Moffat’s ‘Sherlock’

The Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock on BBC is fun and stylish but, contrary to mainstream criticism, not particularly smart. Cumberbatch’s machine-gun monologues narrate a coherent series of observations which appear deductive, but move quickly enough that the viewer doesn’t have time to hypothesize the myriad alternative explanations which Sherlock conveniently skips. These monologues bear a striking resemblance to those in Doctor Who, the show upon which Sherlock is based (via writer Steven Moffat): an eccentric genius couples with a Hufflepuff-type sidekick to keep him sane and moral during their outlandish adventures. The Doctor uses the TARDIS to travel space and time; Sherlock uses his cases to travel a semi-mythical London.

The real give-away, in terms of understanding Sherlock as a clone of Doctor Who, is the way the episode-climaxes are written. The eccentric genius finally reveals and confronts the villain, which confrontation consists of several minutes of talk (the low-budget analogue to Hollywood’s CGI-cum-explosions climaxes). During these minutes, the climax will appear to reach its peak every 30-60 seconds: the music signals a shocking revelation, and one of the characters will emote shock of some kind (usually horror, humor, or grudging admiration, all of which are heavy-handed ways of reminding the viewer that what’s happening is really dramatic and not just wandering melodrama) and say something to the effect of, “So that’s why you’ve been doing X/So that’s been your plan all along/Now I understand; well, in that case…” Then they’ll go off on some other tangential discussion with its own pseudo-climax. The whole thing feels a bit like the multiple-endings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy: the suspense doesn’t build so much as sprawl. The discussions are written to sound important, but since they aren’t about anything substantive to the plot or characters, and are rather just killing time between the beginning and the end of the climax in order to build a somewhat artificial sense of tension, they ultimately leave one with the hollow, cheap feeling of having been taken in.

Sherlock is not a bad show, but Moffat is IMO over-estimated. Part of the contract between audience and writer is that the conceit will be plausible enough for the viewer to slip un-self-consciously into its waking dream, instead of constantly noticing the wiring behind the set, as it were. When that plausibility is achieved by papering-over the loose-ends in plot and character with speed and spectacle, one finds it perhaps easier to enjoy the story, but more difficult to respect it.

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2 comments

  1. strawberrypiemovies · · Reply

    To be fair, I read the entire set of ACD stories but I found this version more user friendly, which people could recognise far more, setting it in 2010 instead of 1890 or whatever date the original stories were set in.

  2. Yeah, I think it does a great job of being accessible and bringing to life what could have been a stuffy old piece of museum-performance.

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