’t heard all the banging about his creature was doing. Why did it take him so long to get into the lab to see what the hell was going on? We’re later told that Frankenstein was a workaholic, obsessed with his work. Well, not that night.

Once the creature’s born and walking, Frankenstein discovers him and he freaks out. As a result of Frankenstein’s screaming rejection, the Creature hits the road. Mind you all he’s wearing is a loin cloth and he knows nothing of life. He can barely walk and has no knowledge of language.  He has no concept of geography, what a town or street is, what buying or begging is. Nothing at all. Nada.

After a minor run in with some scamps, the Creature meets an old man who’s blind and thus accepting. The man teaches the Creature to read and think critically. Pretty far fetched since a baby needs to hear language for years before talking let alone reading Paradise Lost passages. Yeah, I don’t blame the B movie directors for departing from this story.

While under the tutelage of the blind man, the Creature hides in the shadows fearing rejection and abuse from anyone who can see him.

Life is fine, though limited till the old man’s son and daughter-in-law panic when they first see the Creature. The man was so set on integrating the Creature into his family, yet didn’t have the sense to prepare them for this meeting. He’d been working with the Creature for a long, long time.

If he thought the Creature was hideous, why didn’t he scrap the project and start anew after taking some sewing and art lessons?

Throughout the play the Creature is a gawky biped with gruesome scars and bruises that never heal. It’s like Frankenstein sewed the Creature with his feet. I never understood how Frankenstein, who designed and made the creature was so repulsed.

The play deals (ineptly, I’d say) with themes of responsibility, connection, alienation, prejudice, but it’s all done with the sophistication of an 19 year old. I’m far less impressed with Shelley’s stature as a novelist if this is indeed the accurate retelling the play claims to be.

Frankenstein was the typical one dimensional scientist who’s anti-social and uncomfortable in society. He’s okay with theory, but horrible with real life. For some reason, his fiance is madly in love with him and keeps trying to get blood from the rock-like heart of this nerd dressed in ruffles.

The cost of Frankenstein’s misuse of science is death, several deaths.

While the play will be performed again in July with Cumberbatch and Miller changing roles, I couldn’t sit through the story again. I’m sure Cumberbatch would do an excellent job as Frankenstein, yet he’s limited by the poor story.

It’s weird to see so much good in a production and yet not be able to whole heartedly recommend it. I’d even give the set designers and actors awards, but I wouldn’t want to sit through this again.

The Last Enemy

With Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch, Masterpiece Contemporary‘s mini series The Last Enemy was chilling and suspenseful. When Steven Ezard’s NGO activist brother dies, the aloof mathematician returns to London for the funeral. For years he’s been working in China where no one can bother him.* He doesn’t recognize this “new” London with its national id‘s and tight, high tech security. Within hours of his arrival he’s swept up into intrigue. Steven soon becomes intrigued and then smitten with his brother’s wife Yasim, a doctor who’s secretly caring for an wanted woman who’s dying of a mysterious disease.

When Yasim disappears, Steve agrees to act as a spokesperson for a security system the government wants to implement, Total Information Awareness (TIA). TIA makes Orwell’s Big Brother look like child’s play. This insidious system can tell the government everything you’ve done, everywhere you’ve gone, everything you’ve bought, considered buying, you name it. By talking up TIA, Steven gets handsomely paid and gains access to everyone’s intimate data so he can track down Yasim. Of course, more nefarious characters want to track her down and to keep Steven in their pocket. Once he proves to be less docile than they figured, he becomes a target.

The mini-series kept me on the edge of my seat and really made me want to live off the grid. If that’s possible . . . yes, national i.d. and more efficient data aggregation has it’s dark side, a very dark side.

I liked that this dystopia didn’t look grungy and decrepit. It looked real, which is how I think it will look if we come to that. Good performances by the whole cast.