Sherlock Holmes, anti-hero

01-Oct-12 1:38 PM by
Filed under Television; 4 comments.

In 2000, when the DVD medium was still emerging, I cancelled my cable service. I decided if I wanted to watch a show, it'd be years later and on disc. Doing so requires more effort than just flipping on the television, so I tend to limit myself to two genres with proven track records for piquing my interest: comedies (like Big Bang Theory) and the impossible (Star Trek, Heroes, Buffy). I thus eliminate not only all "reality" TV, soap operas, and hospital shows, but also the voluminous genre known as the police procedural drama: Law & Order, CSI, and countless others.

But when a friend sent me a procedural drama that he thought I'd find interesting, I chose to honor that gift and investigate it further. "This [protagonist]… is the closest thing to an obtainable 'super hero' status that I can think of," he wrote in the iTunes gift receipt. "I love and hope to be [him], if just for a day, once in my life."

The object of my friend's aspiration is the protagonist of Sherlock, a modern take on the great detective. It debuted on the BBC in July 2010 and has run for two seasons (or series, as they're called in the U.K.), with each composed of three 90-minute episodes. My gift was the first season.

When the first episode opened to flashbacks of Middle Eastern warfare, I thought I was watching the wrong show. I quickly discovered the show is a modern-day re-imagining, set in a world where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books do not exist — which is why the main character can introduce himself without people asking, "Oh, like the detective?" This Sherlock Holmes is a twenty-something high-functioning sociopath who gets off on proving how smart he is. With the title of "consulting detective", he and his flatmate, war veteran Dr. John Watson, are called upon by the London police to solve crimes — not for financial reward, but for the thrill of the game.

Together, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch — The Hobbit's Necromancer, and currently rumored to be the next Star Trek movie's villain) and Watson (Martin Freeman — The Hobbit's Bilbo Baggins!) solve a variety of deaths, with the first two episodes focusing on serial killers who make their murders look like suicides. As independent detectives, the pair are not above the law, but they do tend to operate outside it, not being confined by warrants, rights, and the like. Rather than rely on modern crime-solving techniques such as DNA analysis and forensics, Sherlock employs the science of deduction: observing minute clues — Is her wedding ring tarnished or polished? How muddy were his shoes, and where was it raining today? — and extrapolating reasonable yet astonishing conclusions. It's reminiscent of the theory behind Isaac Asimov's short story "Feminine Intuition": feed a brilliant character enough random information, and some meaningful connection will come out of it.

As someone ignorant of Sherlock's television contemporaries, I cannot say what sets this series apart from other police procedurals. There are some subtle effects, such as anytime a main character reads a text message on his cell phone, rather than show the audience the phone, the text is simply superimposed over the current scene. Or when Sherlock is scrutinizing a scene, the camera quickly cuts among and zooms in on his various observations. But the actual outline of discovering and solving crimes doesn't strike me as particularly unique — except for the crimes requiring someone of Sherlock's intellect to solve, often leaving even the audience in the dark until the last minute.

Martin Freeman as Dr. John WatsonAs in the original novels, the homely Watson is a foil to Sherlock, but he's an interesting character in his own right. He spends time looking for a job, pursuing romance, and recovering from his war wounds — he's an Everyman to whom the audience can relate.

By comparison, Sherlock lives up to his self-description as a sociopath: someone "who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." Sherlock continuously shows an absence of empathy and sympathy for the potential colleagues and clients he encounters. In fact, the dumber he makes them feel, the better he seems to feel himself, going as far as to demonstrate his self-confidence and self-importance in such bold declarations to the police as "This will all go much more quickly if you take my word as gospel!" It goes beyond a preference for logic and efficiency over emotion: Sherlock is completely without awareness or understanding why not everyone is like him. Sometimes this shortcoming can be a stumbling block for understanding criminals' or victims' motivations: "Her daughter died years ago; why would she still be upset about it?" Sherlock asks, baffled by what would be obvious to any feeling person.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock HolmesI've always enjoyed Star Trek's Vulcan characters, from Spock to Tuvok, for not letting personal feelings get in the way of the mission, but Sherlock's ego elevates him beyond such likability. Although he is motivated to save lives hanging in the balance, it is only because he sees doing so as a victory, rather than any actual value he places on human lives. "Will caring about them help me save them?" he asks rhetorically. Caring is the purview of an entirely different class of person, one he dismisses: "Heroes don't exist; if they did, I wouldn't be one of them."

Unfortunately for the young Mr. Holmes, I prefer my heroes to be relatable. I don't believe ability alone is enough to make a character enviable; otherwise, we'd be celebrating Hitler for his speechmaking, or Lee Harvey Oswald for his marksmanship. It's how and, just as important, why those skills are used. Yes, we all want to feel smart, but rarely at the expense of others, or to benefit our own ego and nothing else. Look at Scott Bakula's character Sam Beckett, the star of Quantum Leap. Dr. Beckett had an I.Q. of 267 and seven doctoral degrees — yet he exemplified humility and worked in the service of humanity, not just for the potential reward of "the leap home", but because he genuinely cared about people. He had a passionate sense of justice and could not abide by selfishness, pettiness, racism, or other wrongdoing, no matter the perpetrator, crime, place, or era. Sam Beckett is a hero I admire and look up to, whereas today's Sherlock Holmes has no interest in even pretending to be one.

I have no doubt that the friend who bequeathed this series to me doesn't wish himself to be a sociopath. Instead, it is Sherlock's mental prowess that sets himself apart from other modern-day detectives. The rest of his personality turned me off after the first two episodes, but I thought it foolish to watch so much of the first season and not finish the deed, so I dutifully sat through the final show … and was surprised to find it the best of the lot. There was even one scene that had me on the edge of my seat — a remarkable feat for characters I claim to not be invested in. The season ended on a mild cliffhanger which left me a bit confused yet eager for resolution.

Will I watch the rest of the series? A serial television show often requires a significant commitment, up to 18 hours of viewing for a single season. But Sherlock's abbreviated nature demands only 4.5, which is far more tolerable. So despite my misgivings, I'm willing and able to go outside my genre limitations and see what further mysteries await the pairing of Holmes and Watson. The show is afoot!

Top 10 shows cancelled after 1 season

25-Jun-12 8:30 PM by
Filed under Television; 5 comments.

YouTube artist Brian Picchi is best known for his Apple II software reviews, but occasionally he branches out to bring his witty critique to other media. He most recently turned his focus to his personal top ten shows cancelled after (or during) the first season:

To summarize the 12-minute video, here are the shows that made Picchi's cut, starting at #1:

  1. Firefly (2002)
  2. Awake (2012)
  3. Planet of the Apes (1974)
  4. Voyagers! (1982)
  5. Crusoe (2008)
  6. Top Cat (1961)
  7. The Dana Carvey Show (1996)
  8. Nightmare Cafe (1992)
  9. Freaks and Geeks (1999)
  10. The Tick (2001)

Due to the short lives of many of these shows, I'm unsurprised I haven't seen most of them. Of those I have, Top Cat is such a classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon that I didn't even realize it had been cancelled; before it was, 30 episodes were created, more than the typical 22-episode season of a live-action show. The death of The Tick, I did not lament, given its significant inferiority to its animated predecessor.

But both Ticks share a credit in common with the #1 show: Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick, wrote several episodes of Firefly. When Picchi had made it that far down his list without mentioning Joss Whedon's cult hit, I was worried I would have to unsubscribe from this YouTube hack's channel. Fortunately, he redeemed himself, even teasing that we never should've doubted him.

Still, where is Police Squad? The show that the transition from serious to comedic actor that Leslie Nielsen began in Airplane! lasted a mere six episodes yet is comedy gold.

And, given Picchi's penchant for sci-fi and underdogs, I'm surprised he didn't mention Defying Gravity, which starred Office Space's Ron Livingston and ran for only 13 episodes. I watched the first few episodes via iTunes and was unimpressed, but I know Apple II user Eric Shepherd was rooting for it, so I figured it was just me.

Of course, any such list barely scratches the surface of shows killed before their time (Journeyman, anyone?) and will always be subjective and incomplete. Fortunately, the story needn't always end: many shows continue their narrative in novels, comic books, and video games. And for those that don't, there are many spiritual successors. Check out these awesome books to replace your favorite cancelled TV shows.

Coming Soon to a Quadrant Near You

16-Dec-06 11:07 AM by
Filed under Star Trek; Comments Off on Coming Soon to a Quadrant Near You

StarTrek.com posts a reminder of all the places you can find all the Treks:

  • Star Trek starting 17-Nov-06 on TV Land. Also on G4 in uncut versions and in the unique Trek 2.0 format. The all-new Remastered versions are also in syndication around the country.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation is currently on both G4 and Spike TV. (Look for TNG 2.0 on G4 starting 15-Jan-07.)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is currently on Spike TV.
  • Star Trek: Voyager is moving to Spike TV starting 18-Dec-06 but can also be seen on a handful of stations that still air it in syndication.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise is on HDNet (where it started back on 18-Sep-06). Also coming to the SciFi Channel on 08-Jan-07.

Not having any TV service, it is not a decision of channels that has me torn. Besides the Time Travel Collective, I don't have any of the series on DVD. Do I spend $20 to get seven great Picard episodes (The Big Goodbye, Sarek, Family, The Drumhead, Darmok, The Inner Light, and Tapestry) – or do I wait and get the 176-episode complete box set for $300?

Decisions, decisions… Recommendations?