On the case: Sherlock Holmes

For the generations of men who have wondered what it is women want, this year has made it fairly obvious. We want a man of devastating intelligence, cerebrally and physically nimble, whose vast score of arcane knowledge is foundation for a superhuman ability to solve problems and the frustrating wall that protects a tender heart. We want Sherlock Holmes.

On the big screen, a Victorian if not traditional Holmes is part of Robert Downey Jr.'s franchise juggling act. But the more modern and significant versions are "Sherlock", which had its second season this year on BBC America, and "Elementary", which launched on CBS. If you count Fox's quite Holmesian "House", and I think we must, then a character created more than a century ago by a man who believed in the occult and possibly the existence of fairies has now ruled television for more than a decade - with no end in sight. 

"Elementary" is doing quite well, and when the BBC announced that Season 3 of "Sherlock" might not air until 2014, a chorus of distress could be heard on both continents.

For literary geek girls like myself, this Mysterious Appearance of Two Sherlocks is nothing short of TV nirvana. "Sherlock" is the sort of television Americans expect from the Brits, mainly because BBC America and "Masterpiece" air only the best of British TV. Created by "Dr. Who's" Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern consulting detective and Martin Freeman as Dr. James Watson (OP: HAHAHA). Cumberbatch has that vaguely tubercular Romantic beauty known to cause women with Ph.D.s in Comparative Literature to scream whenever his name is mentioned; Freeman is one of those solidly humane performers who blinks and stammers and quietly steals any scene he touches.

Serving up modern takes on Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, Moffat and Gatiss have done the seeming impossible: kept the very Victorian essentials of their characters and made them believable in modern London. Which, it must be added, looks fabulous.

So when CBS announced it would be having a go with "Elementary" many of us were prepared to wince. All of which made the success of "Elementary" even sweeter. Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock is a Brit living in New York (which looks just as gritty and glorious as London); his Watson, played by Lucy Liu, is a paid companion hired by his father to aid in Holmes' recovery from addiction. Many liberties are taken with the characters, but creator Robert Doherty has given Miller and Liu characters at once solidly modern and true to canon. 

Where "Sherlock" might be the show horse of the two, "Elementary" is just as true to the tone of the original stories. Miller's Sherlock is more boyish in his troubled brilliance and clearly a romance with Watson is in the long-term offing (OP: HAHAHA. No.) but each episode is less character-driven than "Sherlock", more focused on the crime, reminding us that Conan Doyle was not as interested in character development as he was in storytelling; he all but invented the procedural. 

Although Holmes' occupation certainly aided his longevity, it's more than the cyclical nature of crime that keeps the world's first consulting detective alive. Even after 56 short stories and four novellas, Sherlock Holmes remains a cipher. Conan Doyle, good Victorian that he was, never felt obligated to deconstruct his hero's psychology, never delved into Holmes' childhood, did not pass judgement on his bachelor tendencies or use of (then perfectly legal) cocaine.

Holmes is a man of action, his main characteristic a mind in perpetual motion, a vital intelligence that constantly demands works, which makes him perfect for television. Also for highbrow, beating-heart adoration from women and men, who too often consider themselves above such things.


The creator did promise to never make Joan and Sherlock a romance, did he not? Praying that Elementary doesn't gain a vocal, pushy Sherlock/Joan contingent and that the writers never, ever go there.