Dear Elementary Writers,

The Insominac's Choice Award

The Insominac’s Choice Award

Goodness gracious, where to start?

I saw Elementary when it debuted and admittedly expected it to be bad, but was surprised that your new Sherlock Holmes show was actually boring.

I figured you just needed time to better understand the genre and how to write a good script. I realize it’s hard to compete with the excellence of Sherlock and sympathize with you. Talk about pressure. Yet you are handsomely paid, so my sympathy’s short lived.

Last Thursday I tuned in again believing you had enough time to improve the show. I saw an episode called “M” and expected rightly that Moriarty would be involved.

Boy, was I disappointed.

Like the first 1.3 episodes I saw in the fall, the story opened with a murder. The scene had a weird tone as my guess is that the vibe on screen is nothing like what a real murder would be like and it wasn’t like the usual (and better) murders shown on TV.  The beginning was rather boring and odd.

Next Sherlock appears and doesn’t deduce what happened and why there’s a pool of blood on the floor of the crime scene, he remembers a previous crime with the same pattern. Yep, Sherlock Holmes just remembered to figure out the case. Do you realize we don’t watch Sherlock to see how average thinkers solve crimes we watch to be bowled over by his astute thinking. Can someone on staff make note of that?

All the while Watson prepares to tie up her assignment. She’s feeling rather sad to be going as she confides to her shrink, who’s remarkably wooden. Only this lifeless Watson would continue to see such a cold shrink. Writers, your homework is to watch some good psychologists like Paul or Gina on In Treatment or the guy from Numb3rs now on Newsroom. Even Bob Newhart might inspire you. Psychologists can have personalities and be objective.

Joan Watson’s shrink suggests she go into police work if she enjoys it so much, but Joan rejects that sensible suggestion for no reason. She really doesn’t appear to be in love with Sherlock because she displays no emotion vaguely akin to love.

There was some mention of Irene Adler in exposition, but Irene evidently died (missed opportunity early on in a season). Granted, I missed that episode or the episode when it was revealed but present this with some drama so I CARE.

Then you had “M” plant a letter in Sherlock’s apartment. Ho hum. There’s a little tension here, but it’s minimal. We didn’t see it done. We don’t see “M” at all just his henchman. Joan gets annoyed when she learns that Holmes has cameras in his own house. Yes, he could have told her, but they weren’t in her room and she is a hired gun. Get over it. There are no real tests of trust the way we see throughout Sherlock. Minor sniping and irritation doesn’t count.

Perhaps you should steer clear (or steal) the elements that work so well in the hands of Moffat and Gatiss.

Eventually, the murderer acts again, but Sherlock intervenes. He somehow transports this hulking man to an abandoned warehouse that his father owns. How did he manage? Did he rent a car? Does he even drive? Oh, yeah, he smashed that suspect’s car in the first episode, if that counts as driving. How would Sherlock, who’s no muscle man, manage to hang such a muscular, brawny chap up by himself? Actually, the episode was too boring for me to really want to know.

In fact, I often considered changing channels and probably should have. You have not earned my attention.

Well, Joan and the Inspector do find Sherlock just after he’s learned from his victim that this guy is simply a hit man, that Moriarty, like the one on Sherlock does his work by proxy.

During the episode we saw Joan ask Sherlock’s father to extend her time with him. I knew you’d have to somehow keep them connected since that was one of the weaknesses of your premise. She’s only supposed to work with him for a couple months. The father said no via a text and she then lied to Sherlock about that. She’s decided to stay on for free. Since there’s no chemistry between the two this just made me yawn. Strange since lies usually beef up a story.

Apparently, you’ve got reverse Midus‘ touch. You can take good characters and a popular genre, i.e. gold and make it into dust. Do you realize how lucky you are that enough American viewers require so little in terms of entertainment. You are blessed by the equally anemic writing on other Thursday night shows.

Sincerely,

SK

 

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.