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Is parallel Sherlock a good or bad thing?


Right now we are living through a period where we have three parallel Sherlocks. We have the RDJ incarnation, that of Mr Cumberbatch and, most recently, that of Mr Miller.

The question I want to ask is what influence do they have on each other and is it good or bad?

Ian Richardson
Before we look at this, let’s go back to the 1980s. They opened with two television movies starring Ian Richardson. For reasons we need not re-cover he gave way to the Granada series starring the great Jeremy Brett. Now, before anyone screams “what about the Russian series?” - I’m confining myself to what was broadcast in the UK.

The Granada series proceeded basically unchallenged. There was nothing for it to be judged against – at least, not in parallel. Of course the series was judged against those that had come before it but it had no direct rivals. In the beginning this clearly did not matter as the quality was first-rate but, as time went by, the standard dropped. This was caused, in part, by budget cuts and Brett’s declining health. However, if a rival series had started up would Granada have raised its game?

Jeremy Brett

Of the three Sherlocks we have now, only one (RDJ) is in the Victorian period so the influence he has on the others is probably relatively minor. However, the Cumberbatch and Miller incarnations, despite being apart geographically, are together chronologically and therefore are subjected to constant comparison.

Freeman and Cumberbatch
BBC Sherlock undeniably set the standard with its canon adherence and characterisations. Elementary has changed an awful lot of the Holmes world and one has to ask whether this was done purely to distance itself from the British outing or whether it was done because its writers simply thought they could do it better their own way (or both).

It is clear that, at the present time, the British Sherlock is the most powerful (or influential). To what extent this is due to it being the first or more canonical is open to question. What is, I think, beyond debate is the fact that while Miller’s series is repeatedly judged against Sherlock it is rare that it is the other way round. Sherlock is still seen as how it should be done.

Miller and Liu
When Elementary has broadcast a little longer Miller will have spent more screen time as Sherlock than Cumberbatch. Will this change things with regards to influence? Will Sherlock start being measured against Elementary? Personally I don’t think so. Sherlock casts a long shadow and Elementary will have to work a lot harder before it can escape that shadow. If you doubt that, ask yourself this simple question – if the next series of Sherlock and that of Elementary began at the same time, on the same day which would you watch at broadcast time and which would you record for later?

Sherlock series three will be interesting. It will be the first series filmed and shown since Elementary hit the screens. Will it change or will it stay the same? In my opinion it should not change but the presence of Elementary is bound to have some effect on it even if it is only minor or subconscious. This is something we will all have to look out for.

I think the presence of Elementary is good for Sherlock as a reminder, if it were needed, that there are pretenders to the throne. For Elementary its rival’s presence is not so good. It is a reminder that there is something it will always be measured against and because of its efforts to be different and the resultant drift from the canon it will always be found wanting even if only to a minor extent.




For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

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Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

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3 comments:

  1. I completely agree with you. Elementary has a lot going for it and I really enjoy it but I don't see it as in the same league as Sherlock, simply because it is too far removed from the ACD cannon for me to feel the same connection I feel to Sherlock. If I had to choose it would be Sherlock every time.

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  2. This is a great. I've long looked for a Sherlock Holmes blog like this one. Thank you for delivering.

    I don't think Elementary is going to survive for a second season and I'm not sure a third RDJ movie is going to get off the ground. While the RDJ movies will be remembered, I think Elementary will be all but forgotten very soon.

    Sherlock is king and will remain as such, IMHO. I really think this series is the biggest thing to happen to Holmes (media-wise) since the Brett series.

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  3. I don't know. "Elementary" has only just begun, and it's clear that the writers are going to leisurely spin out the Holmes/Watson relationship as they slowly get to know each other. The "cases" are up and down - a few have been genuinely good and twisty, while others not so much -- but that's to be expected when you have to put 22 to 24 episodes on television in a season. Even the best of network TV dramas has clinkers here and there - it's the nature of the beast. "Sherlock," on the other hand, is blessed by only having to craft three little beautifully done movies per year (or every two years, or every three years, sheesh...) and has the legacy of its schtick being revamps of the canon (which "Elementary," as you say, either will not or cannot touch). So I don't think you can really compare them -- aren't they apples and oranges, except for the commonality of the characters? And why compare them at all - why not just enjoy each for what it is? I actually love the RDJ movies beyond all measure and he will always be Holmes to me, but that's me and we each have our vision of Holmes (I just prefer the buff handsome one!) - but I'd never "compare" the RDJ films, which are on a whole 'nother level of production values, time period and audience, with the TV shows. The movies are their own thing - rambunctious big action adventures, more James Bond/Indiana Jones than traditional Sherlock Holmes, but lovingly created and acted and with a serious canonical background (believe it or not -- the great Leslie Klinger is the movies' advisor, and that's another reason I love them...). Comparisons are just not...logical. But I know humans can't refrain from them. Good for discussion, though.

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