Saturday, April 30, 2011

Elementary, My Dear Idiom, Elementary

There are few names in Western society that stir up such strong cultural associations and idiomatic significance as much as Sherlock Holmes.  I mean, you have Jesus, Socrates et al, Alexander the Great Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Einstein who could be considered to be in the same category of instantly recognizable names that are now linked to a culturally understood meaning just like Holmes.  Jesus is obviously linked (in the secular sense) to peace and love, Socrates to boy fucking philosophy, Alexander the Great to military expertise, Mother Teresa to generosity, Gandhi to non-violent resistance and political change, and Einstein to genius and stylish facial hair.  Then you have Sherlock whose name has become synonymous with logic, deductive reasoning, and -especially in recent years- tortured genius.  What sets Sherlock Holmes apart from the rest first and foremost is that he is a fictional character (depending, of course, if you believe that Jesus was the son of The One True God, or just the fevered dream of a Middle Eastern madman).  That he is able to hold his own against historical heavyweights like Socrates and Gandhi says something in and of itself.  Some might argue that other characters like The Three Musketeers or Frankenstein's monster carry the same cultural clout as our intrepid detective, but these characters aren't nearly as pervasive and their meaning isn't quite as crystallized.  The Three Musketeers I suppose represent unity and teamwork, but you rarely hear anybody at a sporting event go "Hey!  Look at that fucking goal/touchdown/basket!  Joe Sportsman is a real goddamn Musketeer!"  But on any given day there's a fairly decent possibility of hearing Sherlock's name.  (I estimate the average odds on any given day at about 20%.)

Which brings us to the second reason Mr. Holmes stands out.  Unlike most of the other icons mentioned above Sherlock Holmes's name is almost exclusively used ironically.  When compared with Mother Teresa or Alexander the Great the comparison is usually favourable.  "She's a local Mother Teresa," or "The winner, by TKO, is Alexander "The Great" Morales!"  But whenever somebody invokes the name of everybody's favourite (and probably only known) detective I can guarantee you it's derisive.  Now the others that I mentioned can also be used derisively, but they are also sometimes used favourably.  Comparisons to Holmes are guaranteed to be derogatory.  For example: imagine a friend running into the room yelling something like "I just discovered what happened to that steak I thought I forgot at the grocery store.  I just checked under a pile of jackets at my front door and it turns out that smell wasn't my neighbour's rotting corpse, it was the steak.  Also, I have herpes."  And in this situation I can pretty much give you 50% odds that your response will be something along the lines of "Way to go Sherlock," and in this particular case, "Maybe next time you pick up a random whore after hours in some god forsaken alley, get her number first, call her the next day, pick her up, take her back to your place, give her a shower and a shave (rocking the landing strip), take her to the nearest clinic and get her tested out for STD's while you wait for the results before you fuck her in every bodily orifice, you stupid fucking prick."  But the important part for our purposes the important part was the Sherlock thing.  When your brother helps you find your keys under the couch cushions, you don't say "Way to go Sherlock," because it's culturally agreed upon that that is an insult.  Sherlock Holmes has been constructed as the epitome of deductive reasoning, the pinnacle of rational thought, and so just like with the Judeo-Christian concept of Jesus, everybody else by necessity must fall short or else the idiom loses its power.  And if there's one thing we love in Western Culture it's a good insult... You fucking douche bag.

The third reason Sherlock Holmes stands out as an idiom is precisely because he's insulting to us.  It's because he makes us feel stupid that we love to read about or watch him at work.  It's the same reason we like to watch magic shows: we like to be fooled.  Luckily for people like Bush Jr., people like to have the wool pulled over their eyes.  I don't know why, I just know that it's true.  One of the main reasons Sherlock Holmes is intriguing to audiences is because just like Chris Angel or David Copperfield before him, it seems like nobody else could ever replicate what he does.  What's even more intriguing is that what Sherlock Holmes does is like magic in reverse.  While magicians derive their power from keeping their tricks secret Holmes flaunts his superiority by revealing everything.  He lays everything bare and cuts to the heart of the case with surgical precision.  We like Sherlock Holmes because he's the asshole we can't help but like: he makes us feel stupid for putting together what are-when pointed out- seemingly forehead-slappingly simple clues which is frustrating, but then he proceeds to condescendingly explain it to Watson -and by extension the audience- like an adult patronizing a child.  What's even more frustrating is that at the same time we're so fucking amazed by what he's done that we can't help but feel grudging respect -even envy- and sit around slack-jawed waiting for how he's going to solve the next case like a bunch of logic-craving seals.

I remember about six months ago when my friend Adam told me about the BBC series Sherlock I wasn't exactly in a rush to see it.  I don't know why, but hearing about anything from the BBC turns me off for some reason.  I don't know why or how it happened, but for some reason I have been indoctrinated with a prejudice against British television.  This is in spite of the fact that the only other British shows I've watched -The OfficeExtras, Monty Python's Flying Circus- I've enjoyed thoroughly.  This may be because I'm harbouring some kind of repressed homosexual feelings for both Ricky Gervais and Eric Idle, but that's for my therapist to decide.  Anyway, fast forward to about a month ago and after another one of our fabulous podcasts (check us out here) and before I left for the night Adam -while drinking human blood and sitting atop a throne made of the skulls of tortured souls- handed me his BluRay copy of Sherlock in exchange for a handjob and a cup of coffee.  I don't know how he felt about the handjob, but it was a damn fine cup of coffee.  (I don't know why I do the things I do.)  Thank god because now I have a new favourite TV show, despite the fact that there are so far, technically, only three episodes.  At least each episode was an hour and a half each so it still felt substantial.

Sherlock is a fucking great show, pure and simple.  I think I'd have to say this is my favourite on-screen adaptation of Sherlock Holmes so far.  Sherlock Holmes is played by some dude named Benedict Cumberbatch, whose name sounds like the name of a British caricature on an episode of Family Guy, and who could only have survived on the schoolyard with such a name in England.  For some reason this name really tickles me and my wife and just saying it out loud brings a smile to our faces.  Try it.  Cumberbatch.  Fucking fantastic.  Some chicks out there will apparently know him from ATONEMENT.  Simply put: he is Sherlock Holmes.  This guy plays Holmes brilliantly.  There are so many subtle layers to this character that Cumberbatch balances so well it's just a treat to watch.  A real treat.  Just fantastic.  You really get that feeling of the tortured genius, the troubled soul of a truly gifted human being with no patience for the mundane practicalities of everyday life, torn by his natural sense of isolation from lesser minds and his desire to have some kind of social interaction in the form of his detective business.

Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson was also an excellent choice and arguably just as important of a casting choice as Holmes because the character of Watson is essential to the enjoyment of any Holmes story.  Watson is literally a muse for Holmes and metaphorically a muse to the audience.  When Holmes is explaining shit to Watson, what's really happening is Arthur Conan Doyle or the filmmakers or whoever is really talking to the audience, so it's important that the audience is able to empathize with the Watson character.  I can't think of anyone more empathetic than Freeman.  I mean, he has pretty much been established as the iconic working class Everyman as Tim in The Office.  Again I just love watching Freeman on screen and he and Cumberbatch (tee, hee, hee) play off each other perfectly.

But really the actors are only part of the equation.  The writing on Sherlock is so tight, and the pacing is so perfect, and everything is so well woven together, and the music is great, that you feel drawn into the world.  And even though some purists might take issue with this series for being set in modern times, and Holmes is constantly using a cell phone, or Watson is updating his blog, it doesn't feel like a mismatch or a forced fit.  Everything blends together so well that no element really sticks out like a sore thumb, and everything is woven together perfectly.  I really felt drawn into the world, an immersion I would compare to reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, where the narrative was so expertly crafted and the world was so cohesive that I really got attached to the characters and almost felt like I was a part of the action.  Which totally sucks balls because the series was so short (not to fear, there's another season coming this fall, so Adam has at least one reason to take that noose from around his neck) that I felt sad there was no more (fucking cliffhanger!) and it also made me like the 2009 SHERLOCK HOLMES -starring Robert Downey Jr. In the titular role- a whole lot less because it pales in comparison.  For all you fans of great shows (and who still collect physical media) make room on your shelves beside Rome and Deadwood for Sherlock, which you should go out and purchase immediately.  It's not rocket science, Sherlock.



Post a Comment