N.B.: This post will hypocritically complain about Sherlock spoilers while simultaneously containing Sherlock spoilers. Away with you if you haven’t seen up to the second episode of the third season.
Before We Get to Sherlock, Let’s Talk About Community
Hmm, this seems like an unrelated topic. I wonder where I’m going with all this.
But hear me out: Community is a fine show, to be sure. But it’ll never work its way into my (cold, possibly absent) heart the way the best of its NBC brethren (i.e. 30 Rock) has. Why? Because it insists on being a comedy with heart, only it keeps hitting the same emotional beat over and over again. Far too many episodes boil down something threatening the friend group, and the group deciding that, yes, their friendship is more important than whatever was threatening it.
This was effective in the beginning, where there really was a transition from a randomly assembled study group to a real circle of friends. But a couple seasons in, they were still affirming their relationships. And a couple seasons after that, they still are.
Think I’m wrong? Take this season’s premiere. The Community characters are not even a study group anymore. They’re people who legitimately know each other outside of school. And yet, something threatens their friendship: Jeff manipulates the rest of the group into suing Greendale. And he almost gets away with it…until he decides that, yes, their friendship is more important than his professional success. (Have we seen this episode before?) And instead of suing the school, he convinces them all to re-enroll in it, and re-form the study group.
It just gets emotionally repetitive.
Now, to Complain About Sherlock a Little
I’m still not talking about “The Sign of Three” yet. Just go with it, because you love my roguish qualities.
I watched the previous two seasons of Sherlock on Netflix. I saw the first episode of the first season while Jesse was out of town, and decided it was so good that I’d wait for him to come back, make him watch it, and continue the season with him. The second season came and went on the BBC, and then came and went on PBS, and then finally came to Netflix, where we watched it at our leisure. At no point was I subjected to spoilers.
Sometime in between the second and third seasons, something changed. Now there are bits of Sherlock information floating around in the ether, ready to spoil me at a moment’s notice. Not only that, it seemed like everyone downloaded the episodes as soon as they hit the BBC, so I had to be worried about being spoiled for a show that hadn’t even aired in the United States yet. My choices were these:
1) Be like everyone else and download the episodes, and either watch them on a screen of sub-optimal size or on my regular TV but of the sub-optimal watching-a-web-video-on-my-TV quality.
2) Watch the episodes on PBS, and cross my fingers that a) the downloaders won’t spoil everything and b) PBS didn’t cut the episodes down, as they did the previous two seasons.
3) Wait until the season comes to Netflix, where I can once again watch the uncut episodes at my leisure. Resign myself to knowing everything that happens before I get to watch it for myself.
I went with Option No. 2, and it seems to be working out. The episodes don’t look like they’ve been shortened, and I’ve only been spoiled for minor things. But, obviously, I resent having to make the choice. We only get three Sherlock episodes a season, people. After they’re done, who knows when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be available to shoot another season together? I wanted to spread the episodes out and make the season last as long as possible. Instead, I feel pressured to blow through the entire season in three weeks, and wait however long to blow through the next season in three weeks, and so on.
This is just another example of how…
Fans Are the Worst
I should be more specific. When creators listen to their fans, it’s the worst.
Not to go off on yet another tangent, but the big, archetypical example of this—at least around the SportsAlochol.com office—is the Veronica/Logan relationship on Veronica Mars. They’re so much more interesting apart than together, and yet fans somehow bullied the show into keeping them together for longer than was useful.
For a more relevant example, think back “The Empty Hearse,” the season premiere of Sherlock. What was the worse thing about it? If you’re like me, your answer probably has something to do with Anderson—especially his little club of people speculating about how Sherlock is alive. I’d say the worst moment was the imagined Sherlock/Moriarty kiss. It was an elbow-to-the-ribs kind of joke, and it was so, so cheesy. The club is clearly a stand-in for Sherlock fans, and the kiss was total fan service. Did that moment deserve a guffaw, a laugh, or even a chuckle? Sherlock should be better than that.
Which Brings Me, Finally, to “The Sign of Three”
I know—I took a roundabout way of getting to the point. Kind of like Sherlock’s interminable wedding toast in “The Sign of Three.”
I’m not saying I hated the episode. All Sherlock episodes are good. I enjoyed the lighter tone of “The Sign of Three” (“the elephant in the room”), along with the clever way the seemingly unrelated cases he mentioned all came to bear at the wedding. I especially adored Sherlock’s drunken deductions. (“Egg? Chair? Sitty thing?”) My problem wasn’t even with the notion that the cases hinged on two people not feeling fatal stab wounds, though I found that kind of unbelievable.
No, my problem was with the excess of gooey emotion between Watson and Sherlock. (I know, I know: monster, no heart, etc. Send all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The idea that Sherlock is a damaged sociopath who is only redeemed through Watson’s love is one that should be used in the show very sparingly. In “The Sign of Three,” it was overused. So many moments were there just to make you go “awww.” We get the mushy parts of Sherlock’s Best Man toast. We get the flashback to when Watson asks Sherlock to be his Best Man, and thus affirm that Sherlock is his best friend. We get Sherlock’s heartfelt violin-playing for Watson and Mary’s first dance. We get Watson saying, “She has completely turned my life around. There are only two people who have ever done that.” (Clutch your hearts, non-monsters who still have them!) And we get the sad way Sherlock slinks out of the wedding, even though he loves to dance, because he has no one to dance with—despite the fact that people don’t really dance exclusively as couples to fast songs at weddings, and no one was dancing with Mrs. Hudson. Manufactured emotion, Sherlock!
If all of these “awww” moments weren’t enough, it all comes after a season premiere that ends with a big, cathartic speech about Watson’s feelings for Sherlock—a speech that starts with Watson saying how hard it is to talk about his feelings for Sherlock. To me, it seems like he actually can’t shut up about them.
It’s not that I’m totally disinterested in these kinds of emotional scenes. I found the end of “The Reichenbach Fall,” the last episode of the second season, to be hugely moving. Watson’s speech at Sherlock’s grave got me, man. I had Feelings-with-a-capital-F. I still do when I think about it. But I only found it so effective because scenes like that, up to that point, had been so rare throughout the series. I’m afraid I’m going to become numb to them.
That might be the goal for some people. It’s clear that, for some fans, reveling in the Watson/Sherlock relationship is the main appeal of the show. But Sherlock should resist, because giving fans what they want is the quickest way to ruin something. If Sherlock pauses every episode—possibly multiple times an episode—to reaffirm that the friendship between Watson and Sherlock is more important than whatever is threatening it (Moriarty, marriage), it’ll stop being great. It’ll be Community. (Look! All the threads came together, just like I planned from the start.)
Conclusion: The tenderness of the Watson and Sherlock relationship is like salt. A little bit of it brings out the flavor of the entire thing. Too much leaves a bad taste in your mouth.