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Sherlock Season Four Reviews and Recommendations

BBC Sherlock looking dazed, confused and fearful with blurry John Watson and Mycroft Holmes in the background

First Brexit, then Trump and now Series 4. Will the nightmare never stop?

Not having seen all of BBC Sherlock Series 4 (life is too short, especially at my age, and we really should reduce the amount of bad and horrible images and trash we lock into our brains and fill it with good things) and having too many serious issues to focus on at the moment (You see, Humans, this is why we can’t have nice things! We forget Why we aren’t suffering from economic collapse, terrorizing regimes, world wars, and disfiguring, disabling diseases like polio and suddenly think “Oh, the Great Depression, WWII, the McCarthy Era and near nuclear annihilation during the Cold War sounded like jolly times of camaraderie (especially if you were a straight, white male), and weren’t Thatcher and Reagan such lovely parental figures taking such good care of all of us and creating perpetual homelessness to allow us to say at least we aren’t homeless?”). So instead I’m providing links to an excellent review of Sherlock Series/Season 4 by Vox (which brings up several points I’ve been making since S3 Episode 3 at the least (okay, I’ve been complaining since Irene Adler in series 2, but the series didn’t completely derail until S3 E3)) and a compilation of reviews by various press:

(for those who didn’t click on the highlighted links above and want the links spelled out for them)

Seriously, you have to be white, privileged and probably male to say in 2015-2016, “Hey, the world is becoming a really scary place for those poor peasants who don’t have a lot of money. I think we should stop writing bright, witty, fun scripts with a sense that all people have some control over their lives and write dark, nasty, self-referential and self-applauding cynical scripts showing the non-wealthy — and psychopathic — that they are just mice to be toyed with by the fat cats.” Hey, Mofftiss, did you miss the history lecture where it was explained that Oswald Mosley and his buddies were wrong? Women are competent, capable humans without being whores, psychopathic killers, psychotic, camp followers, or submissive supporters. People of color and other ethnicities are not just tokens or excluded from positions of power. And a sense of personal control or ability to alter one’s environment, however slight, is a key aspect to successful human societies, and not just sentimental claptrap of unsophisticated and not cool. Cynicism doesn’t make you cool, sensitive awareness to your environment makes you cool.

This is why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series is enduring; intelligence, knowledge and persistence pushes back the darkness of ignorance, brutality and privilege. There’s a reason why Vanity Fair (subtitled “A Novel without a Hero” is a darling of the academic classes, but not as universally beloved as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or even Hound of the Baskervilles. Hell, it’s the reason why A Christmas Carol is more popular than Bleak House! (Why look. She apparently did read the classics and the literary critiques and yet still likes good television. How odd.)  Soap opera has it’s place, but inspiration is enduring.

Look, a bit of side history that folks have apparently forgotten. “Star Wars” didn’t  remain in the movie theaters for over a year and change the course of film history because the writing, directing and acting were so scathingly brilliant. You have to look at the times and the other movies that preceded it. By the mid-70’s much of the U.S., Britain and Europe were in the throws of declining economies, oil shortages, layoffs, inflation, rising crime and drug use, urban decay, and pretty bleak times. Movies were pretty bleak: Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, The Omen, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Robin and Marion, The Shootist, The Enforcer, Silver Streak (even the comedies were “life sucks and then you die”). There is a reason why Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture for 1976 that year! I mean, how do you choose among so many depressingly, gloomy alternatives?  I mean seriously. We were ready for something positive! The year before Robert Mitchum is cutting off his finger in “The Yakuza” and that’s considered a positive outcome! On television we’re watching M.A.S.H. show us the insanity of war and laughing through our tears.

And after years of this relentless gloom and doom parade comes “Star Wars!” (it was — and remains — “Star Wars,” people. That’s what my poster says, that’s what my VHS tape says, that’s what my pre-release poster says. It ain’t “Star Wars: A New Hope.” It’s “Star Wars”. Thank you.) A movie that says that a “farm boy,” ne’er-do-well outlaw with a good heart, and an intelligent and plucky princess can make a difference against all odds (and remember “Rocky” won Best Picture just before the release of “Star Wars”…seeing a pattern?). We all went mad. Multiplexes showed it on as many screen as possible, and the lines still went around the mall to buy tickets eight hours in advance of the midnight showings that were tacked onto the schedule on weekends — six weeks AFTER it was released! In dark periods we don’t need — or want — more dystopian stories, we want stories of hope and a sense of personal agency (preferably without too much treacle).

“Star Wars” has endured because we go back to well-crafted stories of heroism and heroic journeys (surely Moffatt or Gatiss studied Campbell at Uni, didn’t they?). Yes, “The Empire Strikes Back” has better direction and cinematography (okay, the best), but we want and need our heroes to learn and triumph — and work for heroic causes!

In Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes did not work out of greed or personal gain (except the pleasure derived from solving complex and interesting puzzles). He worked to increase knowledge (his own and ultimately general knowledge, hence, the monographs) and for justice. Mofftiss forgot this (or never noticed) along the way and present us not with an eccentric hero but with a self-absorbed “lad” (“frat boy” for U.S. readers) looking to stave off boredom and show off.

And just to remind us, I’ve found a couple of fan videos to “Holding Out for a Hero” (FYI, anyone who has links to some of the original ones from the 80’s and early 90’s, especially the mixed fandom ones, that used to show up at MediaWest*Con until you nearly went made from the song ear worm, please post the links below. Thank you!):

(I threw The Avengers in for Heidi and because I like the original Bonnie Tyler version of the song as well.)

Okay, I’ll will now make a noise like a hoop and roll away (the birds and wildlife are having trouble finding enough food in the 6″ of snow out back). Some day I’ll get back to my stack of Sherlock Holmes pastiche novels to review…

BBC sherlock Inspector Lestrade peering around corner tensely

I hope that’s a psychopathic serial killer around the corner and not Mofftiss with a Series 5 script.

 

Sherlock: His Last (Abominable) Season

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes looking shocked and horrified with hands covering mouth and nose

Oh, the humanity… Honest, it’s just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage.”

Some folks have asked if I’m planning to review Season 4 of the BBC’s Sherlock.  the caption above is a quote from the Hindenburg Disaster broadcast. I thought it appropriate…  I’m going to borrow from a comment I just posted on the Timey-Wimey-Wibbly-Wobbly post:

I haven’t seen Season 4. I have not even read any fan reviews, though a friend did tell me she was underwhelmed and confirmed two of my guesses as to what happened in episode 1. I do have a recording of the episode, but I’ve not been inclined to watch it given the condition of the world right now (including the Brexit and U.S. election votes). I suspect this will be the last season until Freeman and Cumberbatch decide they need the money and some suit at BBC wises up. Though by then, there will probably not be a PBS broadcasting in the U.S. any longer and any corporate suit who is looking for a surefire nostalgia success will want to reboot with younger actors.

You’d think Moftiss would realize that what people really want is the Hope that the original Sherlock Holmes stories brought, that smart, good individuals did exist, cared, and could bring about justice for even the poor. We can already see the stupid, cruel, and rich crushing the middle- and poorer-classes while making an obscene gesture to the altruistic and enlightened concepts like “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, as the old Superman TV series put it. Though, in fact, it was also the British Way first.

Yes, I am depressed and despondent over the political and social climate, and the descent of Sherlock into soap opera Shock schlock. In our unenlightened, racing-to-the-Dark-Ages, post-fact, (i.e. stupid and ignorant) society we’ve also devolved into a brutish, cloddish, crude, rude, adolescent male, post-taste culture, if it can be called “culture” except in the social science sense.

As for my review of Season 4, I’ll copy my comment in the You’re Disappointed With Me post on the Season 4 pre-release Christmas episode:

I confess I’m not certain I’m going to bother with my review of “The Abominable Bride” because it was so…abominable. The short review is that Moftiss have made it clear that they are no longer interested in doing what made “A Study in Pink” such phenomenal television and storytelling, capturing the spirit of the original Sherlock Holmes stories while updating them to contemporary mindsets and technologies. This is too bad because the first half presented a lovely re-creation of the Gothic story still in vogue in Victorian England about the time Sherlock Holmes first appeared. Alas, Abominable Bride was a very unfortunate look into the Medieval Gothic minds of Moftiss while using the formula of Dr. Who. As the friend I was watching it with said, “I liked the first half when it was spooky Sherlock Holmes and then it just became this excuse to explain away everything that happened in the first half by making it all a dream, or rather a drug-induced hallucination. All the clever lines and bits were int he first half.”

Which, as some know, is my complaint with Dr. Who where something is set up in the first half and the second half is just emotional manipulation before coming up with a timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly “solution” to the problem (often involving a likable character’s not-real or temporary “death” — and Sherlock has now “died” at least 3 times). My friend later sent me a link to a Tumblr(?) post arguing that the symbolism in Sherlock’s “Mind Palace” sequences explains away everything else, including the sexism inherent in the episode, as being not real and simply representing Sherlock’s own messed up interior perceptions. I replied with a link to a review that stated that the “mansplaining” (a really horrible term for so many reasons) wasn’t the most abominable thing about “The Abominable Bride.”

Both Moffat and Gatiss have stated that they don’t feel that Sherlock is about re-telling the original stories or even solving mysteries, but about the characters, thus freeing them to do whatever they wish. Unfortunately, what they wish is not to tell good, let alone great, stories but to show how clever they are at manipulating plots and pandering to the interest of a small group of people. And by pandering, I’m talking about repeating things that were fresh and popular before, such as Andrew Scott’s Moriarty, the little boy from “Sign of Three”, Janine, the cute-meet of Holmes and the riding crop, the cruel banter relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock, Mrs. Hudson complaining, Molly Hooper, Mary Holmes being smarter than her husband, and so forth. Rather than put their minds to it and work to create something fresh, they simply repeat what was popular before as they do on Dr. Who. (And yet, when they do bother to create something fresh and entertaining on Dr. Who, it becomes a big hit…whereupon it is usually done to death in subsequent episodes… This is called hack writing.)

I didn’t bother to go see “The Abominable Bride” on the big screen and even though I have a DVD with the aired episode, I haven’t watched it again, and doubt I ever will.

Though, if I thought it would help return Sherlock to its original genius, I’d consider donning a tasteless purple Klu Klux Klan outfit and, for no apparent rational reason, meet “secretly” with other fans at an abandoned, de-sanctified church lit by bonfires viewable throughout the countryside in the wee hours chanting nonsense words (rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb). It says something when I found the psychopathic young woman pretending to be an abducted child episode of “Elementary” not only more faithful to the spirit of Sherlock Holmes but more enjoyable (even with the unnecessary Watson soap opera subplot).

Oh, and I used to do reviews back in the 90’s of a couple of other shows in the voice similar to the one used by “Joe Bob Briggs.” Mofftiss should be glad I’m no longer using that voice to show my disdain for condescending to their audiences. 😉

I’m still working my way up to some reviews of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche novels I‘ve been reading, but work and life have been getting in the way. And to be honest, what’s happened with BBC Sherlock, Elementary and the news of a re-boot of the Robert Downey, Jr.-Jude law version (something completely unnecessary except for greed and the short attention span of much of today’s audience), combined with some of the appalling fiction using characters named “sherlock” and “Watson” but bearing no understandable connection to Doyle’s creations, has left me disinclined to spend much effort on the site. Sorry about that. Perhaps I’ll feel better after I get through re-reading the Canon this year.

I do wish you a New Year filled with Peace, Prosperity, Joy, Good Health, Happiness, and some stimulating puzzles to solve.

An Apology to Steven Moffat and What Sherlock Holmes Has In Common With Jane Austen and Henry James

Was that an actual apology?

Was that an actual apology?

I owe Steven Moffat an apology. I may have been wrong about Dr. Who. I was talking with a friend about the season opener, introducing Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and a piece I’d read by a Dr. Who fan complaining about the previous Christmas Special with David Tennant, Matt Smith, and John Hurt. My friend, a devoted Dr. Who fan, rejected my complaints about “Deep Breath,” and other recent episodes, being an amalgamation of popular Whovian plot devices and tropes assembled Lego-block fashion into a formulaic structure (And what does this have to do with BBC Sherlock, you ask? Patience. It’s going to connect in a moment.).

My friend then explained that this was what the Whovian fans expected, what they wanted — something familiar, something they recognize, with just enough difference to make it new. It was then I had an epiphany; Dr. Who fans were like category genre readers, or even Marvel Comics movie fans, wanting the comfort of  consistency — a recognizable structure, core characters, style and certain established tropes. I owe Mr. Moffat and apology for my critiques that his scripts and production for Dr. Who were hackneyed; the very things that I criticized in the series were, in fact, essential to the target audience for the series.

But the Dr. Who story structure is not the Sherlock Holmes story structure, which, given my criticisms with “A Scandal in Belgravia” and “His Last Vow,” makes the recent comments from Moffat and Gatiss even more frightening.

…Moffat said it is part of the overall appeal of the series: “An episode needs to be about something in their lives. It is not enough for it to be a mystery.”

Gatiss agreed, saying: “It is a series about a detective, it is not a detective series.”

— Quote from Digital Spy, Nov. 1, 2014

The truly ironic point missed by Mofftiss is that focusing on the personal lives of the characters is exactly what they’ve done with Elementary — and Castle and The Mysteries of Laura and, well, most every network detective or mystery show on the air. ELEMENTARY-liu-miller

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More Sherlock Season 4 Spoilers Reported

The International Business Times offers more spoilers for Sherlock Series/Season 4.  [Do I actually need a SPOILER ALERT here? Really? ] The article quotes Steven Moffat alluding to Moriarty’s returning as a major character and an increase in romance as well as more screen time for Molly and Mrs. Hudson.

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A Scandal in Baker Street, CAM

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes looking out the Baker Street window with Martin Freeman as John Watson

Those women appear to be protesting. John, what exactly is a “male chauvinist pig?”

The Daily Dot has a piece on the growing concerns among a some Sherlock fans that the apparent sexism and misogyny of Steven Moffat ,expressed in various interviews and certain Dr. Who scripts, has taken root in BBC’s Sherlock series, particularly in the ending of “His Last Vow” in Series/Season 3. Now I’ve expressed my sense that Sherlock has been morphed into The Doctor in my Series/Season 3 rant review, however, I’d avoided publicly airing my earlier concerns about the show’s portrayal of key women from the original Canon. So since I’m burning bridges, let’s go ahead and discuss some issues with the women in Sherlock.

[Oh, and do I really have to say SPOILER ALERT?]

The Daily Dot notes:

What has some fans angry is that Sherlock’s interpretation of Milverton’s death completely removes the agency and power of the female character in the original story. An unfortunate occurrence that neatly fits in with Moffat’s track record with female characters in both Doctor Who and Sherlock.

“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” is one of the very few examples in Victorian-era Holmes canon where a female character takes practical action on her own behalf, while Holmes and Watson technically fail to solve the case. Milverton, like Sherlock’s Magnussen, is a foe so powerful that it’s virtually impossible to defeat him using Holmes’ usual methods, which is why the story has to end with Milverton’s death. The final scene of the short story is Holmes identifying Milverton’s killer, but tacitly agreeing with Watson to let her get away with the murder because Milverton was such a loathsome figure.

If Moffat and Gatiss had simply said they wanted Sherlock to kill Magnussen because it was a more interesting story for him as a character, or because it provided an exciting development to lead into the next season, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But the fact that they seemingly couldn’t believe that a woman defeated Milverton only exacerbates their problems with Sherlock fans who already take issue with the way women are portrayed in the show. Links to the interview are already spreading on social media…

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You’re Disappointed In Me — Sherlock Series 3 Review

…don’t waste your time and ours hooting at crap! Go after the good stuff, or leave it alone.”

— Daniel C. Dennet, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, “Sturgeon’s Law”

You're not the only one depressed right now, Sherlock.

You’re not the only one depressed right now, Sherlock.

Because Sherlock is not (was not?) “crap,” I am compelled to share this review, even though I know it won’t make any difference in what is going to happen in Series 4 and 5. I feel in all fairness, though, I must warn you, that, in the words of the divine Miss Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

First, before I go any further, let me say that even though my comments on episodes 1 and 2 are brief, it’s not due to lack of appreciation. I have not had television reception for 13 years, but purchased both a wide-screen plasma TV and installed minimal cable just to watch the episodes, and then held rather elaborate Sherlock Series/Season 3 parties for the event. I do not regret a penny spent. Sherlock Series/Season 3 Episodes 1 and 2 were incomparably wonderful, nonpareil storytelling in an expanding Sahara of television.

We’ll get to episode 3.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO DON’T REALIZE A REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS

“The Empty Hearse”

I thought “The Empty Hearse” was a brilliant send up of all the post-Reichenbach Fall hysteria, in the original meaning of the word,  which was very reminiscent of the reaction of the reading public when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.” (By the way, Holmes first fans had to wait 10 years for his return.) It was witty, thought provoking, and gave fans some much needed catharsis, as well as poking a bit of biting fun at the excesses it skewers. There was plenty of angst, but there was a great deal of good natured fun with the characters, and just enough mystery and deduction to  make it an actual Sherlock Holmes story, and not simply an homage to fan fiction.  (People forget that “The Empty House” also focused more on Holmes’ return then on the mystery.) Hearse, however, is not necessarily comfortable viewing for those who don’t like facing a bit of self-examination or non-traditional television. And not particularly satisfying, or undertandable, for “mundanes,” i.e., non-fans. But then freshness and originality is what made Sherlock such a success!

“Somebody loves you! If I had to punch that face, I’d avoid the nose and teeth too.”

—Irene Adler, Sherlock, “Scandal in Belgravia”

Fans of the series got John not just punching Sherlock in the face, but fans of the Canon got a nod to the John Watson originally fainting, when Sherlock reveals himself, in Freeman’s masterful performance of a man willing himself to stay standing and conscious. The acting was, if anything, even better than the previous episodes, and I was struggling for some decorum while inwardly bubbling at Benedict Cumberbatch getting to show off his comedic chops (little did I know then what was to come).

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Holmes and Watson: The Adventure of the Iconic Relationship

The following is a little (“Sarcasm?” “Yes.”) monograph on the philosophy of friendship. Apparently, I was channeling Sherlock Holmes (although my inner-Watson felt the need for a little levity). So I suppose I should put an academic warning on this…
Martin Freeman as John Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes sitting on a bench

Is the enduring appeal of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in their complete friendship?

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet it’s doubtful he realized that he was creating one of the most iconic relationships in literature. With adaptations of the characters appearing onscreen and in print at a near geometric pace, in everything period pastiches to openly labeled alternate universes, Holmes and Watson have replaced David and Jonathan in the 21st Century as a shorthand reference to an everlasting and extraordinarily close friendship. But what makes the friendship so appealing that a hundred years later we are still fascinated with them? How do they epitomize the philosophic ideal of friendship? And what, if anything, do the permutations of the relationship and the characters say about the culture in which they were created and re-created?

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Telegrams, Sherlock.

“Only they’re not really telegrams.” — Sherlock Holmes, Sign of Three

Very brief post to a couple of terrific articles you might like. The first comes from Wired Magazine where the geeks have created a list of all the “shout outs and references you missed” in The Empty Hearse. (And yes, I did miss a couple, so I guess I’ll just have to watch it again. Darn. “Saracasm.” “Yes.” )

Rolling Stone Magazine has a nice piece on “How ‘Sherlock’ Made Holmes Sexy Again” (showing that either Rolling Stone has finally started hiring women, is comfortable in its masculinity, or as decided to “pander” to a wider audience than it did in the 20th Century when sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, and misogyny ruled the editorial board). They’ve also got a linked piece on why Benedict Cumberbatch is “The Bitchiest Holmes Ever” (not my word choice, dearhearts).

Must go. Work, work, work. “How dull.” So true, Sherlock, so true.

Laterz!

 

That Bit of Rug Still Shows Some Sign of Three

Just a few quick notes and links. For some really spiffy ones, you might want to check out Anne Zanoni’s Airel’s Miscellany… a la Sherlock and there’s a new site filled with informational resources (growing by leaps and bounds and the sleeplessness of its author) called Guide to Sherlock Episodes and Characters by Barbara Warne.

Word of Warning If You Are Viewing “Sign of Three” For the First Time This Weekend

To avoid choking or spewing, I recommend that first-time viewers NOT drink any beverages during the episodes. Seriously. Each time you think you are going to be safe to take that big gulp, you’re at risk of having things go down the wrong pipe or be shockingly ejected in a wide dispersal pattern (I believe I have found and cleaned everything from the party at this point, although the micro fleece afghan may never be the same. I’m so glad I served champagne and not the red wine!)

While I’m curtailing my Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes fannish spending to optimize my U.K. Invasion funding (%%$%#$$#%  Taxes!), I suspect the nerd and geek in me will not be able to avoid buying the  Sherlock App for my iPad.  There’s a full review and details on Sherlockology here. Who wouldn’t want to be part of Sherlock’s “Homeless Network?” I mean you never know when you might be called upon to help stage a fake suicide, right? But even more exciting is that there are supposedly 10 new mysteries that you get to solve. Alright, Alright, I confess. They got me with the news that there will be some exclusive new footage of Cumberbatch and Freeman as Sherlock and John included as well. The app is a joint venture of The Project Factory and Hartswood Films and should be available now from your UK App store. Supposedly an international and Android release are coming. (You know, it would really be lovely if corporations grasped the fact that these days things need to be released world-wide at the same time because we are connected world-wide and that not doing so only causes people to have to fake IP addresses and engage in behaviours they ordinarily wouldn’t. Just saying…)

And finally, here’s a charming video from CBS about the lasting power of Sherlock Holmes with some nice shots from the Atlantic Sherlock Holmes Convention, some historic footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and some lovely interview bits with Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller from Elementary — oh, and a brief segment on all the naked Sherlock Holmes of late (that got your attention, didn’t it?).

 

 

 

If Someone Could Move Watson’s Glass Slightly Out of Reach That Would Be Lovely

5136753-low-sherlock-6442890Horribly depressed, And it’s not just the champers. Or the Seasonal Affected Disorder. (Are we ever going to have sunshine again?) All the papers are raving about “His Last Vow,” calling it the “perfect” ending for the series. I think the shark has been jumped. I think we’re seeing the Dr. Who plot formula migrating to Sherlock, complete with inchoate plot lines and schizophrenic characters and a general assumption that all the viewers suffer from short-term, and definitely long-term (assuming you consider 4 years long term), memory loss. Weeping angels are a hit. So let’s have more weeping angels.  Someone blinked. Alas, I can’t. Am going to finish the bottle of champagne from the Sherlock Party on Sunday and curl up with a good book (perhaps The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and try not to think about all the many plot holes, continuity issues, and cheap pandering in “His Last Vow.” Maybe I”ll watch “Sign of Three” or “The Empty Hearse” again. Those were good. Perhaps I can treat “His Last Vow” like the Star Wars Prequels and just ignore it.

I’ll have so more champers and maybe I can kill enough brain cells to watch Vow again without a running commentary of the plot problems… or maybe I could drink enough champers to become a Romanticist and not care about the plot and character problems… No. There’s not enough champers in France and California combined for that.