Sherlock Holmes

Originally published way back in the olden days.

I was sharing a carton of soy egg nog I'd purloined from a Christmas Party last night with my Grandpa Schlomo (I put a star of david on the carton) when suddenly we were inspired to see a movie. I suggested we see something with action and derring-do because Grandpa has a tendency to doze off in the middle of movies and dream about the days when Cossacks tried to steal his breakfast cereal. So we decided on the new Guy Ritchie thriller, Sherlock Holmes. I love Holmes as much as I love any fictional character in the history of fictional characters, and I was intrigued to see him as a swashbuckler. Grandpa was skeptical, but that's just his nature and I laughed when he tried to tell me that the movie was going to be bad. "How bad can it be, it has Sherlock Holmes in it?"

Within several minutes, Grandpa leaped up, fully asleep, and tried to steal a box of popcorn from a young woman sitting nearby. "That's my Cheerios, comrade!" He yelled. I knew we were in for a long evening. Not only was this movie boring, it was stupid. And nothing is worse than a stupid and boring movie that costs 80 zillion dollars to make. The movie, for fans of bare-chested Hollywood stars, did have a lovely fight scene showing Holmes beating the crap out of a bare-knuckled drunkard, but I don't recall Holmes ever doing this in the books I read when I was 13. Not that I mind a re-imagining of Holmes -- let him beat up people -- but what sets my pipe and slippers on fire is the lack of "imagining" in "re-imagining." The story pits Holmes rationalism against a bad guy using superstition to take over the world. Or something. But the writers settle for action sequences and Holmes jumping to lots of conclusions: what we don't get to see is the great detective actually challenged. We don't see him slowly unraveling the mysterious mystery. We don't see him teetering on any metaphysical edges (though we do, of course, get to watch a literal teetering), so there's no thrill, no real conflict, no story. Why spend all that money and forget to tell a story. I used to think Hollywood didn't care about story since they could crank out an epic piece of garbage and still make bazillions, but now I'm wondering if there just aren't that many people who can actually TELL a story. Eesh. It's gotten so bad that a movie a child could have written -- The Hurt Locker -- is garnering all kinds of attention and winning awards. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would probably say to all of this, as Grandpa Schlomo did when he awoke from his stupor 3/4 of the way through the movie, "Oy, I'm drooling, can we go before I kick someone in the testes?"



A piece written months ago that I'm just now getting around to posting:  
Recently, my imaginary eighteen-year old child, Yardstick, was watching her favorite new television program:  “Girls.”  Being an expert on all things media and a terrific imaginary parent, I decided to take in every episode back to back in order to protect Yardstick from potential bad influences, like the NRA or baldness.  I’d heard through the genius grapevine that “Girls” suffered from all-manner of problems and was much too in love with its own narcissism to entertain the likes of my darling girl, let alone lonely older folks with nothing better to do than make up imaginary children and write about television.  But when I saw the show I discovered something surprising:  it’s good.  And I began to suspect that there must be something else lurking behind the negative-Nancy blogospherists who have been taking pleasure in kicking the show in the ovaries.  Thus, I decided it was my duty to leap to its defense.  Since “Girls” recently won the Golden Globe for best new comedy, it clearly doesn’t need me to defend it, but I’m a man and my Y chromosome insists that things are not properly approved of until I say so.
I began by asking my Grandpa Schlomo what he thought the problem was.  “People are schmucks,” he answered before stapling a “kick me” sign to my back and trampling my asparagus fern to death.  But he had a point.  People are schmucks.  And their critiques of the show smack of envy.  “I’m smart and talented but I don’t have my own show and the world isn’t fair and I hate Lena Dunham!”  This leads me to:
Critique number 1:  the show is written and populated by actors who would be no where without their famous parents.  This notion, however true, is not a critique of the show as far as I can tell.  In fact, if the people who make this complaint bother to pull their heads out of their keyboards, they’ll see that the world works very much this way.  Those waiting for a true meritocracy are much like the characters depicted in Girls:  entitled, narrow-minded and narcissistic.  These people should watch the show, in fact, so they can see their own images reflected back at them.  (There’s a hilarious episode in season 1 when Hannah discovers her hated college rival has written a popular memoir.  She says something like, “she’s got no talent, she’s just lucky her boyfriend died.”)  At least the characters on the show are characters on a show.  And they’re funny.  Hey, guess what, it’s true:  all four women have famous or semi-famous parents, but Hollywood has always been a place that thrives on nepotism.  Ever heard of Michael Douglas?  Melanie Griffith?  No one seems to mind that Scott Caan kicks bad-guy butt every week on the new Hawaii Five-O, so why are bloggers hating on Dunham and the other kiddies?  “Yeah, but it’s not just that.  I watched the show and, like, gross, the characters are all so mean to each other.  Yuck!”
Critique number 2:  the characters on the show are not likeable.  This is a legitimate complaint if you don’t like shows with unlikable characters and if this is the case, you shouldn’t watch “Girls.”  End of story.  Nor should you watch “Seinfeld” or “Arrested Development” or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or almost every movie made by Woody Allen.  Full disclosure:  I love Woody and “Arrested Development,” and was raised on milk, cookies and “Seinfeld.”.  These shows/directors/people exaggerate our worst traits to criticize the people who behave this way.  So why are bloggers so angry at Dunham when she is only borrowing from others?  After all, the show does not strike me as advocating the lives of these women, or even critiquing them.  It depicts them, warmly and with humor, and welcomes us to bring our own critical adult eye to the proceedings.  The big difference is that these characters are primarily women, and unlikable ones.  Perhaps that’s the first layer of the onion I’m hoping to peel.
Critique Number 3:  They have too much sex on the show.  And Critique Number 3a:  they’re always naked!  I’m not precisely sure how this is even a critique of something except perhaps “The Jay Leno Show,” but let me at least point out that the sex on “Girls” is only occasionally gratuitous.  Compare it to the sex on a show like, say, “Game of Thrones,” one of my favorites, and it’s downright gritty.  Maybe on occasion the producers take advantage of being on HBO, but they can be forgiven this indulgence, I think, because as Uncle Abe likes to say, “I like sex more than ice hockey!”  And so maybe the show isn’t holding a mirror up to life, but it’s a damned nature documentary compared to, say, the worst thing to happen to television since the invention of the internet.  That’s right, “Sex and The City.”  Now you’re wondering, “sure, but what do you know about lady sex?”  Not much, I’ll admit, although I read a magazine at the dentist’s office once.  But I know this:  “Girls” is a show about sex and relationships.  The operative word there is “show.”  It’s entertainment.
“How many damned layers of the onion are you peeling,” you may be asking yourself by now, in particular if you skipped lunch.  “Get on with it!”  You sound just like Grandpa Schlomo after his morning bran muffin.  But you’re right, this really comes apart very quickly.  It seems to me the main critique of the show is this:  it’s a fairly smart, kinda funny, pretty quirky, sometimes realistic show about WOMEN.  Acted by WOMEN.  Produced by WOMEN.  Written by WOMEN.  And this reality gives a fair number of men and as many women a pain in their vaginas.  (Aside:  is it vaginae?  The plural comes up so infrequently in my life).  Is it the greatest show ever?  No, it’s not “The Wire.”  But neither is “Boardwalk Empire” or “Breaking Bad,” and those terrific shows seem to get on with their business with a lot less internet noise.  Some folks, I surmise, can’t stand to see women succeed.  Or control things.  Or tell stories about sex.  Or relationships.  Or sex.  Or sex.  Those people are wary pedestrians standing on the side of the street as race cars buzz forward into the future.  They should relax, have a little wine before watching television, maybe stop taking “Jeopardy” so seriously. Or they might even turn off the TV and find someone with whom to have sex.  (I always get the good ideas after I’ve wasted an afternoon).  Anyway, I’ll let Yardstick have the last word on this:  “Oh dad, no one cares what bloggers have to say.  And “race cars?!”  You so suck at using metaphors.”