Me, Sherlock, and Television.

Hey folks,
It's time for some serious talk. Maybe a little ranting. Enjoy.

Those Damn Brits: Sherlock and Literate Television

Why can't we have literate television on network television here in the United States?

I asked myself this question as I was watching the amazing new series Sherlock. In this new BBC series quintessential detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant Dr. John Watson are rebooted to modern day. As played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock is the same arrogant bastard who has created a career for himself as "police consultant." In the first episode of the series he meets up with combat veteran Dr. John Watson, who has returned from Afghanistan with a little PTSD and a limp. In classic fashion they team up to solve a mystery and end up moving into a flat together at 221 Baker Street.

When I first heard about this "reboot" I was filled with uncertainty. Is this what we really need? Another Sherlock Holmes? I just didn't see the point. Also didn't see why television needs a modernized version. There's a severely dumbed down version of CSI's that fill that niche. In the United States it seems we've shifted our crime fighters from cops to scientists. This makes sense completely because one relies on anti-heroes (The Wire, Homicide, NYPD Blue) and the other relies on the age old debate of Science or Nature (Bones, CSI). These have become comfortable formulas for the American public. In the last 10 years American audiences want to watch professionals doing their jobs well. This has led to the glut of CSI's and Law & Order's that dominate our television landscape. These shows are all the same. They are all a comfortable formula of crime fighters with an easy morality who do their jobs well.

Unfortunately, those type of shows aren't good enough for me. I want complexity. I want to be challenged. I want my television to share the same thrill that I feel when I read a great novel. "Literate" television for me includes the following aspects:
  • -A narrative thru-line so that each episode feels like it's part of a bigger story.
  • -A continuity that respects the fact that the audience knows when characters are being consistent with prior events.
  • -Themes and motifs that are longstanding and lasting.
  • -Effort on the part of the production team to create an interesting and fascinating world.
  • -Complex characters that take more than a sentence to explain.
  • -A world of complex moral values, which reflects our own.
I can't be alone in this.

Now just to be clear: I am not a television snob. I love television. Now more than ever it is the medium that reaches the largest audience and can have the greatest impact. However I don't think it's wrong to expect television to pander to highest common denominator, rather than the lowest. I feel as if by raising our expectations and refusing what's comfortable then the entire culture wins.

The only place lately that I've been able to be satisfied with the storytelling quality is in science fiction. I am confident that Lost will go down in history as one of the finest network television shows every produced. It not only demanded that it's audience think and pay attention but it never apologized for being smart. The short-lived Pushing Daisies was delightfully witty and charming. The show never sacrificed what made it so wonderfully original to chase ratings and audiences. To this day I still don't understand why American audiences passed it by. These days I have to go to cable to find novelistic storytelling that isn't science fiction. And even with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it seems that I'm still chasing sci-fi to find the narrative challenge I crave.

I enjoy watching PBS, Masterpiece Theater, and BBC America aplenty. The educational bent of their programming does tend to get a little dry. However when it comes to "entertainment" programs PBS tends to import everything from BBC. As I understand it in the British Broadcast System each series is paid for in advance, so each series is guaranteed a definite number of episodes. A series will finish its run no matter what the ratings are. So every show has a chance to improve or go downhill. At least it will finish. The BBC never seems to compromise storytelling and character in the name of ratings. Their willing to do 18 part literary adaptations alongside comedy programming like Spaced. Both sides of the scale show the high quality value that seems absent from American network television. And each series is a complete compact chapter. When it's done, it's done. If only network television on this side of the Atlantic were willing to take those risks.

Which brings me back to BBC's Sherlock. In three 90 minute episodes writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss captured all the wonderful things about Sherlock Holmes with a post-modernist spin. In this modern world Sherlock Holmes is a crime fighter but also a complex human being. He works as a scientist. Purposely distancing himself from human emotion but still having a clear moral code. Moffat and Gatiss have found a way to twist Holmes arrogance into a sort of off-kilter nihilism.

How important is it to Holmes to be proven right? What is he willing to sacrifice? This uncertainty makes his final confrontation with James Moriarty in episode three wonderfully thrilling. Moriarty is equally scary due to his amoral code. Holmes can only be saved from the mutually assured destruction scenario presented by Moriarty because he refuses to be beaten.
Holmes has a keen sense of right and wrong, however he is fueled by an inner need to show that he is better than everyone. This arrogance is universal in those who are steeped in the scientific method.

Of course he is humanized by Dr. John Watson, who is a substitute for the audience. They are a great pair of equals in this adaptation. Watson has the skills of a soldier. He is a killer if it's necessary to save other human beings. Yet he is exasperated by Holmes lack of "caring" about those who are under the threat of the mad bomber in episode three. Watson fills in the gaps of humanity that Sherlock is missing within himself.

This is dynamic storytelling. So of course it's British. I'm just saying that it doesn't have to be.

Have a great holiday! Book Slave.


Reading List 11/23/2010-11/30/2010

Hey Folks,
Getting back to normal around here at the Reading List. At first I was very busy with job #2 & then the internet decided to go wonky. The combination of these things have made me somewhat unreliable. I don't want to lie with you Constant Readers. However look for some more action around the Reading List as we come around to the end of the year.

Reading List 11/23/2010-11/30/2010
Cowboy Ninja Viking
A Room of One's Own

People-Folks I am human. Every once and awhile...

Spiderman #645-647

Also got some Bones Season 5, some Walking Dead episodes. And then there's THANKSGIVING!

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Me, Conservatives, and Meghan McCain

Ready for some politics folks? Feels strangely appropriate at the moment.

Meghan McCain, Republicans, and Me: Dirty Sexy Politics
So I finally finished Meghan McCain's book Dirty Sexy Politics. As I've mentioned before I am a pretty liberal minded citizen who lives in a very conservative state. While I am constantly surrounded by the overtly Republican-minded, I've never felt that my political beliefs shared the same bed with that mind-set. However I also feel that everyone has the right to their own opinions and beliefs. I don't get upset until someone tries to force their politics onto me. Nor is it my right to tell others that they are wrong in their belief system.

I have a feeling that I would get along with Meghan McCain just fine. Throughout her behind the scenes chronicle of the McCain presidential campaign of 2008, she portrays herself as a moderate. She seems able to balance a pro-life standpoint with a pro-gay marriage stance. These beliefs can both exist within the same conservative person. That she also has no problem with drinking beer, pre-marital sex, and Rock Band, also shows that human beings are wonderfully multi-faceted. No one should expect that all conservatives are the same.

In the end McCain's book makes a plea for the conservatives to open up their umbrella to allow more moderates underneath. She writes at being taken aback by the ambition and grandstanding of Sarah Palin. Did she anticipate the political monster that would emerge out of Alaska? Perhaps. However McCain is very careful not to be too critical of her own party. This makes Dirty Sexy Politics a fun breezy read, but in the end it's insubstantial. If she really thinks that the Far Right is going to roll over and give up their political clout she is sadly mistaken.
The Far Right has successfully created a political machine centered around wedge issues and an ignorant citizenry. Meghan McCain may be adorable and fun but if she wants to influence conservative minds she needs to strive for a more critical voice.

Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


Too busy to read & politics.

Hey Folks,
This week and the next are very busy for this usually boring lass. I have somehow ended up in the crazy position of throwing a swanky party for high class monied individuals. However I will say that I'm carrying around a book that ended up being somewhat prescient. I initially picked up Meghan McCain's book Dirty Sexy Politics because of her interview on Jon Stewart.

Now long time readers will know that I am far from Republican, but I'm interested enough in politics that I want to see both sides. From what I can tell it seems that Meghan McCain sees herself as pulling the Republicans away from the fringe parties. As a person who is the same age as her I am interested in her point of view. I live in a highly conservative state, however the majority of the politics here is very sheep-like. Voters in my state tend to vote strictly based on party and religion alone. All you have to do is look at our election results this week to be able to draw that conclusion.

However I think that the countries political landscape is very vitriolic. Anger and rage and shouting. Nobody wants to pay taxes and everyone's shocked that years of deficit spending has caused all kinds of infrastructure problems. It would be incredibly naive to believe that if we just change parties that everything will fix itself instantly. This is just not possible.

At an early age I understood that in order to make informed decisions you need to be able to see things from all sides. One of my favorite early political books is titled All's Fair. It follows the political romance of James Carville and Mary Matalin. They were each key political players on opposite sides of of the 2002 political campaign. At the same time they are opposing each other politically they are attempting to maintain a relationship outside of the public eye. It's very entertaining, insightful, and balanced. I reccomend it if you can find a copy.

I think that an informed electorate is a key to successful citizenship. These days this is easily forgotten as we all embrace whichever side we are on. Let's not forget this. Complex problems, require a multiple POVs. So I've decided to give this book a chance. And let's face it, it's probably all I have time for and seems a bit amusing. I mean look at that cover.

Have a great week! Book Slave.