Let’s face it.
It was only a matter of time before BBC’s immensely popular “Sherlock” exceeded splashes of self-aware humor to go skinny dipping in self-indulgence.
With last Sunday’s premiere of Season Three’s mini-movie episode, “The Empty Hearse,” the show surrendered any unique take on or creative adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero and dumped on us almost two hours of fan fictiony, meta-messageboard muck.
Through its first season and the “A Scandal in Belgravia” Season Two opener, “Sherlock” was a notable entry in a long line of Holmesian adaptations because of its departure from the traditional heroic detective mythos. The new “Sherlock” offered us a sociopathic character compulsively drawn to proving his superior intelligence even if it cost, not just risked, his life.
Not anymore. The Sherlock Holmes of late Season Two and Season Three (it would seem) has dried on the canvas, and bends only to meet the desires of a fickle fan base.
Take the ending of “The Empty Hearse” where Sherlock claims he’s unable to disarm a bomb (that for some inane reason could only be rigged inside a stationary train car though bombs decorate nearby tunnel walls) and Watson tells his partner he better not be fibbing or dicking around with him. We’ve seen this before. So has Watson. However, like Watson, the audience is supposed to fall for a rote play on expectations.
“Sherlock” has kept the Holmes-Watson, Smart-Not, Elitist-Everyman dynamic that many of the Sherlock adaptations have used since Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce trademarked it. Most of the humor in the new “Sherlock” is similarly derived from the mental inequity in their relationship’s hierarchy.
And, of course, the writers’ overly frequent reliance on that model (Holmes is the brains, Watson the heart) leaves the show stale and without nuance.
In spite of its many other problems, CBS’ “Elementary” at least shakes things up for the detective and . . . detective partnership, allowing Holmes and Watson to trade the spotlight for clue finding and deductive logic skills while depicting the differences in their characters through eccentric and . . . not-so-eccentric qualities.
BBC’s show also received high marks, rightly so, for placing the 19th century’s consulting detective in present-day London where text messages pop on-screen a la Tony Scott movies and both Sherlock and Watson compose their observations and adventures on blogs.
The adaptation of period characters to present day often translates poorly with the creator/writers taking narrative shortcuts that leave an audience wondering what they missed. That wasn’t the case with “Sherlock” when its first season arrived.
But with “The Empty Hearse,” the show has taken the shortcut around narratives that draw more fans to a storyline that only indulges the show’s class of super fans.
The Season Three opener involves a group of Internet junkies who self-referentially tweet #SherlockLives and #SherlockIsNotDead. These not-characters obsessively argue online and in groups with their fangirl makeup and costuming over how Sherlock Holmes accomplished his fake suicide at the end of that dreadfully boring Season Two finale, “The Reichenbach Fall.”
And what’s more, the show’s creators (one of them being Mark Gatiss who produces, writes and also stars in the show as Mycroft Holmes) include several versions of these suicide explanations. They range from Tom Cruise-Mission Impossible to government conspiracy theorist.
FADE IN. The characters do something so crazy it has no immediate explanation. FADE OUT (or, in other words, EXPLAIN IT LATER).
It’s a tiring formula that disrupts the episode’s mini-scenes and sequences, too. For example, why doesn’t Mycroft intervene sooner during Sherlock’s torture? Well, why don’t we have Sherlock ask that question and have Mycroft give a pithy answer. That should do it.
Or take how the episode ends with a tease to explain why Watson, the upset and separated lover, was nabbed (as only an upset princess archetype can be) by terrorists interested in blowing up Parliament (terrorists, it should be noted, who are severely lacking in clever clue-leaving, sending Watson’s fiancee text messages about “hot,” “warm,” “Guy,” and what else before a Guy Fawkes bonfire). Also, answer me this, why couldn’t the terrorists descend underground the same route as Holmes & Co. instead of kidnapping a train car as they did earlier?
Early on in the episode, Sherlock asks Watson if he wants to know how he faked the suicide.
Watson replies, “I don’t care how. I want to know why.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like a misleading response that flatters the writers’ conceited lack of restraint, masks it as sincerity and excuses their slack storytelling.