Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sweeping Symphonies of Till the Clouds Roll By

The first time I watched Till the Clouds Roll By, I was sitting in my grandparents’ kitchen with them, just enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon/evening. I can vividly recall the smells, sights, and sounds of that day, so this movie is a bit sentimental to me as a result. When I saw that it was available on Hulu, I knew I’d have to watch again. And what better time to sit down with a feel-good, nostalgic movie than when everyone else is out there going crazy for a good deal on Black Friday? I can’t think of any.

Till the Clouds Roll By is a 1946 biopic tribute to composer Jerome Kern, who had passed away the year before this movie was released in theaters. While the movie is purportedly telling the story of Kern’s life, it also serves as a vehicle for large musical numbers, showcasing the hit songs from throughout Kern’s career. The end result is a film light on details of Kern’s life and strong on staging, costumes, swelling orchestral numbers, and so forth. I knew basically nothing about Kern before viewing this movie the first time, so I certainly did learn something from the movie about him – but then also had to verify a lot afterwards and saw how much was left out. For instance, Kern was apparently well-known for his horn-rimmed glasses yet Robert Walker as Jerome Kern is never once seen wearing a pair of any kind of spectacles; presumably the Hollywood of the 1940s would never think a leading man in glasses would be dashing enough for the audience. Some details are simply out of chronological order or slightly altered to fit the story being told in this movie, such as Hammerstein contacting Kerns about making a musical based on the book Showboat rather than the other way around as it actually happened. In real life, Kern had a daughter, but in the movie, he and his wife Eva dote only on his “niece” Sally, the child of his friend and musical arranger, Jim Hessler. The Hesslers play a huge role in this movie -- despite the fact that they never existed, although the character of Jim Hessler is supposedly based on a real-life associate of Kern’s.

The facts that Hollywood eschewed are replaced with a compelling story though and one that pulls on the viewer's heartstrings. I loved the story of how Kern becomes like family to the Hesslers and the easy repartee between him and Jim, especially in their early days as bachelor workaholics. The love story between Kern and Eva was also sweet, albeit rushed. Furthermore, the actors play the story of Kern's life well and do a convincing job of growing old and subtly changing as a result. Walker is always compelling to watch, whether he’s being charming, funny, torn, heartbroken, or feeling old and resigned, as the situation calls. The other actors in the domestic drama – Van Heflin as Jim, Dorothy Patrick as Eva, Lucille Bremer as the adult Sally, and Joan Wells as the young Sally – all play their parts perfectly as well.

But the real star power of this movie was in the music and dance, with acts that could almost be described as over the top unless you’ve happened to watch a lot of musicals from this era. The cast of Till the Clouds Roll By reads like a who’s who of Golden Age Hollywood elite, including Judy Garland, Van Johnson, June Allyson, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few. With so many heavy hitters, the producers didn’t even bother with first billing and just listed all the stars’ names alphabetically in the opening credits. While a few of the numbers in this movie were forgettable in my opinion, most of them were lavish spectacles worth viewing more than once.

For starters, Judy Garland as Marilyn Miller was one of the highlights in my book. Special guest director Vincent Minnelli (then married to Garland) was brought in to direct her musical scenes. The story goes that Garland was pregnant with her daughter Liza Minnelli at the time so when it came to staging her rendition of “Look for the Silver Lining,” Minnelli chose to put Garland behind a stage kitchen sink the whole time. Garland’s stunning voice carries the scene, even if it isn’t as action-filled as the other numbers. But despite her pregnancy, Garland is seen more active in her later musical numbers – dancing about to “Who?” and jumping onto a bareback horse in “Sunny,” with a sequence that I really, really hope is done by a stunt double. The choreography throughout the movie is excellent, but a particular favorite scene of mine is when Lucille Bremer and Van Johnson dance to “I Won’t Dance” in the Club Elite. Another one worth noting is the titular “Till the Clouds Roll By,” performed by June Allyson and Ray McDonald.

The movie both opens and ends with extended sequences acting as a review of some of Kern’s more famous songs, particularly with an emphasis on Showboat. The final song – and scene - of the movie is a young Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Old Man River.” This choice rankles some contemporary viewers who feel that the song should be sung by an African-American man, embodying the working black man the song is meant to portray, rather than by a Caucasian-American man in spotless white tuxedo on a white pedestal. While I understand their frustration, I’d like to point out that:

1) This movie was made in 1946.


2) This movie was made in 1946!

The 1940s were hardly a time of racial equality in any sense of the word. Nor was Hollywood at the time a bastion of cultural sensitivity – this was the same entertainment machine that just 10 years earlier gave us Fred Astaire in black face as a “tribute” to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. And that’s hardly an anomaly during that era. Furthermore, this movie was already filmed in such a way that Lena Horne’s solo performance could be removed when the movie was shipped out to Southern states who would refuse to air a sympathetic portrayal of an African-American woman singing on screen. It’s not pretty, but you can see why the film’s director and producers wouldn’t risk having their big finale stripped from the movie in a large number of states.

A few other points to make on this topic: 1) In the opening of the movie, “Old Man River” is also featured with African-American singer/actor Caleb Peterson singing the song, so the movie did give a small nod to the song’s origins there; 2) Italian-Americans like Sinatra were not exactly beloved at the time (another not pretty but true fact); and 3) Sinatra was a big enough name already to be a selling point, and at the end of the day, Hollywood is about making money. And, on the note about the ridiculousness of the dazzling white tuxedo and setting for this number, it's worth pointing out that this song comes at the end of a review of songs all featuring singers dressed in pure white settings. I don’t know why this is, perhaps to make some kind of point about the pure/innocent/ethereal/eternal/transcendent/pick-your-adjective quality of Kern’s works, but I do know that it would be odd if after all those numbers increasingly ascending in an “into-the-clouds” feel, the final song was done in a realistic style. One commentator makes the analysis that this whole grand finale was meant to be an ironic look at how Kern’s songs were going to be overblown and taken out of context by Hollywood and while this is an interesting theory, I just don’t think 1940s Hollywood was that was self-aware and tongue-in-cheek about itself. That’s my two cents.

All in all, my point is that you have to take a movie – or any other artistic work for that matter – as part and parcel of its time period and cultural milieu. If this movie came out today, I could understand that outrage more and would be right there with these commentators. Not just on the whitewashing of “Old Man River,” but also on the highly offensive “Cleopatterer” and some of the portrayals of women, such as Eva’s rules for what a lady can and cannot do or the fact that not a single woman in this movie ever wears pants (only skirts and dresses). These things are all a product of the times, and it is what it is. If you can take it with a grain of salt, this is a great movie from the Hollywood golden era of musicals. Fabulous performances in music, choreography, and acting will steal the show.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Action-Packed Angelina Day

A while back, a friend and I decided to do a comic book themed movie night, and among the movies on the table that night were Wanted and Salt. (Yes, I know this latter one isn’t actually based on a comic book, but it felt in line enough with the other movies we’d selected to seem appropriate, plus it helped even out the balance of male protagonists versus female protagonists just a little bit.) We didn’t have time for these two movies (and I suspect my friend, being not much of a fan of Angelina Jolie, did not have them high on her list) but with my cable and Internet out for a couple of days due to Hurricane Sandy, I decided to finally watch these two DVDs. The basic plot of each, along with my thoughts on the movie, is below.


Basic plot: Wesley Gibbons (James McAvoy) hates his life: his low-level job with a terrible supervisor, his dwindling bank account, his cheating girlfriend, and his best friend who is party to this affair all leave him feeling used and useless. But this all changes when a routine trip to the pharmacy ends up becoming a gun fight between a Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), a man trying to kill him and Fox (Angelina Jolie), a woman trying to save him. After a narrow escape, Fox takes Wesley to meet Sloan (Morgan Freeman) who explains the situation: Wesley is the son of an assassin for an organization known as the Fraternity. Wesley’s father has in turn been assassinated when Cross left the Fraternity and went rogue. Now it is up to Wesley to train to become a world-class assassin as well and revenge his father’s death by going after Cross.

There was just way too much violence, obscenity, and sexuality in this movie for me. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m not a prude but I want a story and/or fleshed-out characterizations, not just gratuitous examples of the above. There’s a twist near the end of Wanted that makes the plot a bit more interesting but it’s kind of a case of too little too late. Like many action movies, there’s a lot of ridiculousness in terms of completely unbelievable scenarios – i.e., the hero of the film can single-handedly take out a room fill of armed enemies without getting a scratch, or the hero is shot multiple times but miraculously heals within hours to fight back again. This movie ups the ante but defying gravity with bullets that shoot out of guns on a curved angle instead of straight and cars that flip over gracefully without missing a beat or harming a single passenger. It also features Jolie’s character in heels and a dress in the first fight scene, which is such a you-got-to-be-kidding-me moment (but sadly not that unusual for many action flicks). Later, she’s more appropriately dressed for the most part although she’s still sometimes seen roaming around in cutoff tees.

There’s very little in terms of characterizations to make any character feel realistic in any sense. Fox is given a bit of a back story that helps explains her and her motivations, but nearly everyone else has no history. Indeed, many members of the Fraternity remain completely nameless while others are simply known by code names such as “The Repairman” and “The Gunsmith.” Even though he is the main character, Wesley does not have much in terms of a full range of characterization either. His motivations to join the Fraternity are pretty slim: He’s unhappy with his current life of being metaphorically kicked around and punched in the face so he goes into a new life of literally being kicked around and punched in the face??? Clearly, that’s a very logical step in the right direction. Wesley’s motivation largely comes from this fixation of becoming like his father and a belief that living in his father’s footsteps is his destiny. This is despite the fact that his father abandoned Wesley when he was just an infant, which wouldn’t seem endear a lot of familial pride for many.

The mystery here is how such talented actors as Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, and Morgan Freeman were all convinced to make such a shoddy movie. I give props to the film’s creators for being able to snag such a great cast, finding a suitable soundtrack, and using some impressive visual effects. But sadly those ingredients alone aren’t enough to make a good movie. Still, I suppose the movie’s creators must have been doing something right for they obviously made enough profit that they are considering making a Wanted 2.


Basic plot: Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a CIA operative having just another day at work when she goes in to interview a man who claims to be a Russian defector. He tells her a story about a plot for a Russian double agent to assassinate the Russian president while he is on U.S. soil, thus creating conflict between the United States and Russia. He then names the Russian double agent: Evelyn Salt. Salt finds herself being held for questioning, worried about her own future as well as the safety as her husband. She escapes custody and while on the lam engages in a series of events that leaves the audience questioning whether she really is a double agent and where her allegiances lie.

Compared to Wanted, this was a much better movie. There’s still a lot of violence and more action (versus plot) than I generally care for, but there was enough of a story and a mystery (along with characterization, motivation, etc.) to keep it interesting. While it’s not as stylized and heavy on effects as Wanted, the cinematography and visuals are still well done and even at times quite lovely. Like Wanted, it has a good soundtrack that appropriately fits the movie. And, it’s less of a mystery why Jolie took this part, as it allows her to really show off her acting chops. The other actors – particularly Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Salt’s CIA co-workers – all do excellent work as well.

One thing I had found interesting about this movie from the outset is that the role of Salt was originally written for Tom Cruise, who was unavailable for filming, thus opening up the role for Jolie instead. So, long before I watched this movie I had been interested to see how a role created for a man became one for a woman and whether this would get us any closer to gender equality in Hollywood representations. For starters, I can say that this movie features a lot less of the running around in tight dresses and heels like other action films with female leads tend to do. Unlike other action films starring Jolie (i.e., Wanted, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), the obligatory scene of her character coming out the shower was also not present in this movie, providing a breath of fresh air. All in all, there’s nothing about Salt’s character that makes her feel like a stereotypically overly feminine character - or like a character everyone has to point out is atypically tough “for a woman.” Instead, she is just a character that poses a threat for various concerned groups while they are doing their best to try and stay one step ahead of her. This is a movie I would recommend if you are interested in strong female leads, action movies with actual plots and characterizations, and/or a good mystery to try and crack.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Brave Enough to Say No

I’ve been a huge fan of Disney and Pixar movies in the past, even the princess movies that rankle many. Yes, as a feminist I understand the many problems inherent in these movies with their troubling portrayals of women, but I grew up on them and they hold nostalgic memories for me. I am not pining away, waiting for my prince to come and make my happily ever after come true, but I still enjoy the music, animation, and cinematography of these movies.

So when Disney/Pixar started advertising its latest princess offering, Brave, there was a good chance I was going to check it out. And then when I read this article detailing the co-director’s inspiration for the movie and describing how this film with a strong female lead came into being, I was hooked. Last month I finally got the chance to sit down and watch this movie – while I was on a plane and this was luckily one of the choices. (It might be worth noting that I wasn’t the only childless adult watching this movie; I even noticed a couple of adult men picking this movie out of the many options available. So much for Disney’s concerns that only young girls will view princess movies.)

Brave tells the story of Merida, a Scottish princess who loves archery and horseback riding but is often forced indoors by her mother to practice the etiquette of being royalty. Merida dislikes this but does as she told – until one day her parents tell her it is time to be wed and three princes arrive to contest each other for her hand. Merida rebels and runs off into the woods, where she stumbles upon a witch who concocts a potion that will help Merida change her mother. Well, change her it does – right from a human being into a giant grizzly bear. Now Merida has even bigger problems on her hands than just convincing her mother not to marry her off – will she be able to hide her mother from her bear-hunting father long enough to reverse the spell?

There were a lot of things to like about Brave. Of course, as we’ve come to expect from Disney and Pixar, the animation is top-notch. As in many other Disney/Pixar movies, the movie includes a few sweet songs as sung by Merida, which are quite nice and I’d probably listen to just as regular songs without the context of a movie. Personally, hearing the Scottish accent of all the characters was a fun change of pace from the non-accent of most Hollywood casts, even when the movie is supposedly set outside of the California hills. The movie is also good at putting forth some moral lessons without being overly didactic.

Furthermore, this is a very female-centric movie, which sadly cannot actually be said about all princess movies. There is the strong mother-daughter relationship, unlike in many fairy tale-based movies where the mother is absent and/or the mother figure is evil. In fact, what we have here is rare in many Disney/Pixar movies – an entire intact family of mother, father, daughter, and two sons. (This may be a bit ironic – or something – that Disney finally releases a movie with a traditional family of two parents and 2.5 children when the traditional family is morphing into something else altogether.) One thing I really enjoyed about the movie focusing not just on Merida but also on her mother was that it gave the opportunity to show two kinds of female strength. Merida is portrayed as strong and brave in part because she is something of a tomboy, who prefers archery and traditional male hobbies. But – and this is more subtle – her mother is also portrayed as strong in a more traditional female role. She is able to subdue a room full of rowdy men with her stately and elegant appearance combined with a calming speech.

And, I really appreciate that the movie is actually an anti-romance – given the movie’s target audience of young children, I think that is quite appropriate for a change. Merida does not give up on the idea of marriage entirely or denigrate it at all, but she simply refuses to get married at a time in which she is not ready to a person who is not of her own choosing. Spoiler alert!: The film does not end with her falling for one of the three princes or meeting a fourth prince who sweeps her off her feet, but it is open-ended enough that the viewer can believe Merida will eventually fall in love and marry or that she will remain single and happy that way. I had been concerned that the movie would go the route of Aladdin where Princess Jasmine refuses all her potential suitors but then changes her mind eventually when Aladdin arrives on the scene. That’s a fine storyline also as it introduces the idea of choosing one’s own path rather than having it chosen by others, but I’m glad that this movie took it one step further to suggest that Merida might still live happily ever after even without a husband on the horizon.

Like with many other Disney/Pixar films, there is a lot of humor is the movie. I’m sure kids in particular will find the many slapstick moments hysterical, especially the antics of Merida’s two younger brothers who can’t seem to keep themselves out of trouble. But a lot of the humor comes at the expense of the male characters, and this is the only real fault I find with the movie. For the most part, the male characters are seen as little more than barbarians – they are none of them particularly intelligent, and it takes little to have them all begin fighting with one another. If they are not fighting one another, then they are all mindlessly chasing down a bear that only one character has sensed or trying to show off their physical prowess is some other way. Albeit, the king does have some better moments, and it is clear that he is loving husband and doting father. But for the most part, this movie doesn’t give the best impression of men as a whole, especially when a lot of them are put together in the same room. As a feminist, I rankle at this portrayal also – it’s a misconception that feminism believes or seeks to make women superior to men; most feminists simply wish us women to be on the same playing field as men and to stand there being treated equally and fairly, not judged to be either inferior or superior based solely on the existence of a second X chromosome. It’s harmful to everyone – but probably most especially children – to portray one sex as somehow inferior to another in any aspect.

Still, all and all, I enjoyed this movie and appreciated this twist on the traditional princess movie. For that reason, I highly recommend it for all of us who grew up on princess movies because I think we would most appreciate its subversion of the genre. Of course, I’d also recommend it for its target audience of young children but with the caveat that parents co-view with their kids and point out some of the harmful representations of male characters in addition to pointing out the helpful representations of female characters.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Holmes Set Loose Upon NYC

Earlier this year, I wrote that there were no new compelling TV shows in the fall lineup. Well, I am here now to declare myself a liar. Recently, a friend was telling me about the new CBS show Elementary, which features a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and how she was enjoying it. Previously I had heard only a little bit about the show and didn’t think I would be interested. After her recommendation though, I decided to give it a try.

Once I watched the pilot of Elementary, I dove right into the rest of the episodes that have aired so far (albeit there’s only been four all together). The show is on Thursday evenings, but since I watch all my TV on the web now, that means I have to wait until Fridays to watch the latest episode. I know many people love to go out on the town on Fridays, declaring it the beginning of the weekend and all kinds of fun, but I’m generally exhausted by then. I like to stay home, do some laundry, catch up other things, and watch something on Hulu or Netflix. So I’m pretty pleased that Elementary will be available to me on Fridays; I’m already sensing it will be become part of my Friday routine.

But less about my dull life and more about the show! Elementary, as I’ve already mentioned, is a modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes. Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a recovering drug addict, having picked up a nasty heroin addiction while in London. In order to stay in his father’s good graces (and thus retain residence in his New York City apartment), Holmes has been assigned a sobriety partner in the person of Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), a former surgeon. Having met police captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) in the past and wowed him with his powers of deductions, Holmes has managed to secure himself a position as a NYC police consultant, helping with tough-to-crack kidnappings and murders. Rounding out the cast of characters is police detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill).

First off, let’s start by looking at the characters that make up Elementary. One of the most compelling things – if not the compelling thing – about the show is the character of Holmes. Expertly played by Jonny Lee Miller, who I have loved in the past (excepting the terrible disappointment of Dark Shadows), Elementary’s Holmes is a great new take on a classic character. Sure, A.C. Doyle’s Holmes didn’t require a sobriety partner per se, but he was indeed a habitual drug user. For just one instance of this, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, it is noted that Sherlock spends his time “buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.”

We are first introduced to Holmes in Elementary with a woman departing from his residence; Holmes quickly explains to Watson that he has no interest in relationships but is occasionally driven by his animal nature to seek out sex. While Elementary’s Watson later insists this is because Holmes is afraid of commitment, A.C. Doyle’s Dr. Watson explains of Holmes: “All emotions, and that one [love] particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.” Doyle’s frequent references to Sherlock’s cold and reasoning mind have lead some to suspect that he might have Asperser’s syndrome; Jonny Lee Miller plays Holmes in this way also – he is often brusque and unfeeling in his speech to others, particularly potential suspects, witnesses, and even friends and family of victims. At times, he is downright dismissive of Watson, saying things like, “Situations like these cases require my total concentration. I talk to you, never the other way around.” or “For future reference. When I say I agree with you, it means I'm not listening.” But while he’s sometimes irritatingly arrogant, he’s also lovably quirky and endearing.

And, of course, the Sherlock Holmes of Elementary is a stickler for details, observant to a fault, highly knowledgeable, and able to draw large inferences from the slightest thing seemingly off at a crime scene. In this respect, he is very much like his 19th century counterpart, who has famously said such things as, “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” But, in line with bringing things into the 21st century, this Holmes also uses Google to make some of his pronouncements and loves the brevity of texting. And while this Holmes does have a superiority complex that allows him to view himself as above the police, he seems to value them more than the original Sherlock and certainly relies upon them more as he does not (as of yet) take in any private consulting cases. This is very unlike Doyle’s Holmes who primarily worked on private cases, which only occasionally called for the assistance of the police.

Elementary’s Watson, however, does not strike me as very similar to her 19th century counterpart. For starters, I think the show’s creators missed a golden opportunity by not making her a veteran like Doyle’s Dr. Watson – it just seems too absurd not to when history has conspired to make it possible to plausibly have a modern-day Watson also be an army surgeon who served in Afghanistan. And wouldn’t it have been delicious for Holmes’s first line when meeting Watson to be, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive,” as he pronounced upon their initial acquaintance in A Study in Scarlet? But, I have to admit that Watson’s past, hinted at only briefly so far, as a surgeon who lost a patient under suspicious circumstances could potentially become more interesting and add some depth to her character. (Of course, I could also argue that making her an army vet, perhaps suffering from what she’s seen of war, could provide depth and an interesting back story that continues to surface occasionally.) I do love that the creators decided to make Watson female in this version, showing that these characters can indeed transcend time, place, and even sex.

But, unfortunately, so far I have found Watson to be a fairly dull character. True, I doubt many people would have devoured – and continue to do so – the original Sherlock Holmes canon for Watson alone, but I felt that telling the stories through his eyes always gave the reader a tenderness toward Watson and a feeling that he had a more active role in the cases. Making Watson a sobriety partner rather than a retired army surgeon with times on his hands changes that dynamic very much. Instead of Watson coming along to help unravel a mystery out of his own interest or Holmes’s request for assistance of some sort or another, Watson is merely tagging along out of necessity and frequently standing on the sidelines without engaging at all.

However, there have been a few times already when Watson has provided medical knowledge or has somehow figured into Holmes’s scheming to get information or signal the police for assistance. I hope to see more of this in the future, with Elementary’s Watson taking on an increasing role just as Doyle’s Watson did over time, reaching the point where Holmes could say of his assistant in The Hound of the Baskervilles: “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.” Perhaps not the praise most of would want to hear, but coming from Sherlock Holmes, that is a very high compliment indeed. Still, the writers of this show aren’t far off from reaching this kind of level between their Holmes and Watson, and the language they use to express it is similar, with Holmes telling Watson, “You know Watson, I take it all back. I'm beginning to find the chat that accompanying your companionship extremely useful. It's like white noise. It puts me in a state where I think and obverse better.”

At this time, I can’t really recall anything else I’ve seen with Lucy Liu in it, but her name is a big enough draw for many viewers I suppose. However, I’ve been a bit disappointed in her performance as Watson. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of nuance in her acting, and it hasn’t served to counteract the flatness I currently see in the character, as outlined above.

My bigger concern with Elementary’s Watson though is that she is only contracted to remain Holmes’s sobriety partner for six weeks. With four episodes already passing (generally considered in TV time to be four weeks then), there are only two more weeks where she is required to be Holmes’s constant companion. After that time, what will happen? Will we see Watson no longer? Or will the show’s writers need to come up with some other contrived premise to keep her around to continue to help Holmes in his work?

Similar to Watson but to a greater degree, Captain Gregson and Detective Bell are pretty dull and flat characters. Right now, Gregson’s main purpose seems to be to provide the details of a given case and support Holmes’s seemingly wild deductions based on their past history. Meanwhile, Bell mostly serves as a sounding board for Holmes, always questioning the validity of Holmes’s assertions, only to find out later that Holmes was indeed correct. It would be nice at some point if we got a bit more out of these characters, although I don’t think it’s strictly necessary that they become more fleshed out characters in order for this show to work. Between the show’s four main characters, there’s a fair amount of diversity in terms of age, ethnicity/race, and sex, which I'm always pleased to see on a TV show.

Next off, no discussion of this show would be complete without looking at the cases delved into each week. So far, they have been you standard, run-of-the-mill crime show cases: kidnappings and murders. To that end, there’s a bit of sensationalism in some of the show’s scenes, particularly the opening sequence of the pilot episode. But compared to the many rather gory crime shows on TV now (think Bones, Criminal Minds, NCIS, etc.), the show is focused more on revealing the thought process behind solving a crime than on autopsies and gun fights with suspects. Although the crimes are typical of what you see on other detective shows, the solutions are rather convoluted in order that the writers might show off Sherlock’s prowess in deducting from rather insignificant clues that the obvious solution is in fact not the right one.

While it seems unlikely at this point, I’d like a break from all the violence and murder we see on so many other TV shows. It would be nice to get some cases that involve more mundane – but certainly no less interesting – events. I’m thinking of the many odd cases that A. C. Doyle created for the original Sherlock Holmes, which varied from retrieving a scandalous photograph for a member of royalty to tracking down the mysterious “red-headed league” and reclaiming a member’s dues to determining whether or not a young woman should take an offered role to be a governess for a family out in the countryside. While these may seem insignificant, these cases are always absorbing to read about and usually develop into something larger than they first appear. And, as A.C. Doyle’s Holmes points out, “Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the most difficult it is to bring it home.” Right now, Elementary’s cases are pretty commonplace for TV crime shows and not particularly singular. But because the show’s writers have decided to go the course of having Holmes be a consultant for the police only and taking on no private cases, it’s unlikely we’ll see any mysteries in the vein of the ones seen in the original stories.

On a final note, as this has gone on rather longer than I expected, there’s a few things from the original series that haven’t transferred over to this new show that I really think should have. The first is another golden missed opportunity – wouldn’t it just be fun if Holmes and Watson lived at 221B Baker Street in New York, just like their 19th century counterparts did in London? It seems wrong to have Holmess and not have Baker Street. Maybe that’s just me. The second is that Holmes as written by A.C. Doyle was a master of disguise as suited the purposes of his cases. It would entertaining to see Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes do so also, but again I think the character may be limited by the choice of having Watson as a sobriety companion rather than army vet roommate – Holmes and Watson are not allowed to be apart more than two hours, so unless Watson also joins in the fun and games of dressing up for a case, it would be difficult for Holmes to do an extended undercover ruse requiring a disguise. And, finally, there is Holmes’s archenemy, Moriarty. There are rumors that the show will introduce such a character eventually, and I don’t think it’s necessary for him – or her – to have arrived so quickly into the series so on this particular front, I’m happy with how things stand at the moment.

And, since the power went out while I was beginning this post and didn’t come back on for days, it’s now almost Friday again and I can look forward to the next episode of this show!