Friday, October 19, 2012

In-Class Movie: "Child Predator" (S01E03)

“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identity.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Red-Headed League”

“In Just-
spring   when the world is mud--
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles  far   and wee”
--An except from e.e. cummings

Austin: Lately when I've been talking to people, they ask me about Elementary. They are daunted by the lengths of our blog posts and they want the short version. So here's the quick version of my thoughts: This is the best episode of the show. It is still quite bad. I believe it will continue to get better and worse at the same time.

This is the first episode not written by the creator and instantly there's a difference. Sherlock and Watson feel like people. Their relationship actually exists. There is ebb and flow. It's still not perfect, but they have at least acknowledged that Watson needs to serve a purpose. Right now she is a good listener. They still really need to give her a way to help with the mystery, but at least Sherlock likes having her around for a reason. I liked them doing squats together, I was amused by their first dialog together in the cold open and dammit Leigh, I laughed when Sherlock said "You, me, Agnus" at the end.

"How difficult is it to scrapbook, Sherlock" "It's Preschool, my dear Watson."

That said, the rest of the mystery is a complete and utter mess. The case is a bit odder, but still not worthy enough for Sherlock Holmes. They have a villain (a TV clichéd villain, but a villain) who is actively trying to make the case harder to solve which is key. But the quirky elements of the case (The goddamn balloons, the captor twist, avoiding public interviews) were all quirky for Law and Order, not Sherlock Holmes.

On Tuesday, we handled uber-quirky for Sherlock Holmes. Red-headed people being brought in to copy the encyclopedia all to distract people from the real crime. This is still just a standard and often very boring case. During a few moments, I was engaged thanks to Jonny Lee Miller. When Adam asked if he would be forgiven, Sherlock's answer is great. That was a really good (still obvious) moment.

But what the hell is going on for the rest of the story? A kidnapper steals children and leaves behind a bunch of Thank You balloons. He's been doing this for 7 years. This seems like a standard CSI episode. That's fine! Just take an episode premise like that and turn it on its head when you have Sherlock Holmes leading the investigation. Don't just plug in his character into the formula; have him run around the formula skipping steps and having fun.

At this point, the formula is really showing its problems. The cops serve no purpose. In fact, it's a major plot point that not being a cop is more effective. In a worthless scene of showing their large cop set, Sherlock begs Gregson to let him interrogate Adam. It ends with Sherlock saying he needs ten minutes. Gregson stands in the elevator and says "You get five!" as it closes. Dumb. But it's dumber when Sherlock starts his five minutes and nobody is even watching him. Gregson walks in during it which makes me ask 1) Why the hell did he even go to a different floor? II)  If you were so opposed to him interrogating your subject, why did you let him start without you?

I have many more plot holes that bugged me, but I can save those for later. My question for you Leigh is a big one. What does the show wanting to focus on? Is the Sherlock/Watson relationship their main focus or is it the mystery of the week? From this episode and your choice of the two, could the show be on the verge of improving or getting worse?

Leigh: This is definitely the best episode so far. I think it has finally reached the level of mediocrity that American viewers love. Criminal Minds, Bones, Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, all of these shows tell us that Americans love standard mildly interesting crime dramas.
There are so many cliché moments that I started counting them. Okay I didn’t but I did over-dramatically groaned when they happened. “You get 5 minutes,” an investigator lying about their past to get a suspect to talk, the suspect making a fatal mistake in the end. All of it is clichéd. I feel like if I were playing a drinking game using crime drama clichés, I would’ve been drunk about 1/3 of the way through. (Future note: Make a crime drama cliché drinking game.) While reading Holmes stories, we expect the unexpected. We want to be shocked and surprised. We want to be confused. We want Sherlock to make it all make sense in the end. These episodes so far have been none of these things. They are mediocre and this is not a compliment.
"Our drinking is the drinking game." "Drink!"

I think this show is trying to do too much and doesn’t know how to do it. Other shows have shown us that they can be about the mystery of the week and the character’s relationships. Elementary seems to be trying this but falling short. IT IS GETTING BETTER, before I get yelled at by everyone on the internet, BUT, it’s still falling short. Yes, the interactions with Watson and Holmes are better but I still don’t feel like Watson is needed. Holmes said in this episode that she is little better than a phrenology bust, in more words. He said in the past he used prostitutes to talk to. What makes Watson different? She’s getting paid to be there? –shrug- I got nothing else. She has a wealth of medical knowledge that isn’t used. I could tell that the huge scar on the guys back meant he had massive surgery. Thank you, Captain Obvious. She’s basically there to tell the audience what they can see for themselves or things they already know from watching a myriad of other crime dramas. Stockholm Syndrome is not an uncommon thing for crime dramas. Crime dramas, in fact, LOVE Stockholm Syndrome. Having Watson explain to the audience what Adam was experiencing just seemed like the writers realized she needed more dialog in this episode than what they had given her. And as a surgeon, why is she interested in psychology and past crimes? Why would she follow the Balloon Man (WORST NAME FOR A BAD GUY EVER) story unless she had some sort of connection with it? Make it a friend’s kid that was the second victim or something. Give her a reason to do the things she does!
So three episodes in and Watson is still terrible. Why don’t they fix her? What could they do to fix her? Also, Holmes’ dad has been mentioned in every episode. When can we expect him and who would your dream cast for him be? If you say anyone other than Stephen Fry, you’re wrong.

Austin: If the show made up its mind on what it wanted to be about, I would excuse it for the half its failing on. If it wants to be serious about the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, make that the focus and the mysteries secondary. If it wants to be a mystery show first, they really have to make the mysteries worthwhile. Them being this lazy with the mysteries is not acceptable if they consider the cases to be this important of a factor. It's not just that they are too familiar, but they are taking way too many story shortcuts.

The cops tell the parents about the dangerous deal to get back their daughter? The media is reporting on an immunity deal that isn't even signed yet? Lawyers are that dumb to create an immunity deal that quickly? Sherlock and Watson both happen to have been focused on this Balloon Boy case that he somehow couldn't solve all those years ago? The evidence that Sherlock is looking at in his box is just pictures?

They have to actually be able to tell a mystery. Once again we had an episode of Sherlock not being clever. There is never any setup for his reveals. They are essentially cheating. I'll let them have one wine bottle reveal every once in awhile, but nothing this regular. All of the clues for the affair weren't shown to the audience. We weren't given any information about the old cases. Even when he stayed up all night to find the Balloon Man, his clue (He works at night!) is magically solved off screen. Personally I would have focused on him regularly picking up doughnuts, asked Adam more about that and surveyed the area of who routinely picks up doughnuts in the area that fit the description. But then again, I'm no Holmes. 

This is just a bad mystery show. Terriers was a FANTASTIC show that did a great job with its mysteries of the week because it was a show that knew the genre very well and often surprised the audience by taking the less obvious path. As a show about these characters, I think there was serious progress this week where I actually found Watson to be a person and Liu's performance to be....dare I say it......better.

Oh and Richard E. Grant needs to play Sherlock's dad. Accept no substitutes. Don't believe me, watch Withnail and I immediately. 
One was in Doctor Who, the other is about to be in Doctor Who. That is a statement that applies to every British actor alive.

Leigh: I think the biggest plot hole that I had a problem with this episode was the FBI. Early in the episode, Sherlock mentions that the FBI was on a trail when they looked at the exterminator employees. Why didn’t the FBI show up again when there was another child missing? I don’t know if this is protocol but I do know that it is TV Police Drama protocol. That’s what happens. A serial killer starts killing again? A kidnapper starts kidnapping again and opens an old case? The FBI busts open the NYPD doors and piss off all of the cops working on the case and eventually fumbling it up so badly that they lose the bad guy. This is what TV crime dramas have taught me to expect. The FBI is mentioned but that’s it and for something as serious as a serial kidnapper/killer getting another victim, I expected them to show up. Also, the FBI could’ve solved that case. Maybe that’s why they were purposefully left out.
My mom brought up a good point about Elementary. She said, “The problem is Sherlock isn't as special anymore. There are too many imitators, The Mentalist, Psych, etc. There has to be a great plot, fantastic acting and enough hints for viewers to get it after the big reveal.” Of course these are all things I’ve said before but the first point is the one I’m gonna focus on now. This Sherlock isn’t special. He isn’t super intelligent. He isn’t four steps ahead of the audience and the police and a step ahead of the suspect. In this episode he is almost beaten by the suspect. I feel that this show could be made better simply by changing the characters names. If it were Steve Howard and Jenny Washington solving crimes and kicking a drug addiction, I think the show would work much better.
I feel though if this show stopped trying to develop the mystery aspect (because I am HOPING that they’re trying at least) and just made it about the characters, we would end up with something that neither of us wants. Sherlock Holmes is about solving mysteries no matter how frivolous or off the wall they are, we saw that earlier this week with the Red Headed League. If we take away the mysteries from Sherlock Holmes we end up with a jackass and his best friend talking about how the jackass should stop doing drugs. If we took the mystery out of Elementary or just didn’t make it the focus, it would be about Sherlock Holmes and his sober companion, who might actually begin to be growing on Holmes, talking about being an addict and eventually having sex. Yuck. That just isn’t a show I want to watch. That’s why I stopped watching Bones. It stopped being about the mystery of the week and started being about Bones and Booth boinking. Unlike the rest of the population that seems to be enraptured by even the slightest mention of sex, I am an adult and understand that it’s something that people do sometimes and that it doesn’t make for very good plot points in a series, unless one of the people dies during and it is happening in Edwardian England.
The new original Booth and Bones

In the next book review we discuss that it isn’t always step-mothers who are evil and that all step-parents should be treated with suspicion because what's family without a little suspicion? Also! If you want to read a long but don’t have access to a copy of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, NEVER FEAR! Thanks to the wonderful website, Project Gutenberg, it is available to you fo’ free!
[Project Gutenberg link:] So now you don’t have a reason to not read along! Go! Educate yourself!
And now Austin Lugar with the last word.

Austin: Squats

1 comment:

  1. Not much to go on this week, as I don't have access to the episodes to watch them. From what you're saying this is still a whole lot of limp-wristed flailing in the general direction of a real mystery; it's been kicked down the rungs to hit the lowest common denominator, but the lowest common denominator is down there so low that you can't have a mystery anymore. It still sounds like they're trying to spoon-feed the viewing population an easily digestible version of Sherlock. "Here, have this bland porridge of a mystery. Don't worry, everyone can figure out whodunit and how, we made it so everyone can have some." It's boring and drab and so base that it gets my hackles up.

    Good for Watson that she gets some more characterization, but this is what? Three episodes in? Little late, don't you think? It'd be like if Frankenstein was wandering around fretting over the moral obligations of applying the lightning to the Creation for three movies instead of doing what every mad genius does: throw all the switches and damn the angry mob; this is science b*tches.

    So a bland response to a post that, while entertaining, is about a bland mystery. I'm more starting to see this show as a sad commentary about the state of society and the educational system. The public cannot be given a true puzzler, something that may actually induce thought beyond "will they or won't they sleep together?" (p.s. that's not a mystery, it's gossip). The public cannot be shown that the police can be a little fallible (it's all or nothing in shows like this, have you noticed? They're either super-cops, or keystone cops, but nary a soul in between; feel free to prove me wrong). And heaven forbid the public be truly challenged to think about the other dynamic that seems to be going on in this episode: Holmes is an addict and functions on different levels when he gets or doesn't get the drugs he's after; so how does that make you feel about drug use? Instead they're going to focus on the relationship side of things because it's easily digestible gossip.

    I'm about to talk about food again, I can tell. I'm going to get breakfast to spare you from any more references to comestibles.