Saturday, November 17, 2012

In-Class Movie: "One Way to Get Off" (S01E07)

It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes’ requests, for they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air of mastery.'"
--John Watson, “The Man with the Twisted Lip”

Austin: Screw it; we're talking about it. We made a conscious effort to not talk about BBC's Sherlock when we started about this blog because we want to review Elementary on its own, not comparison.

Now it's time to compare them.

Really I don't need to pick Sherlock; I could pick Breaking Bad or Fringe or any show that focuses on a crime while really focusing on the characters. I'm picking Sherlock simply because we run a blog about Sherlock Holmes.

Tonight's Elementary was dull. Very dull. From Act I we knew Sherlock was right, we never suspected Gregson being corrupt and the case was standard fare for every other show on CBS.

This week I rewatched Sherlock Season One because I'm in Texas taking care of my grandparents and my Memaw has been wanting to see it. So we watch it every morning (at 7AM...). Since she can't see too well, the stories are a bit hard to follow as they jump quickly between locations, rely on faces and artistically blend scenes. Yet she loves it. Why?

Because there are characters at the heart of every scene. Watson is a full character who is intrigued by the exciting lifestyle but still can be practical. Lestrade doubts Sherlock but what he's saying would be the right answer in every other show. Every scene moves the story forward (Except in “The Blind Banker”) but they are all unique because characters respond organically off each other. The scenes are sparkling with dialog full of wit and warmth, not dry interactions of meaningless information. They are able to tell a story visually, not just put the camera is the same damn spot each time. I actually enjoy rewatching an episode instead of hating watching the first pass!

What is Elementary? Characters only serve a dull function and will only move forward if the show demands it, not if the characters have earned anything. This very, very much includes the new characters of the week. I'm catching up with Fringe Season Four and I'm so impressed by how emotional and nuanced can be about stories that started 40 minutes ago.

I'm about to pull the plug on this show. The "steps forward" with the Irene plotline was insulting and nothing mattered for the rest of the hour.

Bring me back Leigh or we need to bury this show and reformat the blog.

Leigh: After I read your email, I couldn’t help but remember a demonstration from one of my favorite high school teachers. He taught a variety of classes but this demonstration was in Economics. You made it sound like this episode of Elementary was among the worst yet (I’ll get to my opinion in a minute) so after the fantastic episode of a few weeks ago and the steady decrease in quality, I was reminded of the Dead Cat Bounce.  People who follow stocks or the stock market might know this term but for those who don’t, it is when a stock that is falling fast in price suddenly goes up before it crashes completely because the saying goes, “Even dead cats bounce.” To make sure that our class understood this theory, our professor took a baby doll that had been part of a student’s presentation (for what, I couldn’t tell you) and held it above his head and dropped it. It bounced and the image worked because to this day I remember this demonstration.

I think that is what we have experienced with Elementary to this point. It was going nowhere fast, had a great week then continued to spiral out of control.  The Dead Cat Bounce.

We’ve both been trying hard not to mention BBC’s Sherlock and it’s really hard not to especially since 1, this is a Sherlock Holmes oriented blog and 2, it is such a FANTASTIC adaptation. My boyfriend, who is lovingly referred to as Boy, mentioned wanting to watch season two since he still hasn’t seen it and it is now available on Netflix. Without hesitation I volunteered to watch it with him. I’ve probably seen these episodes four or five times each yet I STILL want to watch them again.  To prevent myself from going on and on about Sherlock, I’ll just say I agree with you.

The characters were a mess in this episode. Gregson didn’t even seem like the same character. He went from a cool, relaxed cop to one that doesn’t put up with crap from anyone and doesn’t trust anyone either. We went from having Lenny Briscoe to having Mike Logan. Sometimes having Detective Logan is a good thing, especially when you want to intimidate perps but when you’re trying to figure out a case, you want Lenny Briscoe (RIP Jerry Orbach).

Then we have Watson who I’m not sure went through all of the proper training to be a sober companion. Or at least she doesn’t listen to her own rules. The first episode Sherlock can’t be out of her sight and now she’s gone all day without even checking in with him. (Although I did laugh when Sherlock said that he had left urine in her room. That was amusing.) But that’s okay because Sherlock also didn’t follow the rules that the show has set up. First he’s all about solving cases and then he’s about finding facts. These are two different things especially when you get into moral grey areas like possibly corrupt police officers.


My biggest frustration (at the moment) is that there are so many other shows that are great examples of character development and mystery and plot and do everything we want in same amount of time. Sure, Sherlock is exceptional but even if we ignore it and just focus on other mystery/crime/dramas, there are others out there that know how to balance plot and character well. Elementary is somehow failing.

I don’t know what to tell ya, Austin. I tried. I was ready to come in and play good cop to your bad cop but half-hearted attempts at mysteries, characters that aren’t consistent with what has been presented to the audience and plot that is just boring, I don’t know how much more I can take.

Austin: This morning my Memaw watched Sherlock's "A Scandal in Belgravia." This is my favorite episode of that show as well as my favorite Steven Moffat script. I found so many more nuances about the state of caring and the vulnerabilities created from that. Such a rich episode that was a great showcase for Sherlock, Irene, Mycroft, Molly and in a smaller extent Watson.

There is love and care with those episodes. They want to make an entertaining and special 90 minutes of television. That is what's present in all of the shows I watch now. Doctor Who, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Treme, Game of Thrones, Fringe, Community, Justified, Happy Endings, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Archer, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Childrens Hospital, NTSF:SD:SUV::, The Hour, Peep Show, Luther, Being Human, The Mindy Project, Don't Trust the B----- in Apartment 23, Last Resort, The Thick of It, Cougar Town, White Collar, Misfits, Spartacus, and yes, Sherlock.

I'm tired of watching a show that doesn't care about its viewers. You had Watson spend an entire episode learning nothing only to have Sherlock give the information for no reason, information that is clearly going to be reversed? Frak you, Elementary. This is a new age of television. Showrunners are subverting expectations with new structures and anticipating audiences reaction

Television is in a golden age right now as nuanced storytelling is thriving. There is still plenty of crap on the air and there is plenty of highly rated stuff that will be forgotten in a few years. Elementary will be a trivia question; people will be watching Sherlock for ages. The reasons why are incomparable. That said, I don't want to stop the blog. I spent yesterday searching the internet and on a full pass I found over 100 movies about the world's smartest detective. I say we should watch some of them! Maybe take a week off for Thanksgiving as we figure out what we want to cover first. Of course, The Great Mouse Detective must be high priority. What say you, Leigh? Shall we bury the dead cat?

Leigh: When I decided to make my trek into TV academia, I knew I was never going to be able to watch every episode of everything ever. It’s not possible. You did a thing where people suggested TV shows and you’d watch the first three episodes. I took this three-episode idea and now when starting a new show, if I finish the third episode and I’m not interested in it, I stop. I save time and I’m able to go start something new that I might like or I think might be useful later. We are well past the three-episode mark on Elementary and I have no interest in watching more. I will for the sake of other projects I have going on but I won’t enjoy it, dammit.

In our age of technology where feedback on tonight’s episode of what ever is instantaneous because of the Tweeter and the Bookface, writers and producers have no excuse to not know what audiences want. Sure, some shows are filmed in advance and have very few episodes so it’s harder to do that like with Sherlock and Downton Abbey, but Elementary doesn’t have that excuse. But I don’t think that the audience for Elementary cares. I think they’re happy with what they have. They’re fine with mystery of the week shows that give little to no plot development and wrap everything up in 40 minutes. They’re the same fans as NCIS and CSI and all their variations. The writers have found an audience. We aren’t that audience.

I absolutely love this blog. I love writing for it, I love finding dumb pictures, I love yelling at my TV about how bad something is, I love re-reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. I definitely don’t want to end it. We have thousands of adaptations out there from movies to TV shows to non-canonical books to even a ballet, if we can find it. As Calvin said to Hobbes, “It’s a magical world…Let’s go exploring!”

Let’s bury this dead cat.

Austin: Farewell!

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