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Sherlock: A Study in Pink

This production from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss has been well-hyped, which always makes me wary. But it does seem to have got off to a good start this evening. Here are some of the things I particularly liked about it:
  • The fact that the first time we see Sherlock's face, it's viewed upside-down and from within a body-bag. A lovely statement of how the series intends to invert old tropes.
  • The décor of the flat in 221b Baker Street, which managed to capture the feel of - oh, say - the set for the Granada series with Jeremy Brett, while still being plausibly contemporary at the same time.
  • Along similar lines, "It's a three patch problem" - lol!
  • The handling of text messages by just putting the text on the screen as we watch the character reading it. So much more simple and elegant than showing us the actual phone screen! Why haven't I seen anyone doing this before?
  • Similar for Sherlock's thought-processes as he examined the lady in pink lying on the floor. Much better than having him explain every detail to Watson - because although he did do that as well, filling in what he had deduced from his observations as he did so, it gave us as the audience a chance to do a little deducing ourselves before it was all spelt out for us.
  • And indeed all the road signs, road markings and maps overlaying Holmes and Watson's chase after the mysterious taxi-cab. Someone on the design team really know a thing or two about merging text and images.
  • Obviously lots and lots of queer references - not just Holmes and Watson themselves, though that was handled beautifully, but Mrs. Whoeveritwas next door having 'married ones' and 'Harry' Watson turning out to be short for Hariette. Well done!
  • And although the structure of a story centred around the relationship between two men obviously doesn't leave as much room for female characters as I'd really like, we have some promising starts: Mycroft's smartphone-addicted assistant Anthea, and Sergeant Donovan, who is more than ready to viciously deconstruct Sherlock's character.
  • Indeed, the general feeling that Sherlock is dangerous and that getting too deeply involved with him may backfire on Watson. That's an important element of the character, but all too easily eroded if we come to him with the baggage of previous experience, and thus take for granted that he is the good guy and that we can trust him. If we are to understand this Sherlock as someone new, that trust does need to be undermined.
On the minus side, I felt that some of the intended mysteries in the plot weren't as mysterious as they ought to have been. I knew that Mark Gatiss' character was intended to be Mycroft, rather than e.g. Moriarty, from his first appearance - partly because he demonstrated the same powers of deduction as Holmes, but mainly because Gatiss' performance was clearly channelling Charles Gray (again from the Granada series). And we'd already seen enough evocative shots of London taxis that I knew exactly what we were being pointed towards by the time Holmes started exhorting Watson to try to think of what type of person could hunt unseen in broad daylight. In fact, it seemed rather disappointing that the cab driver had to basically come and pick Holmes up from his flat in the end in order for the two to finally have their stand-off. I'd have preferred him to actually realise why the phone was at their address, and go out to the cab himself.

Still, this is nothing that'll matter if the quality of the acting, characterisation, scripting and production we've seen this evening are sustained and (in some cases) developed. I'll definitely be watching next weekend.

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( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
The use of text was indeed seamless, and so successful that I forgot to point it out.

I'm not too familiar with the Granada series, though I've seen fragments of it on ITV3 in recent years, and so haven't caught Charles Gray's Mycroft.

I'd imagined that 221B would be a more modern flat to acknowledge that that side of Baker Street is very 1960s, as I recall, but then that would have been channelling Adam Adamant rather than earlier interpretations of Holmes...
Jul. 26th, 2010 09:06 am (UTC)
I think the Granada series is worth watching systematically - and Charles Gray's Mycroft is a particular strength.
Jul. 26th, 2010 07:03 am (UTC)
You liked the queer references? I felt that if I was treated to another dose of 'not that there's anything wrong with that kind of thing' I'd've left the room. Even Harriet Watson was the punchline to a joke.
Jul. 26th, 2010 09:34 am (UTC)
I think they worked for me mainly as a commentary on the century plus of Holmes stories which haven't explicitly acknowledged the queer subtext between Holmes and Watson at all. The way last night's show handled it functioned for me as a sort of tongue-in-cheek joke at the expense of the many, many previous productions which haven't recognised or acknowledged it at all. (Again, though, I should stress that I haven't seen the recent film, so I've quite probably missed out on an important stage in the evolution of the Holmes / Watson relationship there.)

I do take your point about the multiple protestations of "Oh, but it's fine!", in that they could begin to seem like over-compensating. But I think that was happening partly because this script was trying to do two jobs at once: a) address the queer subtext explicitly at last, which means making it quite prominent in the script and b) acknowledge that it doesn't really make any difference to who the characters are or what they do anyway, hence all the "Oh, but it's fine!" comments. Those to me were the comments of a century's worth of previous characters suddenly seeing what most of the 21st-century audience already knows, stumbling for a moment and then getting over it. And I suspect that now it's been flagged up and dealt with on an explicit level, there probably won't need to be much more of that sort of commentary in the forthcoming episodes.

As for Harriet(te) Watson - yes, that was a joke, but to me it was a joke at the expense of normative assumptions about gender and sexuality. It poked fun at the default assumption that a given couple must be heterosexual, and that a given name must also signify masculinity, with the result that it left both characters and audience going "Whoops, yes - we forgot about queer people. Sorry!" at the end of it. That seemed to me also quite a positive thing.
Jul. 26th, 2010 09:48 am (UTC)
Fair enough on all of this.

(I didn't mind Harry at all at the time, although I hope we meet her or Clara and she's not just an invisible lesbian character.)

I'm not a Holmes fan at all, so I have this in an utterly different context from you, which is cool. In fact, the only thing I've really seen is the recent movie, which portrayed the relationship as a possesive, highly dependent (at least in one direction, if not codependent) one; the source of debilitating jealousy from Holmes in regards to Mary, but clearly rooted in deep love, regardless of whether it's platonic or not.

But because I came to this with no context, I expect a mystery show set in modern day London, and all the 'not that there's any wrong with that' comments just read to me like explicitly saying "We're not homophobic here at Broadcasting House, but slashers are just MISTAKEN, OK?"

I guess I prefer subtext to remain subtext and platonic relationships to speak for themselves and that my TV didn't add to that kind of rhetoric.

Otherwise, I REALLY REALLY liked it.
Jul. 26th, 2010 10:16 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I definitely hope we get to meet Harry and / or Clara too. Though I don't have big hopes about it, as I don't remember Watson's brother playing much of a role in the original stories.

And it's interesting that you read the comments made in last night's episode as implying that slashers were mistaken, as I didn't take that from it at all. Obviously both Holmes and Watson were protesting that they weren't attracted to one another in last night's episode - but then again, they had only just met and there is plenty of time for it to develop. At least, it may well do so on Watson's side, but I think Holmes will always remain fairly asexual - which is much the same dynamic as can be teased out of the subtext in the Granada series.
Jul. 26th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I definitely hope we get to meet Harry and / or Clara too. Though I don't have big hopes about it, as I don't remember Watson's brother playing much of a role in the original stories.

He's dead.

But I agree - an appearance by Harry, would be awfully cool.
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
I'm also not familiar enough with the Holmes canon to really have much of a clue about historical subtexts, but actually read all the "but that's fine" comments as being realistic characterisation. A huge number of people do have the impulse to explain that "it's fine" rather than just letting it pass (because obviously it's fine, and why would I have to state it?)

I could easily imagine two blokes who, not knowing each other, had just agreed to share a flat having exactly the conversation Holmes and Watson had in the café, complete with rather awkward and overdone "it's fine"-ness.

Edit: Sorry if this sounds like I think your view is wrong, it wasn't meant to read like that at all but I'm worried it does!

(Also edited about a million times for random spelling errors, crimes against grammar, &c)

Edited at 2010-07-30 01:27 pm (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
For reasons utterly unrelated to you or Penny, I'm taking everything the wrong way today anyway! So as a pre-emptive disclaimer, I'm not trying to tell you you're wrong either.

(How British that is)

Anyhoo. Just because it's good characterisation doesn't mean I want to see it all over my telly? I suppose it depends on whether you find that kind of awkwardness funny? I don't, because that awkwardness it rooted in the fact that it's not fine, really.

...I'm still watching it next week.
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
If it carries on into the next episode, I'll come and join you on the Not Impressed bench - even I'd agree it was too much at that point!
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
(How British that is)

*hugs you both for your genteel debating styles*
Jul. 26th, 2010 09:51 am (UTC)
It is clever. The numerous lifts from the originals are seamlessly worked in - deducing Watson's sister was a careless drunk from the scratches around the phone's charging point was came from the scene in The Sign of the Four where Holmes makes the deduction from scratches around the keyhole of Watson's brother's watch.

I've a notion that icons with a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch, and "What is it like to live in your tiny little minds?" are being made as I type this.
Jul. 26th, 2010 10:04 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I am certain that there will be many, many icons! (As for me, though, I'm all out of Holmes icons, and must resort to Poirot now). Incidentally, that particular line struck me as very Marvin the Paranoid Android-esque, so there is cross-over potential there, too.

And I hadn't remembered that about The Sign of the Four, though I'm pretty sure I've at least seen the Granada adaptation of it at some point. Well spotted you, and indeed - well adapted them!
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
I watched it too - quite unusual for me these days as I rarely watch TV series (just documentaries and sports), but I'm a fan of the original books so thought I would take a look. I quite enjoyed it and agree with a lot of what you've said here. I liked the look of it the way the text and graphics were incorporated, and quite liked the way the characters were done and some of the dialogue.

The plot though was disappointingly flimsy. I suppose that as it was the first one, you could see it as mainly introducing the characters, but still, it was an hour and a half long and only the first of three, so I was expecting a more complicated and interesting story. I too guessed it was a taxi driver early on and that the phone was in the taxi - it was so obvious. In some whodunnits, it's fun to guess things before the detectives do, but I feel that it's not right to guess things before Sherlock Holmes does! The killer's way of making the people kill themselves wasn't totally explained or particularly interesting, either.

I also found the scenes with Mycroft, and Watson being taken to meet him, a bit too kitsch and silly to fit in with the rest of the show, they seemed like something from a 1960s spy comedy and I thought they were out of place.

I will probably give it a go next week though, as it does have promise.
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it too, though I agree about the plot. Let's hope that improves over the next two episodes.

I know what you mean about the scene with Mycroft, but I guess that's part of how that character has always worked. I think he is supposed to be more interested in showing off about how clever he is, whereas Sherlock has enough application to actually solve real crimes. But yes - too much of that could get tiresome.
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