Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sherlock: China is Scary, Girls are Wimps

I recently took up watching Sherlock, the new updated Sherlock Holmes show from the BBC.  The first episode was really good, and it certainly should be since it was written by Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat.  (I know a lot of  Doctor Who fans are watching this show simply because Moffat created it, hence my writing about it here.)  The second episode, written by Steve Thompson, was oddly disjointed and strangely racist.  It also was startlingly uneven in the way it portrayed the character of Sarah.

Minor spoilers to follow!

Shanghai 2011:  More sci-fi, less ancient Chinese secret
First of all, is China really this frightening and alien country, steeped in mysticism and shadowy organizations?  Modern day China, the one that launches cyber attacks at Google, hosts the Olympics, and is the second largest economy in the world, was nowhere in evidence in this episode.  If you've got your shiny new Sherlock Holmes using GPS to track mobile phones and getting his blog on, you kind of have to use the China of 2011, too. Instead, we got China circa 1950 movie tropes - a Chinese circus, a timid mouse of a Chinese beauty, ceremonial masks that make the Chinese seem scarily non-human.  What's that about?

Secondly, Sarah.  She had 'token love interest' practically tattooed on her forehead, but when her man Watson was in danger, she didn't flee or cry - she picked up a bigass piece of metal and started whaling on his attackers.  I was pleasantly surprised, and then I felt silly and maybe a little guilty.  Moffat created this show, and he's not big on helpless females.  Of course she kicked ass when ass kicking was required.  I said my silent apologies to Mr. Moffat.

It turns out that faith was short-lived.  Later on, Sarah gets into dire peril again... and sits there, trembling and crying, desperate for the men to save her.  Wait, what?  Where was the girl who'd busted out the crowbar not 20 minutes previous?  She was tied to a chair with a crossbow trained on her, and the trigger mechanism was on a crude timer.  Since the weapon was aimed at her head, all she had to do was throw her weight to the side and fall over.  Horrible death avoided.  Except no.  She just sat there whimpering and weeping, occasionally looking pleadingly at the equally tied-up Watson while Sherlock fought a Chinese acrobat (lolwut?) and kept trying to untie her before the timer ran out.  (For real? The great Sherlock Holmes, paragon of deductive reasoning, couldn't figure out to just knock her over and untie her later?  I was hollering at the TV.)

If you want to update Sherlock Holmes, you have to update all the aspects of it.  You can't just give him a mobile phone and a laptop and call it modern while leaving every other aspect back in the 1800s.  Heck, the challenges of modern China are a hell of a lot scarier than acrobats and masks, frankly.  More importantly you have to portray modern women consistently, Sarah can't be smart and brave one time, then a terrified wimp the next.  If your story is set in 2011, you can't ask me to buy into the idea that a girl can't act to save herself - especially if you've shown her plunging into the fray of her own accord only a brief time before.  Don't even get me started on the hapless Chinese girl.

So, tighten it up, people.  It takes more to be a modern-day adaptation than a few gadgets and some slick production values.  I'll be watching episode 3 tonight with my fingers crossed.

Note, you can watch all the episodes of Sherlock on Netflix.
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  1. Episode 2 is very weird. Everyone told me before I watched that the 1st and 3rd episode was great and the second was...meh. And they were right, lol. I don't know what the heck happened to the middle episode.

  2. Yeah, I was really taken aback. Hopefully the dude who wrote that one won't be writing any more.

  3. I'm curious, Laurie, did you like the first episode? If so, what did you like about it?

    For full disclosure's sake, I loved the Sherlock series. I don't remember how I felt after the second episode, but I know that when the last one ended, I yelled at the TV for more.

  4. I totally loved the first episode. It was glorious.

    That first episode really did a great job of updating both Watson and Holmes. Poor Watson, he made me teary feeling sorry for him. Holmes is a jerk but needs a keeper and Watson needed something to get him connected to life again. I loved how Holmes text bombs the press conference with "wrong!" The way he uses technology makes me happy. I can just see Sherlock Holmes taking to the digital age so beautifully because it creates such a vast potential for an audience for his greatness and I think that comes through quite well. I thought it was cool to see how they followed the leaps of logic Holmes takes as he takes them with their odd little CSI-esque flashes of narrative. It kind of relieves you of the standard Holmes infodump, because it lets you follow along a little more.

    Basically, I love the casting, the writing, the smart use of technology and the production values are off the chain. Good stuff, just a bit of a stumble in the middle, seems like.

  5. Nice. I totally agree with you on the first episode. : )

    I think the second episode was forgettable, but now that I've read your evaluation, I can see more of the problems people might find in it.

    I didn't think about Sarah rocking her chair over. That means that in a similar situation, I would be the girl with a crossbow in her head. Yikes!