No, But Thanks For Asking

A friend of mine in Massachusetts found this graffiti in her neighborhood and thought of me:

I’m actually flattered.

And a lot of people have been asking how excited I am about Sherlock on PBS a week from tonight. The first episode of Series 2 (or “Season 2” in the States) is “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which Holmes fans might correctly surmise is an adaptation of Doyle’s “Scandal in Bohemia.” The truth is, I don’t even plan to watch it. I’ve seen it three times already, and I like it less every time. Law of diminishing returns, perhaps, though it’s only when I really think about the episode that it bothers me.

I’ve written before about the mindless gush of fandom, how people who like a show are primed to adore all new episodes (especially something like Sherlock, which spoons said episodes out in such small quantities, people will eat them up regardless of how good or bad they taste). These fans don’t stop to think too hard about what they’re seeing; they’re so determined to like it. They have, in fact, already decided they like it, even before they see it. And anyone who says the show is less than perfect must simply be a stupid, horrible person.

Well, I know I’m not stupid, and I hope I’m not horrible. But I do like to think these things over, and even when I like a show—and I’d count Sherlock as a favorite—I try to be thoughtful and objective about it. Nothing is perfect, after all. So even when much of a show is very, very good, there can be things that are not so wonderful. But I won’t go into all of that here, since I did it before, starting with my original thoughts after the premiere last December. And going on from there (search “Scandal” in the box or click on “Sherlock” on the sidebar cloud and you’ll find all my commentary).

Now, over the next couple subsequent Sundays “Hounds of Baskerville” and “The Reichenbach Fall” will air. These episodes, which I have also seen multiple times, are decidedly better.

So in short: no, I’m not excited about “Scandal in Belgravia,” though I will watch the other two episodes again. (I’ve written about them, too, but had fewer issues.) In general, while I liked Series 2, I found it slightly less strong than the first. Probably because quality is hard to consistently maintain, even in the short seasons afforded here. When you set the bar so high from the outset, you can really only go down, even if a little.

I realize, of course, I’m in the minority. Mine is the lone voice shouting in the wilderness. The fans won’t want to hear it, and the people who don’t watch won’t care. Ah well. I’ve been unpopular in my opinions before (cf. “Ever the Same” by Rob Thomas. Jesus, people, seriously). I can live with that. I could not live with blindly accepting what’s fed me. I guess I’m a picky eater.

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To be clear, I’m not saying people shouldn’t watch Sherlock—certainly, they should. I’m only suggesting viewers consider, after processing their initial, gut reactions, they also think about the narrative itself, and then eventually look at everything through a cultural media lens. Of course, not everyone wants to put that much work into their television viewing. That’s kind of the point of television. But if you’re watching something as cerebral as Sherlock, you should probably expect to exercise your brain a bit.

“The Recruiting Officer”

I’ve just come from seeing this play at the Donmar Warehouse, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I’m not terribly familiar with George Farquhar’s work, but coming from a background in Shakespeare, I have a soft spot for these old farces. (I know, not quite so old as Shakespeare, but still.) This one was well done. I especially liked the music, though I do prefer Great Big Sea’s arrangement of “Over the Hills.”

There’s not much to say; the show is nearing the end of its run and is for the most part sold out, so I can’t do much by prompting people to see it. The entire cast was excellent, and I feel lucky to have been able to attend, even if it meant sitting in the notoriously uncomfortable Circle. (Older man on my right didn’t laugh once and kept checking his watch; I worry he wasn’t able to understand the language or the story or something. Or maybe it was just that he was sitting, like me, in the notoriously uncomfortable Circle.)

In short, the story is the usual comedy in which this man likes that woman, and this other man likes that other woman, but there are various obstacles involved that must be cleared through absurd and ridiculous means. Oh, and there is some recruiting for the army being done besides, hence the title. And chickens. Yes! Real, live chickens! If only for a few minutes. One gets carried around and the other has to stay in the box . . . I wonder if they switch off?

No, the chickens are not recruited for the army. It’s not that much of a farce.

Smart staging and direction. A fun play, and outside the typical fare. A worthwhile choice, I found, and a nice change of pace.

“The Reichenbach Fall” – Talking Points

The Globes were boring, so let’s take another look at Sherlock, shall we?

I first want to go over Sherlock’s faked suicide. Consider:

  1. There had been people on the street previously, but by the time John arrived, the street was empty.
  2. Sherlock went to great pains to make sure John would believe the evidence of his eyes but was careful to position John just far enough away . . .
  3. . . . that John would not get the opportunity to gather any other kind of evidence, thanks to (a) John [in]conveniently being hit by a bicycle, and (b) a sudden crowd of onlookers preventing him from getting very close to the body.

I can only suppose when Sherlock asked Molly for help, it was in the capacity of her needing to do the “autopsy.” (Though, less likely, she could just as easily have been the person on the bike.)

Now let’s look at the contents of the newscast featured on John’s blog, which raises some questions:

  1. They discuss Sherlock as if they know little about him, but if Kitty ran that story that supposedly had so much of Sherlock’s life history in it, why treat Sherlock as if he were such a mystery?
  2. And no mention of Sherlock having a brother? Though this is less suspect, since Mycroft would go to lengths to stay out of it.
  3. Most importantly: they discuss Richard Brook but fail to mention his death. Since it’s standard police procedure, even in a suicide, to take evidence from the scene, one can safely assume they went to the roof and at least picked up Sherlock’s phone. But Brook’s/Moriarty’s body? Anyone? (Either Moriarty isn’t dead or someone cleaned the scene very quickly prior to the police arriving.)
  4. And why (if, as John’s blog indicates, this all takes place in June) is Sherlock running around in a long coat and scarf? Just for his image?

Finally, do we really believe that Mycroft snared Moriarty and fed him little tidbits of information about Sherlock only to walk away with nothing to show? After all, if the key (computer code) didn’t really exist, at what point and for what possible reason would Mycroft bother to release Moriarty at all? (And while we’re at it, why release Moriarty even if there were a key?) One could argue that maybe Moriarty had failsafes installed in his network, that if he disappeared for too long many terrible things were set to happen, but then one also has to ask what happens in the network if Moriarty dies. Meanwhile, we have to assume that either Mycroft did get something useful from Moriarty, OR . . . The intention in holding Moriarty, and then releasing him, was somewhat more sinister.

Though, on the flip side, Mycroft’s and Sherlock’s utter lack of interaction in the episode could mean they were playing John between them all along. In which case the whole of what happened, including the resulting faux suicide, had been planned, probably with the notion of beginning to tear apart Moriarty’s web, something Sherlock could do so much more effectively as a “dead” man.

Discuss.

Sherlock: “The Reichenbach Fall”

I was told there would be tears. There weren’t. I mean, not in my eyes anyway. This probably says more about me than about the programme.

I liked “The Reichenbach Fall.” But I did find some of the plot points (and interactions) overly manufactured and forced. One way to look at it is, I suppose, that it was by its very nature meant to be manufactured. Kind of the point of the story. Although it started stronger than it finished. I’m thinking mostly of Sherlock and Moriarty on the roof, which simply should have been . . . better. But the entire episode should have appeared more effortless, I think, on the whole. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I watch it again later, but I have the Golden Globes to get on with. Need to shower and get dressed and all that. More to come. About the Globes or Sherlock, whichever I’m feeling at the time.

Sherlock: “The Hounds of Baskerville”

Well, I’ve been asked already what I thought of the episode, but honestly, I didn’t think much of anything one way or another. To be sure, I didn’t think it was scary at all. And I had the villain and the chief plot point figured out pretty early, so . . . I mean, it was pretty obvious that the reason John didn’t see the hound when Henry and Sherlock did is because he wasn’t with them. And it was equally obvious the only reason Henry and Sherlock saw it was because of a hallucinogen. Clearly they’d been exposed to something—in that particular location—that John had avoided. Never mind things eaten, &c. What would be likely to work at so exact a pace that it would kick in right when they were in the woods? You see. Obvious.

I did like the interplay between Sherlock and John. Although I think the cigarette bit at the beginning was a tad overdone. I liked seeing Sherlock shaken, too; it was a nice bit of acting.

Here’s one thing I haven’t had time to think about or investigate, so maybe someone will enlighten me before I go to the trouble: did we conveniently forget U.M.Q.R.A. or did John have really rusty Morse Code skills? Although why someone would advertise across the moors is anyone’s guess. Did it have to do with the cars? Maybe it’s a British thing I’m simply unfamiliar with.

That’s all for now, as I’ve been summoned for Trivial Pursuit.

Letter to Rob

Dear Rob,

Okay, I feel awful because I saw you play back on 30 December and am only now getting around to writing you a letter. Usually I’m much more timely. But with New Year’s and all, and then I was sick, you see, so . . .

Also, not a lot to say about the concert. You did great. How’s that? You know how I tend to pick things apart, criticize your clothing, &c. But it was all lovely. I mean, I had to endure “Ever the Same” again, but I’ve come to consider that the price of admission so to speak. And no, we’re not having that discussion again, even though your intro to the song attempted to justify my past rails against it. Let’s just agree to disagree.

What I especially enjoyed about the show was that it was different from a typical concert. Back in the day, people went to concerts to see a band live and have a sort of experience, something that differed from simply listening to the music on the radio or LP or whatever. But nowadays so many bands and artists play the songs more or less exactly like the recorded versions. It’s kind of this weird negotiation; musicians know the fans love the songs and want to be able to sing along (oh God, the guy on my right, but that’s another story), but at the same time, it’s got to be mind numbing to have to sing the same things over and over in just the right way.

Anyway, I enjoy hearing the songs changed up a bit. Though, yes, I thought there’d be drums. But it was nice, a real treat, to hear the songs differently. And I never would have thought I’d hear “Dear Joan” live. Ever. It is, as you said, a pretty song but very dark, and I used to love it until I sort of, I don’t know, outgrew it somehow. But it’s still lovely in a “Scarborough Fair” kind of way. I wish you’d played “Dizzy,” though.

Not every song benefitted from reduction; “Streetcorner Symphony” is better when uptempo. But still, interesting to hear the piano version.

Oh, and I love “Save the Last Dance,” and you were so endearingly human and earnest in forgetting how to, well, sing it. If I hadn’t been sitting quite so far back, I’d have gone up and done it for you.

What was truly marvelous, too, was how you made a large arena full of people feel like an intimate group. That takes talent.

You’re a good guy, Rob, a genuinely good person, and there are so few of those in the world. Never stop rockin’, Sweetie. Keep putting your shine out there; the dark places will absorb it, and the light places will reflect it back and out and around the world like a halo. It’s the most any of us can hope to achieve in this lifetime.

Sincerely,
~M

P.S. So looking forward to the matchbox twenty album later this year!

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Rob Thomas played a solo show at Mohegan Sun Arena on 30 December 2011

Sherlock: “A Scandal in Belgravia” revisited

Here is what I wrote a day after having seen the premiere of “Scandal” at the BFI. And here is a follow-up I wrote a week later.

I’m pleased to note that “Scandal” played better the second time around. Less distraction, maybe, which allowed me to concentrate a bit more. Though the imitation violin playing was still just about the worst I’ve ever seen. And I think Moriarty blowing a raspberry is just dumb. AND—just to continue being nitpicky—airline tickets actually put your surname first. Even if it were a fake ticket, that doesn’t seem like the kind of detail Mycroft and his people would overlook.

I do still feel slightly unsatisfied by the episode as a whole. Part of the problem might stem from John’s character being unfulfilled. After all, John is supposed to be the sympathetic character, but we get less of him in this episode, and what we do get, aside from a couple strong scenes, is somewhat hazy. This makes sense in a way, since John is clearly having difficulty processing what’s going on with Sherlock. And it’s interesting in the moments when John seems to think he does know what Sherlock feels, but it’s made clear he’s somewhat off the mark. His stating that Sherlock despised Irene at the end? Shows what he knows. (And he’ll know she’s not dead soon enough unless Sherlock changes the text tone.)

I’ve come to the conclusion, after having seen the episode again, that Sherlock must be a bit smitten, though he chalks it up to chemical reaction. I don’t entirely follow what’s going on with Irene, though, since she professes at one point to be gay. Her occupation requires her to be, er, flexible, of course, but . . . One could assume she was lying to John.

As for Sherlock, chemistry aside, he seems to like that someone likes him. And that she’s his equal in many way as well. Because of course John likes him (in his own way), but John is not nearly as interesting, not as clever. And for his part, John finds Sherlock very interesting and a lot of fun and would probably not welcome Irene taking that away. It becomes a triangle of sorts. Or maybe John is just the third wheel on a bicycle built for two.

Certainly they’ve left it open for Irene to return. It’s nice for her that she can rely on Sherlock for a modicum of protection, especially now that her phone is defunct. Well, it’s just as likely she’s acquired a new one. After all, what’s to stop her?

“Uncle Rob”

Tomorrow night, my husband and I will go see Rob Thomas in concert. My children refer to him as “Uncle Rob,” though none of them have met him.

I’ve seen Rob play more than any other musician (this is if you count matchbox twenty concerts as well as solo performances). This will be #7. I last saw him in November 2009, when he was touring for Cradlesong. Back when I still had my Letters to Rob site, this is what I wrote about that show:

Dear Rob,

Yes, yes, I know you’ve been waiting to hear what I thought, etc. etc. Well, let’s see . . . I missed Carolina Liar’s set due to the rabid inefficiencies of the merchandise table coupled with herd mentality bent around today’s ego-centric mindset. Sigh. But I did really enjoy OneRepublic’s set. I’d heard a couple of their songs on the radio, but after hearing them last night I think I will definitely need to buy the album when it drops next week. (Why do albums “drop” anyway?)

As for you. Good work opening with “Fire on the Mountain” as per one of my previous suggestions. But your clothes, dah-ling, tsk tsk. You were trying to provoke me with that jacket, but I knew better because it gets hot enough fast enough up there that you were sure to shed it quickly (and you did). The jeans weren’t flattering, though, hon. Part of the problem being where your t-shirt fell; it made an uncomely sight line. And we just won’t even talk about the muddy mix of colors involved.

Well, on to the show itself. I did especially like “Getting Late,” which is one of my favorites off the new album. (Aside: Alexander likes to ask what songs are about, and when he asked about that one, I softened it a bit and told him it was about getting old. “And dying?” he asked. Christ. If he’s this smart at four, what will he be like at six? Or sixteen?) Nice segue into the Elvis bit, and I admit to having a particular liking for steel guitar, so . . . Also loved that you performed “Little Wonders,” which makes me think of my kids and so I always tear up when I hear it. (Aside: Alex calls it “the umbrella song” because of the video.) Just as you talked about being frustrated with Tyler, I’ve had my share of frustrations with being up with the baby at night, etc. “Little Wonders” is a nice reminder that they won’t be little forever, so I should savor the moments while I can.

“Not Just a Woman” is another song I really like. And how did you know “Dancing in the Dark” is my favorite Boss song?

Oh, but “Sunday Morning New York Blue” (that’s a long title, should I shorten it to “SMNYB”?)—really nice little song. There was something about it that reminded me of Jimmy Buffett for some reason. Not the sound necessarily, but maybe the sentiment? Jimmy has made a career of capturing moments like that, for making people feel like they’ve lived those moments, even if they haven’t really. That takes talent—which you have in spades—but also careful crafting, which you are clearly capable of.

I was also pleased to hear “Ever the Same” back in acoustic form. I know I’ve given you a hard time about that song in the past (and boy did your fans rake me over the coals for it!), but I still cannot love it. As I’ve said before, it requires too much understanding of the author’s situation to completely appreciate it. It’s really too personal to be universal. It’s pretty—and much, much better when done in acoustic style (which is how I first heard it back in 2004 at the China Club)—but it doesn’t resonate as much. It requires too much vicarious sentiment from the listener.

Now, I had wondered how you would handle the brass on “Wonderful,” and it seems you chose to do it by cutting the song down to brass tacks. While I still prefer the album version, I could totally see Sheryl Crow doing a cover of the one you played last night.

Finally, we need to talk about the lame animations that go on behind you during the show. They all look like bad Microsoft screen savers. Excepting, perhaps, the one that plays while you sing “Cradlesong,” they’re just awful. Go find something better and post it online somewhere so I can see it and stop thinking badly of your stage aesthetics.

Anyway, unrelated but tacked on nonetheless: you’d mentioned on your site something about whether “Give Me the Meltdown,” “Mockingbird” or “Real World ’09” should be the next single. Well, fans will choose “Meltdown,” surely, and I really like it, too. But I’m partial to “Mockingbird” myself. Although I have one bone to pick with it: the first couple lines about standing “somewhere in between this moment and the end.” That’s not true. You don’t stand between the moment you’re in and the future. You stand IN the moment you’re in. Unless you’re somehow inhabiting a space that is slightly ahead of the current moment in time?

Okay, well, good show. I was sitting by Maison and his friend, btw. Had no idea who they were, of course, but felt bad when the event staff guy came and said, “Come with me, boys.” I was like, Hey! They weren’t causing any trouble! But then, as it turned out, they weren’t being removed for having caused any trouble. They were, in fact, very well-mannered boys.

Speaking of which, I must go take care of my littlest one now. Best of luck on the remainder of your tour.

I’m hardest on the ones I love most, no question. Hardest on myself, actually, but nearly as tough on the ones who mean a lot to me. I was a reviewer for online magazines for a while, and the books and music and movies and shows that weren’t worth the effort were many. But the diamonds in the coal . . . They just sometimes need a little polishing, a little nicer cut. I don’t do it to be mean. I do it because there are things and people I admire, things and people who are at least as good as I am if not better, but their being told all that doesn’t help them. Their being told where the problems are so they can fix them—that’s useful. Or at least allows for interesting talking points and discussion. Telling someone they’re wonderful is a sure way to end a conversation, after all.

Not that we don’t all like to hear that once in a while. But only when it means something. Because of inflation, a yes man’s “yes” carries no weight. And since I work in words, I like to make mine worth something.