Friday, October 26, 2012

In-Class Movie: "The Rat Race" (S01E04)

“If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outré results, it would make all of fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “A Case of Identity”

Austin: I finished the episode two minutes ago and I'm pretty sure I forgot the entire plot. Something something people in suits something something dialog about how they are important people something something the secretary did it.

Twice this week I've thought about one of the best quotes from The Great Mouse Detective. Since I know we are bound to review that I won't say the context, but Basil of Baker Street comes up with the idea "We'll set the trap off now!" My first time thinking about this quote was this week's Homeland where they definitely followed through with the quote and the second time was just me begging for Elementary to use it.

"In media res is fun and all but haven't we established for several episodes that Sherlock is an expert at opening locks? Get out of my office. I'm going to get drunk and rewatch Project Greenlight."

Set the trap off now! Solve the crime earlier! Have the plot go in a different direction instead of going to Suspect X in their office! Do anything! The formula for this show is so dull that nothing is sticking. We're four episodes in. Is this the second or third time, they've found a dead body of what was supposed to be a suspect at the 15 minute mark? Second episode was a person in a coma but it's still the same reveal concept. The formula is so uncompromising that Sherlock has to sit around looking at pictures/documents so the show can stall because he can't do anything too quickly. That would make him...too much like Sherlock Holmes.

Credit where credit's due. This episode did play with structure in a very minor way so that's one change but it lead to nothing. Most of Watson's talk with Gregson ended up being irrelevant because she ended up getting a text without Gregson's help. But Watson revealed all of Sherlock's secrets! Also didn't matter because Gregson already knew them (I forgot he didn't know them) and he doesn't care. The rest of the station (aka Bell) may care, but if they do that's insane. A homicide detective with a substance abuse problem? It's almost a requirement in this genre.

What this show need is some sort of conflict. Any sort of conflict. Sherlock and Watson are cool, Sherlock and Gregson are cool, Sherlock and NYPD is coo, and even Sherlock and Sherlock are cool. A huge improvement to this show would be if Sherlock is secretly still using drugs. It will add a major depth to the character, it will cause turmoil between him and Watson and will give Watson's job meaning. Right now most of her irrelevancy is because she serves as a sponsor to a character we know will never relapse.

What say you Montano? Should Sherlock be using the bent spoon? Should we? It could be an interesting way to eat cereal.

Leigh: Growing up, whenever we had a fancy meal that required gravy like Thanksgiving, we would use a bent spoon. We didn't have a gravy ladle. I'm sure we had one at one point but it had gone missing with the myriad of other utensils that seem to disappear in my house. My mom will tell you that I went through a phase when I would throw away silverware. I don't recall this. But instead of replacing the missing gravy ladle, we would just take a tablespoon and bend it so that it would act like a ladle. It works and it matches the silverware you already own! No worries about matching patterns. This aside has nothing to do with Elementary or Sherlock Holmes but I thought it might be more interesting than talking about the plot of this week's episode.
Dramatic reenactment of childhood gravy ladle and now I have a new gravy ladle!. Also, floor isn't that dirty it's the pattern of the linoleum.
I have to agree. The plot this week was entirely forgettable but I think that's how they wanted it. Last week we talked about the writers needing to choose between mystery and character development and I think with this episode they made their choice. They mystery was hardly one at all. Everything could've been solved by the Scooby gang even if they were just looking for some Scooby Snax. The character interaction though was a bit more developed this week. Sure, it's still lacking, but it was more developed. Lucy Liu goes on a date, Sherlock talks to his mentor/father figure?/friend about his drug habits and Sherlock admits to Liu about how lonely it is being so smart. Boring.

What I do want to talk about were two moments from this episode that mimicked another recent modernization all too closely for my comfort. First the line, "No one ever remembers the secretary, do they Donna?" To me this is awfully close to the phrasing, "No one ever remembers the cab driver." This could be me being paranoid and trying to find fault but this really irked me. The second occurrence from this episode is a little later. Sherlock is sitting next to an ambulance and is talking to Watson and says that he's been through a trauma. -pause for dramatic effect- Now to me, this could be a writer watching the other modernization, forgetting about it and then subconsciously using INCREDIBLY similar lines or it could be a direct ripoff. I am leaning towards the former because I have more faith in writers and integrity. Overall though, someone should've caught this, or at least someone should've caught this if CBS cared at all. 

They need to fix things. They need to fix a lot of things. We've mention a lot of them before but I'm really starting to worry about the fact that they are making Sherlock Holmes, Smartest Man in the World, dumb. He would've known from the get-go that the one head guy wasn't the murderer. It would've been how he held himself or how he said things or the way he wore his tie. Something. We know he has fantastic deduction abilities, we saw it in the same episode mere minutes before Sherlock went dumb. By the way, I used fingernail polish remover for 2 hours this past weekend cleaning a robot and my hands look like they always do. There is no difference unless you coat your hands in it then set it on fire or use it every day for your entire life. So if Sherlock could pick that up about one of the male executives using nail polish remover, then he should've been able to tell that the head exec wasn't the murderer. Of all of the problems that I have with this show, this is the one that upsets me the most. They're making Sherlock Holmes dumb and that's not right. 

What does the show benefit from if Sherlock Holmes is dumb? And what about them constantly humanizing him? Giving a couple an expensive bottle of wine as a present for a wedding engagement isn't very Sherlock Holmes. Why are they changing what makes Sherlock Sherlock?

Austin: Is this even Sherlock Holmes anymore? The bottle of wine thing was really weird. Not just weird for Sherlock, but just plain weird. Also since when does a master of deduction become obsessed with motive instead of evidence? His thinking the CEO was the bad guy was based mostly on intuition, not enough facts. Once again, they have to make Sherlock dumb in order to stall so the story can fit in all of its beats. 

I don't think the show knows what separates Sherlock from other detectives. Right now he's just quirky and right. Why people like reading Sherlockian stories is because of the way he deduces. He tries to be like Spock by how he only looks at the facts and lets that dictate his decisions. Looks at clues, observations and the unseen things around him. None of that was in the episode. Worth stating that once again, we have yet to see him be clever. Not giving him the salad thing because that dumb. It was the only prop they bothered to put in the room. The book spine thing was decent, but still was not able to be seen by the audience.

With Eli Stone, at least I was able to sing and dance during exposition. Now it's just...ugh.

Thankfully Jonny Lee Miller is still entertaining as he goes through dull lines of dialog that are probably the same each week, but with different names. Lucy Liu is warming up in her performance, but she is left to do the dumbest things. The cafe scene with a friend that turned into a setup was painful. The dialog after the date was even worse. Then the date being appalled that she would Google him after the date was so....dated. This may sound like a bold notion, but a woman can have a subplot that doesn't involve random dates of the week.

My dad walked in during the 15 minute mark and watched the rest. He chuckled a few times but said "No where close to the British one. Not worth the time." and left. I never felt more jealous of my father.

Leigh, what are we doing with our lives? At what point do we give up thinking the show will change? Why does The AV Club keep giving this really high reviews? Why is this such a big hit? Why can't it just be much worse?!?

Leigh: I'm one of those people that has conversations with themselves. Not in the crazy way, like in the "If I happen to be in situation x, I would respond with y" kinda way. I keep hoping that one day, we'll get an email from the writers of Elementary and say, "You're right, we've mucked this up. How do we fix it?" And then we'd get writer's credits and make money off of the DVD sales and I could pay off student loans and it would be wonderful. This situation will probably never happen but I still think about what my response would be. 

First, I'd fix Holmes. Make him calculating, make him acerbic, make him even quicker witted, make him ignorant about social interactions. Make him the smartest man in the city. They keep hinting at it but failing to SHOW us. The book spine could've been found by any other NYPD detective looking through the room. Not impressed. 

"And you swear this guy isn't married? Pinkie swear? Warning: I do have Google. Yet I will not use it until my client reminds me about it."

Second, I'd fix Watson. Make her strong. Make her a bad ass. Make her have some sort of role other than babysitter and time filler. That's all her subplot was, filler. It didn't advance her character, it didn't introduce a new character (her friend we'll never see again), it didn't give us clues to the mystery. It was filler and stereotypical filler at that. If she had been in a kick boxing class or a creative writing class and uses it as an excuse to get away from Holmes for a while, Watson is already infinitely more interesting. I don't care what the writers have said, Watson and Holmes are going to do the dirty eventually. Her learning how to deduce and then him opening up and explaining that it's a lonely world being that smart was just another stepping stone to them having sex. Ugh. 

Third, I wouldn't make it a mystery of the week. I wouldn't make it so that the casual viewer was rewarded with a neatly wrapped up mystery every week. You recommended a great show called Terriers. They have done what Elementary needs to do. We learn about the broken character's past and why he does the things he does, we get a really odd mystery that develops with every episode and we get character interaction that is interesting to watch. The last 30 seconds of episode three was enough to get the viewer interested in the next episode and not have it hint at what was going on. And it didn't jump around and point attention to itself, it was subtle, so subtle that if you had been checking twitter or something, you could miss it entirely. They need to take the subtlety that Holmes is known for and utilize it. We are four episodes in Elementary and there hasn't been anything that carries from one episode to the next except the fact that Holmes had a drug problem and Watson is his sober companion. The first episode of Terriers there is a hint to something that isn't solved until episode four. ELEMENTARY NEEDS this. It needs the overarching mystery that we are missing. It would develop the story, the characters and create a better show. If Holmes is constantly plagued by a murder he can't solve, a mystery he can't crack then we know he is damaged in another way than having a past with drugs. I'm getting sick of this aspect already. I was a fan of it at first but now they're beating it into the ground and I'm afraid it will only get worse. So far the show's message is "drugs are bad, mmk? Oh and even drug addicts can be smart and solve mediocre crimes." I don't know why everyone is such a fan of it. To me it is just another crime procedural. There is nothing special about it except that it stole the names of some fantastic characters and striped the characters of everything they are until they became the blandest, most socially acceptable versions of themselves. 

In the next post we learn that sometimes a solution is more complicated than the clues might lead us to believe and Australia was in fact a prison colony.
And now Austin Lugar with the last word.

Austin: Why?


  1. You guys have my condolences. I know you're trying, but I must confess something: this blog post about a horribly boring episode was horribly boring to read. Every line smacked of the tedium and rerun-ish show you've put yourselves through. I truly wish the writers, or CBS or whoever, would stumble upon this and maybe take a hint. Unfortunately, I fear that even if they did, they would bow to market pressures: "We can't write a show with massive amounts of intelligence because our viewers won't get it. Look at what's popular now: the lowest common denominator everyman doing stupid stuff." Seriously, look at some of the other offerings out there: there's exterminators, alligator hunters, a real-life Beverly Hillbiliies couple, and reams of so-called "Reality TV". This is CBS, do you really think they're going to force their general viewership to have to think about what might be going on on the screen?

  2. First, I want to address Margaux's comment - BBC's "Sherlock" is proof that the public actually will accept quality and intelligence, at least a portion of the public. But maybe not enough of it for CBS.

    My second comment is that I certainly agree with both Austin and Leigh that Elementary is certainly not Sherlock Holmes. It's a Sherlock Holmes wannabe. For some reason, I'm enjoying it. But I think I only really started enjoying it once I stopped trying to tell myself "this is Sherlock Holmes".