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Genius of the evil kind
This show is pure evil. Broken down it’s not much to cheer for. It’s yet another Sherlock Holmes version and most if its tricks have been stolen from other, better shows (take a look at the characters and see if you can spot the Doctor, the Master or Wilson ). If you ask fans what sets this Sherlock Holmes from all the other ones, they’ll probably point to the writing and stars Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. However, look closer at their writing and you’ll find clichés, sometimes to the point where it removes originality from the original story, such as reducing Irene Adler to a Femme Fatal minion of Moriarty’s who does a High Heel Face Turn. Overall it seems that characters who aren’t white straight middle-or-higher class men are reduced to stereotypes; the fangirl, the maid, the bitch, the flaming gay guy, the lesbian who falls for the hero and Chinese and Arabic characters who look like they’ve just stepped out of a Tintin comic. There is also a cold streak in the show. The eye rolls at people who entertain the idea that two guys acting like a couple could be a couple, Sherlock constantly humiliating people through his scans, and the overall disdain for affection all contribute to a fundamentally unsympathetic core. The writers do try to distract from it with a supposedly warming relationship between John and Sherlock – but ultimately fail because of the constant assurances that they’re not ‘’too’’ close, you know, emotions but controlled manly emotions, vulnerable but not enough to break the façade. And all this is not even mentioning that the episodes are far too long and padded.

Yet still, if you watch the show it will suck you in like a black hole. Remember the part about borrowing tricks? The writers have not only borrowed the tricks, they’ve perfected them too. Sherlock himself is fascinating to watch, and with much of the story being told through his eyes, the nerdy enthusiasm that he has for the case drags you in while the passion that everyone else has for him keeps you in place. This is a series that pushes every button available, whether it’s the humor, the bromance, the Estrogen Brigade Bait, the mysteries or the over the top scenarios and acting. This isn’t good writing, it’s cold, calculated entertainment that does exactly what it is supposed to do. Pure evil.

Irene Adler was not a reduced role. In fact she was created with this in mind.

In the books Irene Adler Does Not Feature. She's some lady, who basically 'defeats' Sherlock by running away from him. There was no real wit or ingenuity to her victory and after that one mention in one story, she was never seen again. It's just that every adaptation is so desperate for a normalish story structure, they're all intent on turning her into the love interest.

At least in Sherlock she's actually good enough to almost outsmart Sherlock (rather than merely being cleverly enough to run away when she sees him) and she would have too if she hadn't become involved.

Sorry this was a long post for a minor nitpick. Interesting review
comment #13304 Tomwithnonumbers 17th Mar 12
Huh. Weird review. I'm guessing you've never written or painted or anything, because it boggles me how one could call such a composite of carefully-executed, perfectly complementary art forms 'cold, calculated entertainment'. And yeah, Sherlock's character is very unsympathetic. It's part of his schtick and a very important plot point. Not sure why that bothered you.

It sounds like what basically bothered you is that the show's elements and ideas aren't 100% original - which, duh, they couldn't possibly be, given that it's one of the most-adapted stories in the world, either coincidental or intentional overlap is inevitable - and that it did what it set out to do too perfectly. Which is... a weird complaint, really.
comment #15480 Hekateras 22nd Jul 12
I tend to agree with most of your points. But the biggest problem I had with Sherlock was how Moriarty was being reduced from a cold, calculating, hands-off villain who wants to control London to a screaming mad dog just this side of a Looney Tunes character whose only motivation is to sow chaos. As soon as he showed up, I couldn't take the show seriously anymore. It's like Lex Luthor getting recast as the Joker, it doesn't work for me.
comment #15975 Filby 31st Aug 12
I agree with all your points. I enjoyed this show very much, but at the end of the day if someone asked me to list out why I'd recommend it to them, I'd be at a loss for words; and your review just helped me to pinpoint why exactly such conflicting emotions come into play in me where BBC Sherlock is concerned. I think it's just my natural devotion to the ACD 'verse and my subsequent desire to see it modernized (I haven't watched or read a single adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes series, apart from this one) that has me so devoted to it. Honestly, some of the fanfiction for the show (not the slash ones, obviously, but the gen casefics that try to expand upon canon) do a better job with the story than some of the episodes do.

And I must especially address the Irene Adler issue, as it's what seems to be causing the most ire towards your review: there was really no need, was there, to make her a lesbian or a dominatrix? Surely, a royal sex scandal is a disaster waiting to happen, even without implications of kinky same-gender sex factored into the equation? I accept that the writers were attempting to make her 'strong' and 'independent', and perhaps to make a point (though it's not a point I approve of — why exactly is it so 'wrong' for Sherlock to just be asexual?) by having Sherlock fall prey to her charms. But in that case they should have made her an ordinary Femme Fetale, and not have had her fall helplessly in love with him in return. Like in the ACD 'verse, she should have gone off to a life — and a love — that Sherlock would never be a part of, and left him confused and somewhat more humbled in her wake.

Moriarty, as Filby mentioned in her/his comment, was ridiculous. First the campy behaviour, then the childish desire to 'play games' with Sherlock, followed by that nonsensical display on the rooftop of St. Bart's...absurd! That is supposed to be the most brilliant criminal in the whole of the UK? Lord help us!
comment #16402 BlacKat 6th Oct 12
Filby is a "his" :)

A friend of mine proffered that the characterization in Sherlock is reflective of a greater problem in popular culture. In Doyle's stories, Holmes is detached but still has a strong sense of justice if you look beneath his cold exterior; Moffat's Holmes is an avowed sociopath who solves crimes not because it's the right thing to do, but just because it entertains him. An altruistic hero, my friend believes, is unpalatable to modern consumers, or at least modern network execs.

Likewise, Moriarty is reduced from a calculating mastermind with a concrete agenda to an insane fruit loop because a villain who has no motive but to be a villain comforts us because it's so black and white. Just as it's easier (she suggests) for the public to swallow Islamic radicals as mad dogs who kill because killing is just what they do than it is to consider that they have complex reasons for committing evil acts. Like Heath Ledger's Joker, but without his philosophical side. And when your hero is a sociopath, the villain has to be even worse, doesn't he?

It's a shame. When Mycroft first showed up and the audience was baited into thinking he was Moriarty, I was genuinely intrigued because he really had his shit together and would have been an incredibly tough villain to beat. But then the real Moriarty appears and is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and it all fell apart.
comment #16434 Filby 10th Oct 12
I feel the idea that Sherlock does it purely out of fascination for the crime is a surface level interpretation. Apart from anything else, it's the idea espoused from people who are immediately established as unreliable on their views of Sherlock. Once you go past the surface the stories are full of him being self-sacrificial in order to see that justice is done and to protect other people. Look at the season finale which has him going to extraordinary lengths to protect one man, or the way he goes to the Middle East just to help out one person. He's clearly driven by altruism and a strong sense of justice, but the people around him out of jealousy and lack of understanding call him a sicko who gets off and crime because he at the same time displays the same fascination on the subject that the same hero of the books frequently lectured on.

And with Moriarty I think that was Moffat upping the game and creating a villain who it would be legitimately hard for Sherlock to beat and who we might believable think actually one. When he did what he did I genuinely thought he'd managed to outwit Sherlock and Moffat had made the questionable decision of letting Moriarty outsmart Sherlock. It turned what was in the books a very in-name only battle of wits, climaxed by an unappealing fistfight on a waterfall into another part of strategy between two people who would take it further than any other and thwart the other even beyond death
comment #16435 Tomwithnonumbers 10th Oct 12
It seemed to me that Moriarty was not so loopy as he seemed. His antics served a concrete purpose, which was to scare the poop out people. He did have a concrete agenda, or rather agendas. First it was to serve as "consulting criminal," then to play his grand game with Sherlock. His motive in both cases, aside from the usual money and power, was simple and beautiful: he thinks everyone is an idiot. So does Sherlock, but of course various identical motives can lead one into crime or crimefighting.

Okay, the agenda of his last game was more abstract than in previous episodes, and therefore not concrete. But someone brought up the Joker's philosophical motivations, and Moriarty's interest in playing was along those lines.

You may prefer a power or money criminal to existential criminal, and so do I. Just don't be fooled into thinking he was an aimless nutso criminal.

As to the Darker and Edgier problem in pop culture, there's something to that. But don't be fooled either by the "avowed sociopath" stuff. Sherlock obviously doesn't solve crimes for the heck of it, and plenty examples can be found of his altruism. Perhaps not pure altruism, but at least limited egotism. It remains that the show feels the need to pretend he's a psycho, and that does speak to a problem. Console yourselves with the knowledge that in order to produce a watchable show Sherlock's cold, cold heart is a pretence
comment #16438 tublecane 11th Oct 12
Even then, I'm not convinced the show pretends he's a psychopath at any great level. It's left there as a potential question, but I would say the most frequent times it makes out Sherlock as a psychopath is in the mouth of someone whose got no clue about the matter. Like when the crimescene call Sherlock a psychopath, they're being established as jealous and ignorant which means that the show itself must be favouring the opposite as true, that Sherlock is motivated by nobler causes
comment #16440 Tomwithnonumbers 11th Oct 12
Sherlock himself says he's a high functioning sociopath in response to accusations of psychopathology. I'm not entirely sure what's the difference, except that sociopaths are probably better at empathizing with others, or better at faking it. Or maybe "sociopath" is only the newer term for the same disease.

That being said, quite apart from whether or not he's mentally deranged the show does go out of its way to make him more morally indifferent, less sympathetic, and frankly less human than earlier iterations. It was a major plot point of the Reichenbach Fall episode that he was tempermentally on Moriarty's side and perfectly capable of his villainy, only for whatever reason works for our side.

Which is to say that the creators go out of their way to make us think of him like an incurable egotist, even with many examples of heroism and if not selflessness at least unselfishness. And the reason is that tv shows for whatever reason don't like good guys anymore, and are willing to go so far as imply mental disease to avoid them.
comment #16445 tublecane 12th Oct 12
I imagine in writerland sociopathy is seen as complete disregard for social niceties. So he's ignorant or chooses to ignore the person who loves him, he doesn't say hello, he doesn't ask how people are and he doesn't care about their answer or breaking things to people generally etc.

Whereas psychopathy would be a more fundamental and deeper version of sociopathy. So whereas Holmes would just straight up tell someone that their mother just died horribly, he would have done his best to prevent that fate happening to the mother, Moriarty, the psychopath, would have been indifferent to the mothers fate, or more likely even interested in the interplays of the situation.

Dipping out of fiction for a second, incidentally one of the interesting things about psychopaths (and I think sociopaths) is they're often actually associated with very high levels of intellectual empathy because to get kicks out of manipulating people you've got to have a very high understanding of how people work and can be manipulated. They just don't have the emotional empathy to feel another person's pain etc. Not relevant at all to the discussion but I've always found it interesting
comment #16446 Tomwithnonumbers 12th Oct 12
The thing is though, it is stated in the original stories (The Speckled Band, I believe) that Sherlock doesn't do it for the money, he solves crimes because he enjoys it there too. The difference is that this Sherlock enjoys it in a different way. Also, while reading about a more altruistic Holmes is good and fun, in a TV show, it doesn't work as well, especially in the modern world. And Moriarty's goals? Really, they're the same as Sherlock: prove to the rest of the world he's a genius. He just does it in a different, more unhinged way. As for messing with Sherlock, that's something he does for kicks. Which, given his portrayal, makes sense. If you think he was to over-the-top, well, that's your opinion and I can't argue with that. But his portrayal does have some sense to it, and really, since we never actually meet Moriarty in the books, we have no idea what he was like, he could've been anything. So yeah, there is foundation for this, it all just depends on personal opinion from that point.
comment #17477 JamesPicard 29th Dec 12
I can't help put point out here that Sherlock isn't actually a sociopath or a psychopath, he just wants to think he is. What he really has is Aspergers coupled with a genius intellect, but he can't admit that because that would be admitting that he's the one who's broken. If he's a sociopath, he can convince himself that it's the world that's in the thrall of their petty emotions.

You can see how he has a mild form of Aspergers in the way he is virtually incapable of intuitive nonverbal communication (though, this being Sherlock, he has replaced that intuitive ability with conscious logical analysis; however, he often forgets to pay attention to it when distracted, resulting in delayed reactions), extremely narrowly-focused interests (knows over two hundred classifications of tobacco ash but doesn't care who's Prime Minister), the difficulty he has reading other people's emotional and social cues, and the rigidity of many of his habits (has a sock index, is happy when Lestrade shows up because that means more of the usual faces at a crime are there, always wears the same outfit with no variation unless necessary). Even his speech patterns are classic Aspergers in many cases, with his tendency towards verbosity and somewhat limited range of inflection.

Psychopathy/sociopathy, by comparison, doesn't fit him very well. He shows remorse on many occasions when he has accidentally offended someone (e.g. Molly during Christmas), he reacts to the CIA men roughing up Mrs. Hudson with cold outrage, and he goes to extreme lengths to defend those he regards as his "family" in The Reichenbach Fall. His usual mannerisms are abrasive and brutally truthful, where a real psychopath would affect at least a superficial degree of charm. Not to mention, he is neither irresponsible nor impulsive; Sherlock thinks through everything he does, and he is actually quite reliable once he has said that he will do something. I could go on, but you get the idea. If you really want a side-by-side comparison, Moriarty is textbook psychopath, with his fickleness, childishness, and the way in which he has isolated himself from the rest of humanity.

A note, incidentally, on the distinction between psychopath and sociopath: sociopath can mean psychopath or mean Antisocial Personality Disorder. I am using it synonymously with psychopath because, quite honestly, Sherlock's symptoms hardly match up with APD at all.

In truth, I find this iteration of Sherlock Holmes much more human than many previous iterations. For one thing, he has a recognizable personality disorder, but he is, like his brother, in denial about it. You don't get much more human than that. Second, his morality is extremely interesting. There is a good bit in The Great Game where he asks John, "Would caring about [the victims] help save them?" I find that quote telling, because it says everything you need to know about his view of right and wrong. To Watson, it is immoral and wrong not to care about people, but to Sherlock, caring would do those victims a great disservice, because "sentiment" impedes his ability to rescue them while actually enjoying the puzzles helps him solve them faster and think more effectively. But Sherlock is, at the same time, conflicted about this because he knows that most people judge a man's moral character by how much he cares about people. In light of this, it is easier for him to simply characterize himself as a bad man who helps the good guys than for him to attempt to reconcile these two paradigms. It's a marvelous bit of cognitive dissonance, and one that gives his character a tremendous amount of subtle texture and complexity.
comment #17632 MarkAntony 9th Jan 13
Thanks that pretty much improves the show for me =). I particularly like the bit about caring for people not being as important as helping them. I hope this is all exactly whats in the writers minds
comment #17633 TomWithNoNumbers 10th Jan 13
All entertainment is calculated. Horror is made to scare you. Romance is supposed to make you go 'aw.' Comedy is written to make you laugh. Sherlock was written to suck you in.

Sherlock is supposed to be an unsympathetic character. We know that his treatment of others is wrong; the point is that his character is supposed to grow. I know people like him, like my brother. They've been through enough shit in their lives that they just hate everyone.

And everything borrows from everything else. That's the way art works. Wilson from House was based on John Watson, as House was based on Holmes. I will say that Moffat's characters sometimes feel copied and pasted though.

I adore Moriarty, but I don't mind that you dislike him.

However, I will completely agree about Irene. I'm a lesbian and the whole fettished and a little bit sexist treatment of her character pissed me off.
comment #17842 Jojo27 25th Jan 13
While I can’t actually refute anything that has been said in this review, I do think the reviewer is rather missing the point of the show. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were obsessively plot-centric, and not at all about the people involved: after all, not even the main characters’ lives outside of their mystery-solving exploits were ever explored! As the show’s creators have stated, they intend to remain as true to the original canon as possible – something that cannot be done if they were to take on a more typical character-centric approach. As for the misogyny and racism/classism – as much as I object to it (and I do, since I’m an Asian woman) - I also understand that in the end, ''Sherlock’’, despite being set in modern times, is a story that showcases Victorian social mores. And it’s common knowledge that misogyny, racism and classism were the essence of Victorian England. Ditto for the homophobia, which is actually still in effect all over the world; and since homosexuality is made a topic of ridicule in more works of fiction than anyone would care to count, I don’t see why this particular show should take more flak about it for its roundabout ribbing than any other.

I do, however, agree that the Irene Adler affair was concluded less-than-satisfactorily. In fact, I give original ACD canon credit for handling her characterisation best of all out of any Sherlock Holmes story ever, Victorian-era male chauvinism and all.

Of course, one could dispose of all the flaws that this review showcases by going the route that Elementary’’ has decided to tread: portray Holmes as undeniably heterosexual (thus averting any debates about his sexuality, any perceived homophobia, etc.), make Watson a woman (accusations of misogyny permanently averted), make Holmes’ love affair with Irene canon and give it a tragic end (Moriarty becomes more ‘real’ and ‘hateful’ a villain than in the BBC rendition, character development/backstory is taken care of, everyone sympathises with Irene and there's little criticism about the way she’s characterised, etc.), but I honestly feel that in doing so, everything at the root of what makes Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes'', is lost, and the show becomes just another crime drama like so many hundreds of others.
comment #18295 sylverfairi 23rd Feb 13
While I can’t actually refute most of what has been said in this review, I do think the reviewer is rather missing the point of the show. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were obsessively plot-centric, and not at all about the people involved: after all, not even the main characters’ lives outside of their mystery-solving exploits were ever explored! As the show’s creators have stated, they intend to remain as true to the original canon as possible – something that cannot be done if they were to take on a more typical character-centric approach. As for the misogyny and racism/classism – as much as I object to it (and I do, since I’m an Asian woman) - I also understand that in the end, Sherlock, despite being set in modern times, is a story that showcases Victorian social mores. And it’s common knowledge that misogyny, racism and classism were the essence of Victorian England. Ditto for the homophobia, which is actually still in effect all over the world; and since homosexuality is made a topic of ridicule in more works of fiction than anyone would care to count, I don’t see why this particular show should take more flak about it for its roundabout ribbing than any other.

I do, however, agree that the Irene Adler affair was concluded less-than-satisfactorily. In fact, I give original ACD canon credit for handling her characterisation best of all out of any Sherlock Holmes story ever, Victorian-era male chauvinism and all.

Of course, one could dispose of all the flaws that this review showcases by going the route that Elementary has decided to tread: portray Holmes as undeniably heterosexual (thus averting any debates about his sexuality, any perceived homophobia, etc.), make Watson a woman (accusations of misogyny permanently averted), make Holmes’ love affair with Irene canon and give it a tragic end (Moriarty becomes more ‘real’ and ‘hateful’ a villain than in the BBC rendition, character development/backstory is taken care of, everyone sympathises with Irene and there's little criticism about the way she’s characterised, etc.), but I honestly feel that in doing so, everything at the root of what makes Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes, is lost, and the show becomes just another crime drama like so many hundreds of others.

And another thing: you do realise, don't you, that character dynamics like those in House were derived from the original Sherlock Holmes stories and the Holmes/Watson bromance as portrayed therein? So that accusation is utterly absurd.
comment #18296 sylverfairi 23rd Feb 13
Wow. This is... one of the better reviews I've seen of this show. Well done, Mimimurlough.
comment #19555 Roo 28th May 13
Regarding the recasting of Irene Adler as Dominatrix, I think it's a weird case of late-19th century to early-21st century cultural translation. Remember, in the original story, Irene is a divorcee with an active romantic life. By 19th century standards, this is highly scandalous, and marks Irene as a woman outwith the norm in society. This doesn't really work in the 21st century setting of this show, where divorced women with active love lives are completely unremarkable. Making her a dominatrix keeps that element of scandal/being "the other" that makes the character interesting.
comment #19559 Nemo 29th May 13
It's a good review, but like a lot of people said, it kind of misses the point regarding the stock characters. When you have to introduce a bucket load of new suspects each mystery, you have to take short cuts. It works quite well narratively as well as practically, because Holmes is the exact type of narcissistic misogynist to dismiss these people as bit parts in a more interesting scheme. I actually think the show did quite well at playing on this aspect, humanising some of the minor characters (like "the fan girl") and inviting us to cringe whenever Holmes acts callous around them.

I do agree about the Tintin ethnic types though. Just what the hell was going on with that Chinese Circus episode? It's like thee show only modernised the UK and left everywhere else in a stereotype 19th Century fantasy land. I also agree that Adler got the short end of the stick. I know she has always been oversold since the book, treated as a superwoman who could best Holmes any day, but I think that's kind of a good thing. The show needs genius women, and to have Irene as Moriarty's pawn, ultimately to be defeated by Holmes, is kind of a weak way for the character to go.

My final problem is that too many solutions to episodes end by cutting the knot. I want to see Holmes find elegant solutions to complicated puzzles, not blast his way through the problems every time it gets too difficult. It feels like an unsatisfying cop-out when someone ends up getting shot through the face, half way through proposing a tough dilemma, or revealing their master stroke.
comment #23070 maninahat 2nd Feb 14
  • brainfart: replace "mysogynist" with "misanthrope".
comment #23071 maninahat 2nd Feb 14
I liked that Season 3 had a female character who pulled an Irene Adler (from the books) but in a much more impressive manner. It was a shame she was miserable for a bit afterwards, but I'm hopeful they can do a lot of great things with her going forwards
comment #23076 TomWithNoNumbers 2nd Feb 14
How is including things the audience like and formulating it to appeal to people "pure evil?"

Would you rather it be designed to appeal to nobody? Because that would really suck.
comment #23077 ElectricNova 2nd Feb 14
@Electric Nova I'm not so sure about that. You know something that WAS formulated to be hated by everyone? Springtime for Hitler.
comment #25493 JamesPicard 2nd Aug 14
This review sums up my problems with the series. The canonical Holmes may have distrusted women, but he was perfectly capable of civil behavior and empathy with them (cf. The Copper Beeches, The Solitary Cyclist) He was a Bohemian, not an emotionally arrested child. As for the Tintin ethnic villains, go read "The Yellow Face" for Doyle's opinion of that stupidity.

I'm just glad that Moffat hasn't gotten hold of any other heroes from my youth, like Doctor Who...

Wait, what...?
comment #26279 amsboethius64 22nd Sep 14
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