‘Sherlock’ and the Case of the Jumped Shark

I knew better. But I was seduced.

OK, let me rephrase that.

I had decided, at the end of the last season of BBC’s Sherlock, to stop watching it. I’d liked the first season very much. The second season I liked quite a lot. The third season alienated me. The production went from being a detective show (featuring lively riffs on the original Conan Doyle stories) into being a soap opera about the friendship of two men. I was particularly irritated by the condescending attitude I thought I detected toward the original material. As if Doyle had been waiting for the 21st Century for someone to inform him what he’d really been writing about.

But then they offered a Christmas special, which aired last night on PBS, and they did it in period, set about 1895, with Holmes smoking a pipe again and Watson sporting a handlebar mustache. I couldn’t resist that, could I?

Well, I couldn’t. And I guess it’s just as well. It was only 90 minutes, and that was long enough to put me off the series permanently.

Not to say the production didn’t have its excellencies. The cast, as always, provided top notch performances. The sets and production values were splendid. The writing…

Well, the writing was good of its kind. But it continued the series trend toward being subversive of the material. The story (I’ll avoid spoilers; no doubt some of you plan to watch the second broadcast) takes the form of the character I think of as the fake Sherlock (the modern one) imagining the “real” Sherlock (Doyle’s creation). He weighs him and his stories in the balance, in effect, and finds them wanting. It’s as if Sherlock Holmes fans (and I have no doubt the writers and producers are fans) are appalled at their sin in liking stories that lack themes acceptable in the 21st Century. So they perform an act of contrition through confessing their transgressions in this story.

As I’ve said before here, I’ve chosen to withdraw to some extent from modern entertainment. I find myself, when reading or viewing any contemporary book or movie, in the position of a non-Christian at a World Wide Pictures (Billy Graham) film. I know what the theme will be. I know what subjects won’t be addressed. I know that the climax will involve a sermon and a profession of faith.

We are entering, I believe, an era of artistic famine and creative drought.

6 thoughts on “‘Sherlock’ and the Case of the Jumped Shark”

  1. I agree. I was fanatical about the first series, but the decline has been steady ever since. The Christmas episode took all of its subtle hints and parallels and inside jokes and laid them bare by the end so that even its own self-awareness was a contrived plot point. I am entirely uninterested in Sherlock now, and will not be watching new episodes.

    As for the problem with artistic direction on a wider scale, I also agree. The painful “tell, do not show” deliberateness of modern art is tedious at best. Why show that women are like men when you can simply take minor female characters and insist that they really are very important? And so on. It’s as if modern artists don’t actually want to assert their belief so much as they want to assert that they assert their belief.

  2. While I agree the shark has been jumped, I disagree a out exactly how. Having watched a lot of Stephan Moffatt’s stuff as a writer/producer now, I’ve seen him pull this riff before. In Dr Who, for instance, the Doctor insists there is no Robin Hood. Turns out there is. the Doctor is incredulous about this, and Robin sums it up by saying “I’m no more or less real than you are, Doctor.” It’s a way of one fictional character calling another fictional character fictional, in pretty much the exact same way Watson says “I’m a storyteller. I know enought o know when I’m a character in one.” With rare exceptions, this kind of thing isn’t good storytelling, it’s faux profundity with a head up the butt. AND the episode was entirely pointless filler besides.

    I think subverting the material is perfectly ok, so long as we’re not talking scripture, and I think the show did it well in its first season. Since then, its subversions have become less respectful.

    I don’t think we’re entering a dark low point in entertainment, though I can certainly understand how it’d look that way if somone is using the BBC as a bellweather. They always kinda suck.

    1. It’s funny you say that about the BBC. My wife and I like their shows more than American ones, but we don’t watch indiscriminately either.

      1. If you’re watching on BBCA, then there’s a filtration effect. They’re only sending over shows they think we’ll like, and not “the soccer hooligan profanity hour” or their equivalent of “Happy days,” you know?

  3. We just watched this show. The resolution of the main mystery was a groaner, but they undercut it with the main theme of the episode. It’s still an enjoyable spectacle.

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