Review Wednesday: Why Sherlock Is Good TV – by Miriam Joy

This isn’t the review I’d planned for today, but with so much else going on (see announcement this Friday) I’m even more behind than usual, not helped by multiple daily power cuts here. But with temperatures in the 30s C / 90s F in mid-winter I’m prepared to put up with the inconvenience rather than head back to “civilization” in Europe.

After toilet facilities, the question I’m most asked about my life here in West Africa, is how do I manage without TV?

It seems life is unthinkable for many without the daily gratification of passive entertainment that TV provides. It’s so easy to get home from the day-job, slump in front of the screen with remote in hand, and just flick through until something engages, under the pretext of relaxing, and next thing you know an hour has passed.

An hour that could have been spent writing, gardening, cooking, or myriad other things that might have added value to your life, instead of watching that re-run of Friends, or the same news footage loop over and over, listening to a presenter waffle on until some actual news comes in.

Miss televison? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s one of life’s great time-sucks.

That’s not to say all TV is bad. Or even most of it.  And occasionally it can be exceptional. Take the BBC TV series Sherlock, for example.

I happened to be in the UK when the first series was broadcast. I’m a huge Sherlock fan. Who isn’t? But when it came to Sherlock on TV I thought nothing would ever surpass the Granada TV series with Jeremy Brett playing Holmes.

I was wrong. The new BBC series, which transplanted the Conan Doyle stories to the modern day, was outstanding.

Annoying, too. In my youth I’d often written short Sherlock stories relocated in time to the modern world. I loved the idea. Everyone else hated it.  I went on to write for TV (a long time ago now – don’t ask!) and once suggested to a producer the idea of a Sherlock series set in the modern day. He fell about laughing. In fairness, I think he misunderstood and thought I meant some sort of time-travel sci-fi, where the old Sherlock found himself in the modern world.

Of course back then television production was a different world. A series like the modern BBC Sherlock simply couldn’t have been written back then, because the technology didn’t exist to support it.

~

For those born into a digital world it must be hard to imagine life before the internet, plasma TV and computer-generated graphics, but there was a time when TVs looked something like this. The remote controls are those round things on the right-hand side. You had to get out of your chair, walk over and physically change channels (both of them!) and adjust volume.

So don’t mock your elders. Feel sorry for them!

~

Off course, other than being Sherlock in modern times, the new series bears no relationship to the project I envisaged all those years ago. It’s also far, far, far better than anything I had in mind.

So good, in fact, it even impressed my teen co-writer Miriam, who blogged about it over at A Farewell To Sanity. I was impressed by her review.

Miriam is your typical monosyllabic teenager. Sleeps all day, grunts in answer to any question, skives school whenever she can, never does her homework, and has no future.

Oh no, sorry. That was me.

Actually Miriam is one of those annoying superteens who manages to cram twenty-five hours into a twenty-four hour day, reads books by the truckload, writes novels in her sleep and is a musical genius to boot. No wonder I tricked her into signing up as co-writer on our new St. Mallory’s YA series.

But what caught my eye this week was Miriam’s review of Sherlock, which had me almost booking a flight “back home” so I could watch it on the BBC iPlayer. This was, deservedly, Miriam’s highest hitting post on her own site, so I thought I’d grab a piece of the action and steal the whole post and run it on MWi.

Here’s Miriam:

Why Sherlock Is Good TV

by Miriam Joy

If you live in the UK, or have BBC elsewhere, you’ll most likely have seen / heard of Sherlock. Based on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, it takes the famous detective and puts him into a 21st century environment, and into the body of Benedict Cumberbatch. John Watson is fantastically played by Martin Freeman – I was very pleased to hear, not long ago, that both of them are going to be in the Hobbit. That, my friends, will be a movie to see.

It often seems nowadays that television is going downhill. I’m a massive fan of Doctor Who and anyone who knows me or has been following my blog for more than a fortnight will attest to this. But I will not hesitate to say that the most recent series disappointed me, because it tried to be too clever. The story arcs were contrived and long-winded, and though individual episodes may have been good (The Girl Who Waited, the Doctor’s Wife, etc.), I felt the series as a whole was lacking what I’d seen in, say, series two or four.

And most people blame Steven Moffat, the head writer, and mourn the days of Russell T Davies. But Moffat is also in charge of Sherlock and that’s fast becoming one of my favourite programmes – even when it had most people in tears yesterday.

So why was that episode so good?

*Second warning – this post contains spoilers for Sherlock – “The Reichenbach Fall”, which aired on 15th January 2012*

It had, in the words of my friend, ALL OF THE EMOTION.

Last week’s episode had me laughing out loud and then too tense to breathe; this week’s had me laughing out loud and then far too close to tears for my liking. It was big and dramatic, but that wasn’t what was important. What was important was Sherlock taking John’s hand and telling him to run, because we know he didn’t want to run alone. What was important was that his friends meant more to Sherlock than his own life, because he couldn’t be sure that whatever he had planned was going to work. What was important was his figure on the roof top and his words – “This phone call is my note. That’s what people do, isn’t it? Leave a note?”

It hit home with things we’ve all felt.

Most people have lost someone in the past, so most people know what it is like to beg them just not to be dead, for it all to be some sort of sick joke and for them to come back. And most of us would be too blinded by tears to stay by the grave for long enough to see them come back. Most of us, like Watson, walk away crying. I think also that most of us know what it’s like to be kept in the dark, because Sherlock said that he had to do this alone and he walked away from his best friend. Doesn’t it hurt when someone does that? Won’t let you help, and thinks they can cope alone?

The characters provoke our sympathy.

We’ve all felt for John through the series as his association with Sherlock not only makes it impossible for him to get a date, but also renders him ‘guilty by association’ whenever he’s in trouble. We feel for Molly, because Sherlock constantly insults her and puts her down, without even realising he’s doing it. When he at last registered that she was a good friend to him and that she understood him – and oh, who wasn’t affected when she said, “You look sad when you think he’s not watching”? – we knew what she would be feeling: glad, perhaps, that he trusted her, but also miserable because he was. Mycroft is just a human like all of us. He’s clever, yes. But he made a mistake and he’s trying to get somebody else to make up for it so that he feels less guilty.

Look at his face when he sees the newspaper at the end. Look at it, and then say you don’t feel something for him.

We keep thinking it’s going to be all right.

After they announced on 7th January that there would be a third series – and Steven Moffat confirmed that it had been commissioned at the same time as the second, which hopefully means the wait will be slightly shorter than the one between series one and two – we knew that it had to work out. We watched Holmes and Moriarty on the roof top and we felt like something had to sort itself out. When Sherlock was right on the edge, we tried to predict what he would say when he started laughing, and thought of all the ways it could work out. All the ways he wouldn’t fall.

He fell.

And across the UK, Sherlockians on Twitter were yelling at Moffat and Gatiss, who just sat there smugly and saying they felt quite accomplished by what they had achieved. Across Tumblr, the fandom was frantically putting its collective heads together to work out what must have happened, resulting in a fully developed and realistic enough theory just half an hour after the episode finished.

“Stop being dead.” That’s what John said. “Just please, don’t be dead.”

Haven’t we all felt that in the past?

I think most people did yesterday, when Mrs Hudson and John Watson stood by the grave and stared at the name on it. I think even Sherlock’s unexpected appearance didn’t help all that much, because they had already felt ALL OF THE EMOTION and cried ALL OF THE TEARS.

Yes, he was alive, but that didn’t change one thing –

“Goodbye, John.”

Be sure to check out the post on Miriam’s own site for some extra graphics I can’t reproduce here.

I don’t plan to make a habit of posting reviews of television shows, but this was a telelit event. One of the great works of western literature transformed into great television. And now iced with a great review.

So many reviewers, whatever the medium in question, just sum up the storyline of whatever it is they are reviewing, perhaps throwing in their personal opinions, but rarely touching on how the subject in review impinges upon their lives. That’s what makes the MWi reviews from Gerry McCullough and Charley R. outstanding. They set the bar for book review standards.

Miriam has just set the bar for reviewing television.

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  1. Read this post on Miriam’s blog, still think it’s awesome. Just putting it about that anyone who disagrees will be thumped with a deerstalker hat 😉

    • That will certainly quell the dissidents, Charley!

      i think it safe to say there’s not a soul on the planet who would risk a deerstalker-thumping from you!

        • Miriam Joy
        • January 18th, 2012

        Deerstalkers are, after all, death frisbees!
        (Line from the most recent episode)

        “Is it a cap? Why has it got two fronts?”
        “It’s a deerstalker, Sherlock.”
        “How do you stalk a deer with a hat? What do you do? I mean, do you throw it?” *throws hat* It’s a death frisbee! Hey, it’s got flaps. Ear flaps. It’s an ear hat, John!”
        *throws hat at Watson*

        (In the BBC version, the deerstalker hat was a disguise for when the media were stalking him. It then went viral and everyone associates it with him. As a joke, the police force bought him one as a present for solving a case. This is after that presentation.)

  2. I have to agree with Miriam. This is an amazing series which only adds, rather than detracts, from the original. It’s brilliant. It’s genius. And I, goo, am awaiting series three most eagerly!

    • I shall eagerly await the DVD release and have it sent out somehow.

        • Miriam Joy
        • February 17th, 2012

        The DVD was released very soon after the series aired and has been out for weeks, if you’re interested.

  3. Mark, this is so good. Just joined and already delighted.

  4. Delighted to have you here, Consuelo!

    • Miriam Joy
    • January 18th, 2012

    Thanks for (unexpectedly) running my post, Mark!

    • Thanks for not bringing in the lawyers! 🙂

      I would have asked first, but what if you’d said no? MWi would have missed out on a major scoop!

        • Miriam Joy
        • January 19th, 2012

        Pah, lawyers, can’t afford them. I’m still in debt for buying a Kindle. £130 in debt, to be precise…

  5. Hmmn, I had to read this post through my fingers and not for any reason that you can imagine.

    Of course, I wanted to read it so that I could share and leave a comment, BUT, I am ashamed to say, that the latest series and 3 epsiodes referred to are still languishing on my Sky planner and therefore, I didn’t want to read the spoiler! 😉

    Mark and I have been so busy just lately with our renewed plans for world domination (before it ends later this year), that I haven’t had much chance for TV.

    So, I shall agree that Sherlock is brilliant and I will read the review in full on Miriam’s site once I have caught up!

    • That’s the problem with impending ends of the world. It brings the things-to-do-before-you-die list into sharp focus.

      And no point planning world domination if there’s no world left to dominate. It’s enough to make you give up and watch TV instead.

        • Miriam Joy
        • January 19th, 2012

        I was very careful to warn people as my shocked texts when I finished watching the episode spoiled it for a few friends, I think! 😉

  6. I personally think a sci-fi time traveling Sherlock would be awesome.

    • It just needs a fantastic YA author like you to make it happen, Susan!

      For anyone not in the know Susan is the author of Open Minds, which will shortly feature here on MWi as one of my hot tips for 2012 stardom.

      Susan will be here too, with her views on the state of YA. Be sure to stick around!

    • There was a great 2-hour show (I think it was a failed series pilot) which had Sherlock Holmes wake up from suspended-animation in 1980’s San Fransisco, and fight a descendent of Moriarty. It was very well done.

    • I agree on the time traveling Sherlock. Brilliant.

  7. He He I read Miriam’s post on her blog, but just had to see what Mark was going to talk about to go with it. :}

    I remember the TVs like the one pictured. I remember selling our old black and white version for $25 at a yard sale when I was 6 or 7.. along with a peice of my artwork – to a teacher – siad he’s keep it for when I was famous….

    I grew up with out TV. We didn’t have the money for cable. And the antenna on the house didn’t provide the greatest reception and then we placed the TV in the basement (hey in a house without AC in a hot humid neck of the woods the basement sees more use than you think). So yeah.. no TV. Even now I tent to avoid the thing. It sucks me in like no tomorrow and I get glued and brain dead… I do watch interesting shows with my hubby. Usually via netflix so we can watch whenever we like. I might just have to tell him “Forget Eurika, we’re going to watch Sherloc from the BBC,” providing we can get it via Hulu or NetFlicks. *grin*

    :} Cathryn

  8. I think the reason Sherlock has done so well is the writers kept only the character names and their core personalities while updating everything else about them. That plus incredible dialogue.

      • Miriam Joy
      • January 19th, 2012

      The dialogue is indeed INCREDIBLE. Love some of the things they come up with.

      “But it’s the solar system!” is one of my favourites.

        • Miriam Joy
        • February 17th, 2012

        Heh, just found out that was an actual line from one of the stories. “So we go round the sun! What of it? If we went round the moon it would make no difference to me or my work!”

  9. Our PBS station just re-broadcast the pilot of this Sherlock and I loved it. The character always had the symptoms of Asperger’s and by playing with that, he’s a believable character in spite of all his eccentricities. And this is the best Watson I’ve ever seen. He’s subdued because he has PTSD, but he’s just as fearless as Sherlock. Just a bit older and wiser.

    Great review. But what’s this you say about Dr. Who? I haven’t seen the second Matt Smith season, and I didn’t like his Doctor as much as David Tennant’s or Eccleston’s. Are you saying you dislike the whole 21st century Doctor Who series, or just the Matt Smith ones?

      • Miriam Joy
      • January 19th, 2012

      No, no, no! I adore Doctor Who and only started watching it during David Tennant’s era, although I’ve since seen Eccleston’s and loved it. I haven’t seen any of Classic Who, being a 90s kid. From New Who, I was loving it up until series four, series five was okay although had a few dodgy moments, and then series six … was a disappointment, to say the least.

  10. I haven’t got this series yet. I’m a bit slow at times, hubs hogs the T.V. But I’m going to look for it. Thanks for the great review. As a SciFi fan, this is right up my alley. Who could not love both Sherlock and time travel.

  11. Never cared about Sherlock in all the incarnations it was presented in. Then last year, Guy Ritchie reinterpreted it and it was mildly interesting, for nothing else but Mark Strong.

    Now I learned about the BBC’s Steve Moffat’s update, upgrade, whatever description you want to put on it. I love it. I just finished watching series’s opener and I’m as in awe of it as I was of Luther, another BBC criminal, police procedural drama. Excellent entertainment.

      • Miriam Joy
      • January 19th, 2012

      I wasn’t a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, although I’d been meaning to get around to reading them. By the end of the “A Study In Pink” I was absolutely obsessed and working my way through the stories as well. Imagining Benedict Cumberbatch reading the lines definitely makes them more interesting! (Mind you, imagining him reading anything makes it more interesting, ha ha)

      After six episodes, I am now a total fan girl and spend most evenings on Tumblr reblogging ALL THE SHERLOCK. It’s good fun.

  12. Watched Ep 1 last night finally, loving it! Very funny in places. Especially liked line about being there to see the Queen! 😉

      • Miriam Joy
      • January 19th, 2012

      The Scandal episode? Yeah, there are some good lines in that. “We are in Buckingham Palace […]. Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on!”

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