There are very few television series that enjoys such a rabid fan following as Sherlock, creator/writer Steven Moffat and BBC’s brilliant modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian era consulting detective (“I’m the world’s only one; I created this job”). Maybe Breaking Bad had it, but it’s no more. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal as the incisive, socially inept, cerebral Baker Street detective turbocharged his rise to A-List superstardom, and, more importantly, won the hearts and souls of everyone from college nerds to Ted Danson himself. At a recent pre-Oscar party, the latter dashed past the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Liotta, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst when he spotted the lanky, tousled haired British actor across the room.And it’s not just Cumberbatch himself who’ve made the successful transition from British television and stage to Hollywood superstar; Martin Freeman who plays his colleague and aide Dr. Watson is now a star in his own right. Previously known for his role in another British mockumentary/sitcom, The Office, Freeman is now playing the character of Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The grapevine has it that when Jackson was finally ready to offer the role to Freeman, the latter had already signed on for second season of Sherlock. So adamant was Jackson on casting Freeman as the main protagonist for his ambitious proejct that he – after spending sleepless nights torturing himself watching Sherlock on an iPad at 4 AM – worked out a deal where he would allow the time-pressed star to go back to England for two months to shoot his remaining Sherlock scenes after filming The Hobbit for four months in New Zealand.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the Sherlock mania if you spend any amount of time online. The most obvious example is Tumblr, which is awash with GIFs and memes depicting a hilarious and loyal subculture dedicated to this crime drama. And with good reason too – Sherlock aired six episodes in two seasons spread over three years. Well, episodes would be an understatement, they’re more of television movies with each episode running around the 90-minute mark. And then, after igniting the minds of every Conan Doyle fan out there, the creators decided to take their own sweet time coming up with Season 3. They did it in a fashion that’s eerily reminiscent of what Conan Doyle himself did when he got tired of his most famous fictional creation; he killed him off.
But whereas Conan Doyle resurrected Sherlock (giving in to overwhelming public demand) after 10 years, BBC took only two and a half minutes before resurrecting him. But the fans, including myself, would have none of it. Despite what Mark Gatiss, co-creator and protagonist on the show, has to explain, it didn’t go down well with fans that wanted more, much more, of the modern sleuth from 221B Baker Street. In an era that’s so woefully bereft of anything worth watching, how are we supposed to wait two long years for a show that so deftly weaves modern technology and astute science while staying true to the spirit of the original Sherlock written more than a century ago? No sir, give us Sherlock and give it to us NOW!
I have never been an avid television watcher myself. My brush with Sherlock happened solely by accident. I grew up in a village at a time when a television set was considered a luxury, and my puritanical family didn’t have one even though we could’ve afforded it. My parents, especially my mother, didn’t do it for religious reasons though; she simply thought it would be a distraction to my already addled mind and interfere with my school education. In lieu, my father plied me with books, magazines and novels bought second hand from the local scrap book yard or borrowed from his friends. Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, Dickens, Wilde, Twain, H. G. Wells, they fed me everything, even that old Ron Hubbard codger. It was another matter that I didn’t get more than half of the meaning, satire or social commentary in these books and wouldn’t until I reread them a few years back. I do remember liking the story about a wronged person finding a chest of treasures, becoming insanely rich and then meting out justice in his own way in The Count of Monte Cristo. And the comics, Oh my God, the comics. Phantom, Mandrake, Tarzan, and the indigenous ones, Chacha Choudhury, Pinki, Tinkle Digest, and a whole lot more. Hindi has always been a weak spot for me so I missed the era of Raj Comics and its impossibly muscular and manly characters in tight spandex like Nagraj and Doga.
And all these at an age when I’d much rather be flipping through my sister’s old Cosmopolitan issues. Or, borrowed from my friends or, more frequently, their elder brothers, pages and scraps of Mermaid, the Indian answer to Playboy or Maxim. Minus the in-depth stories. So, reluctantly at first and then with growing enthusiasm, I started taking to the “boring books without pictures.” Then I started devouring them. The local book store became my favorite place in the village and the wizened old owner transformed from “Mr.” to “Uncle.”
There were some things on TV though, that were as important as these Mermaid issues though, and watching them on the only Indian channel we had at that time was less a pastime than a duty. Jungle Book, an animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, was something none of us could afford to miss come hell or high water. Some others were Vikram Betaal (a folk inspired vampire story that still beats the shit out of Twilight), The Sword of Tipu Sultan (Game of Thrones and Ender’s Game rolled into one, how can you say no to that), Alif Laila (an adaptation of Arabian Nights), Mahabharat (guess this one needs no introduction) and Rangoli (a weekly Top 10 countdown show on music). Then came the internationally syndicated animated TV shows like TaleSpin, DuckTales, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad and Captain Planet. For all these shows, dozens and dozens of us would converge upon the nearest house with a black-and-white TV and watch with rapt attention. The TV wasn’t the only prerequisite though; the family had to have electricity, DC or AC, we don’t care but it had to have it. Electricity was a big problem in our village then and if a powercut happened during these hours, you’d have a riot that would make you wish you’d shifted to Syria when you had the chance.
If the hosts had children of their own who also were friends with us, they would usually bring the TV out on a courtyard or verandah so that it can serve a much larger audience. Such acts of human kindness were usually reciprocated by us kids running errands for the entire household for the rest of the week or even months. Or giving their kids pride of place on the playground or classroom. These kids walked with a certain kind of swagger because they knew that their friends would acquiesce to everything they say, lest they face the possibility of missing the next episode of Jungle Book come Sunday morning. Even worse, kids who missed that week’s episode will be subtly ostracized from the pack for the rest of the week as they won’t be able to take part in the fervent discussions about that episode. Status quo will be restored only when they catch up on the following episode next week. Ahhh, childhood. This is probably why South Park (and Cartman) is such a raging success; kids can be as mean as any other section of the society in their own weird ways.
In my early teens I was put in a fairly renowned school hostel and my heaven on earth instantly shifted to the school library, which was much larger and better equipped than anything I could’ve dreamt of. TV was still important though. Maybe they saw a slice of their own gone childhood in us or maybe they were just too tired to deal with the relentless requests, but our teachers allowed us roughly 5 hours of TV every 2 day weekend. And maybe this wasn’t just confined to our school but was/is a worldwide occurrence. Far away in the cities, the executives and ad men inside air conditioned studies must’ve deduced this fact and so they’ve crammed all the shows we wanted to watch within a 3 hour window starting 9AM on Sundays. This including the definitive Indian superhero of all time, Shaktimaan. Church? This is church.
For the rest of the week I had to contend myself with books from the library. We were allowed to borrow only two books at a time per library card so this became a problem for some of us who had already hopped onto the habit of jumping across unfinished books, long before Amazon and Barnes and Noble came along to help us out. Early adopters we sure were.
So I started asking my friends to borrow books on my behalf. They were glad to help, as long as I promised to bring back whatever fruits happened to be growing in our family farm in that season on my next visit to home. Thankfully, none of our teachers found out about this barter deal though I suspected they wouldn’t have given me a thrashing for this. It was thanks to our housemaster and math teacher that I discovered Sherlock Holmes. The book was a tattered Penguin Classics copy that combined The Hound of the Baskerville and The Return of Sherlock Holmes in one volume. Immediately after finishing it, I requested my father to bring me the rest of the collection and he did.
Then I went to college in my first big town, and then university, and things changed. In one stroke, I felt as if I had made the transition from boy to man. Living alone and cooking my own food, doing my own shopping and laundry (heh, heh, just kidding about the laundry part) really made me feel all grown up, even though I was still unable to figure out a way to pee in a public bathroom without wetting my crotch a bit. It was while living alone that I realized that I was no longer missing not having a TV. Not even realized actually, I just didn’t miss it and that was it. Maybe it was the pressure of growing up, the relentless pursuit of girls and an ever-expanding circle of acquaintances or maybe it was just because there was nothing worthwhile to watch on free TV anymore. Although many of the aforementioned TV shows were still running, I no longer wanted to see them except just remember them once in a while with nostalgia when the neighbors’ kids blast them on Sunday morning. Walls are thin and people are packed tighter than sardines in this town. And what I wanted to watch was on expensive cable TV, in English and out of my reach. Much like what black and white TV sets were to our village, so was cable TV to this town.
After years of slogging and earning a degree which taught me absolutely zip about how to make my way in the world, I shifted to this big city to pursue my twin dreams: automobiles and writing. As fate would have it, I got it without much effort.
Having your own source of income, no matter how much or little, really does change you faster than Charlie Sheen changes arm candy. My transition from school hostel to college pales into comparison and instead of being the all-knowing all-seeing smartass I was there, I’m now constantly amazed at how much I’ve got to learn every waking day now, both at work or otherwise. It is here in this city that I discovered that one fabric of life that binds co-workers together, sharing movies, songs and books. Almost every colleague and friend I know has his own collection of pop art safely stashed away in a hard drive somewhere. Name any significant movie or album from the last twenty years and chances are, one of the other of your friend has got it. And if it is not, it’s just walk to your nearest mall. And if it’s not even there, there’s the glorious broadband Internet to help you out. Anything and everything that has ever been made, sung, produced, written, acted or reenacted can be found online with just a few clicks, though the legality of acquiring them is another issue. All the books, movies, songs I’ve missed out on during childhood, I found them here.
But, thanks to the years spent without a TV, I found myself turning a disdainful air to television shows. In the office cafeteria, when my colleagues discuss the last night’s episode of Big Boss or MTV Roadies, I haughtily quip that I don’t watch TV and it is called the idiot box for a reason. It’s not just arrogance, I sincerely believed that everything on TV has been cut, chopped and fried to serve the lowest common denominator among us. Everything on it is presented in such a way as to stop the couch potato from thumbing the channel forward button again. Hence loud garish noises and colours, easily digestible snippets and information spliced in such a way as to hold your attention long enough to lead you to the next commercial. In doing this the quality suffers. No matter what your favorite channel is, rest assured you won’t find as in-depth an analysis or reporting as you would if you were to look it up online, or read it in print. For the simple reason that TV doesn’t cater to much cerebral activity. It’s McDonalds for the eyes, fast and easy to gobble down but not much good when it comes to nutrition.
Even new channels, which should have been the last bastion of good TV, are falling prey to this need to make profits and serve ads. This may sound like a trivial rant but the amount of information they’re trying to cram into a TV panel just beggars belief. When I’m watching a news piece about a typhoon in the Philippines, I don’t want to, don’t need to, know about how Apple is faring on the NASDAQ. Or whether India is on the 2015 F1 calendar or not. Or, even worse, what did Snooki say to some guy who calls himself ‘The Situation’ last night. If I wanted to know these news, I would just switch over to the appropriate channel or Google it up. Similar is the story with advertisements. I understand that advertisements are a necessary evil that we have to bear for all the programs we are watching that cost serious money to produce but ad proliferation on TV is getting out of hand. I’m no prude but I certainly wouldn’t want a raunchy Manforce condoms ad to come on with no warning when I’m just trying to watch Downton Abbey with my family. Everywhere they can, they’re pushing these ads like there’s no tomorrow. And the logos. On my TV, I have three big logos that permanently hide that part of the screen no matter what. One helpfully tells me what channel I’m watching, the other tells me the brand of set-top box that I bought myself even though I can see the box itself as well as the carton it came in without even craning my neck. The third gives me the name of my service provider, who does a shitty job anyway but sees no problem in plastering itself permanently over my screen. Add to it the various coffee mugs, laptops and other props emblazoned with their sponsors’ logos that the hosts on TV have so strategically placed to catch your eyes. It no longer matters what size of plasma or LCD real estate you have, they’re gonna optimize every inch of it.
This reminds me of a scene from the movie Idiocracy where a guy in the near future watch zombie-like at a TV at is chock full of ads with just a very tiny square in the middle of it showing the current program. It might have seemed a stretch when the movie was made in 1999, now I’ve seen some Indian channels that come perilously close to it. Or that scene from God Bless America where Joel Murray gives a heartfelt and impassioned rant on why TV is not just what is was before.
This gets worse when you’re trying to watch an important sports event. A shot worthy of a replay? Ads. A player taking a break to scratch his bum? Cut to ads. Showing the current team rankings? Plaster two subtle sponsors’ messages over and under the bar graph. But sadly, like it or not, short of travelling to every sports event personally, there’s no better alternative to watching it on TV. Other than being a receptacle for my Xbox and PS3, it is the only reason why I have a TV now. You can collate and parse the news you want to know about online and you can choose what movies you want to watch when in the theatre but there simply is no substitute to catching sports events as and when they happen on TV. The studios know this and this is why they will keep acting with such impunity.
And they keep blaming piracy and torrenting for the decline of TV viewership. What the studios don’t realize is that there is a section of people who would much rather prefer that the artists and executives that worked so hard to produce their favorite shows and music and movies get paid for it too. These people maybe a minority but they certainly are there. Just ask Louis C. K. or Radiohead or Paulo Coelho. All these people want is to enjoy their works without all the hassles that come with it. It’s just human nature; you simply choose the medium that serves you best, at the least possible price, with the least possible hindrance. Beefing up DRM isn’t the way to go because for everything you come up with, the hackers will come up with a way to circumvent it. There simply are more talented enthusiasts working in dimly lit basements than suited executives at Warner Bros. What they need to do is make the procurement and payment process easier. It’s no coincidence that gaming companies, who have to deal with the geekiest customers, are the first ones to wise up to the act and finally giving customers what they want.
Well, we diverted quite a bit from topic there, didn’t we? Thing is I never really used my TV for anything else other than the aforementioned games and sports events. Even movie watching is done on my smaller computer screen for the simple reason that I can fast-forward and rewind easier here. But then, at the behest of one of colleagues, I started watching a little known sitcom called Friends. That was my adult life’s re-initiation to TV shows. Friends got me hooked hard to sitcoms and, soon after, I was catching up on Seinfeld on my tablet and in airport lounges, hotels and even in office. Then followed a series of sitcoms that I didn’t actually watch but just put on as background noise while I did mundane stuff like eating dinner, reading or just working. Of these I took a particular shine to Two and a Half Men but it all went awry when Charlie Sheen was kicked off the show. The guy might have his personal life upside down but he sure gave life to the ‘biggest comedy show of the decade’ in a magazine’s words. Ashton Kutcher might be a very likeable geek and entrepreneur life but comedy, sadly, isn’t his forte at all. I also liked the loveable Crane brothers and their house physiotherapist on Frasier and Community but no other sitcom could keep me glued for more than few episodes. I also encountered a few drama series purely by chance of which I still remember The Wire and Game of Thrones. The mania has subsided now but it was just plain impossible to escape or ignore when it was on. I also watched and immensely enjoyed some informative TV series by Adam Curtis.
All these changed when I first set eyes on Sherlock. Like most Conan Doyle fans, I had heard of the series earlier but scoffed at the idea of adapting Sherlock Holmes for a modern age. How is it even possible to faithfully recreate a Victorian era hero without taking into account the modern age, we wondered? Even depictions of Holmes set in his own era have failed. I loved Guy Ritchie – Snatch is my second favorite movie of all time after The Shawshank Redemption – and I love Robert Downey Jr. too but Ritchie’s kinetic style and Downey’s so-slick-you-might-slip-and-hurt-your-back dialogue delivery isn’t just Sherlock Holmes. Sure, Holmes could move fast when he was needed and could be witheringly sarcastic but he was like that only when the trill of the hunt excited him. Robert Donwey Jr. and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock was permanently on Red Bull, just like Iron Man was before those Afghan guerillas helpfully drilled some conscience into him.
For the sheer reason of having nothing else to watch, I fired up the first episode of Sherlock one weeknight. Within five minutes I was blown away by how reverentially the creators treated the original subject matter while flagrantly defying it in others. Like The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston said, “it doesn’t feel like cheating; more like an open relationship, agreed by both parties. And they come back together again and again. Faithful where it matters, deep down.” Right from John Watson’s meeting with Stamford and Benedict Cumberbatch’s first appearance with a riding crop in the morgue, I realized that this series really is a homage, a reinvention of the original. I was hooked. I put the second season on download and went to sleep.
The next day, I didn’t go in to work and finished all three episodes of season 2 in one sitting. Although I didn’t much like how they have handled my first and favorite Sherlock story of all time, The Hound of the Baskerville, I became a fan for life. And I know I’m going to get a lot of vitriol for this but hey, this blog will never figure that high up in search results so I’m definitely safe, but I also didn’t find Andrew Scott’s portrayal or Sherlock’s arch nemesis Moriarty sinister or threatening. But he was entertaining and funny all right.
They say that the true test of any work is how long you remember it after you have experienced it. There are good movies that you forget the minute you leave the theatre and bad movies that you just can’t stop talking about; that’s just the way things are. Despite having scores of unwatched movies, unheard songs and unread books with me, I keep rewatching Sherlock over and over. Even worse, I keep digging deeper and deeper into the fandom, reading other’s people’s views on why Sherlock is just ‘so gosh darn awesome.’ I have absorbed and memorized every line of trivia not just about Sherlock but of the three lead actors, the creators, the producer and the villains. I never had any gay tendencies nor was ever inclined to hero-worship (came close to it once though, the first time I encountered George Carlin) but the very mention of Cumberbatch will have me frothing at the mouth. This is not just an interest, this is obsession to such a degree that my girlfriend sometimes get scared of it. I honestly don’t know why I keep watching interviews of him on YouTube. I was never a Trekkie but watched the last Star Trek movie simply because of him. By the way, wasn’t there supposed to be a colon or something in that movie’s name?
And I have been writing this, my first full blog, post since 1:30 AM simply because BBC has released their first full length trailer for Season 3 some hours back. It is now 11:21 AM on a Monday morning and I just can’t seem to stop. I had originally intended to write a paragraph or two just to tap into the massive Sherlock googling that is no doubt happening right now. Over the past few hours I have written about a lot of things and if you, dear visitor, are still reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You know, I still haven’t updated and expanded on the first two posts that I put up two days back but I have written, ummm… 4127, wait, 4129 words now. It’s obvious that you are either a diehard Sherlock fan or stumbled on this by pure chance. Either way, thanks for coming this far with me and please leave a comment for me on Twitter or Facebook, just so I know that someone read all these. Cheers!