Showing posts with label Sherlock Holmes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sherlock Holmes. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Retellings: Sherlock vs Elementary (jillian)

'Tis the season of retellings... particularly on terms of television.  I've been trying to wrap my head around the new CBS series Elementary, which sees Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in contemporary New York with Lucy Liu as his sidekick Joan Watson.  The Telegraph has a nice article on it, today. I've not seen it because television in general tends to eat time, but I have to admit I am curious now to see if it works or if it flops. 

As a devotee of BBC's Sherlock, I came to this as a bit of a biased snob.  "What?  Making Watson a woman?  Taking Sherlock out of London?"  Etcetera, etcetera.  But, of course, people probably said the same when Sherlock came out in 2010: "How can Benedict Cumberbatch possibly be better than Jeremy Brett?  The idea!"  But... while these misgivings are valid in their own way, I've come to realize or remember with humility that these are all retellings, not the original story. 

Like my argument about viewing a book and its subequent film or films as different animals (i.e. Pride and Prejudice), I think we need to look at the different versions of the stories as equally legitimate renderings.  There cannot be one "true" film or television verson of a story.  Each will be different.  Elementary chooses to emphasize Sherlock as a brilliant drug addict with tattoos, and Watson as a woman and the doctor assigned to keep him sober.  In Sherlock, he labels himself a "high functioning sociopath" and texts compulsively, as Watson is the roommate who keeps him in line and keeps him human.  One show is American, the other is British.  One is slated as a regular series, the other is a miniseries.  The comparisons continue, but neither is wrong.  Both are a celebration of the original seed of the Sherlock Holmes stories that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in the late 19th century.  To nitpick about Watson's gender or Sherlock's hair color is to totally miss the point.  The details are just colors, shadows and angles.  The writers, actors and directors of both shows have distinctly different ideas about what makes those stories and characters so compelling.  That's why I sit humbly on my hands when i think about my ire for Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.  No one owns Robin Hood.  No one owns Sherlock Holmes.  They belong to everyone.

Retellings are in our blood, those left-over Anglo-Saxon narrative impulses.  Our version of Beowulf isn't the original, but it celebrates the original seed of the story.  Same with King Arthur and Robin Hood, and Homer's tales.  In this era, the stories have evolved from oral anonymities to published works.  I ask again, how many times has Pride and Prejudice or Great Expectations made it to a miniseries or theatrical form?  Many times celebrated.  If anything, film versions always bring the most intrigued back to the source, back to reading how the "real" Sherlock Holmes solved mysteries, made meticulous observations and shot cocaine when he was bored.  (No, I don't condone him.  We're not supposed to.)  So how can multiple versions be a bad thing?  And can't they co-exist? 


So... pick your poison!

Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.  CBS.

Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  BBC.


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