Friday, September 28, 2012

Elementary.... Sherlock Holmes in 21st Century New York

When it was announced that CBS would be doing their own modern take on Sherlock Holmes (after the BBC wouldn't allow them to remake Sherlock) fans of Holmes were startled and alarmed. Especially when it was announced that Watson would be played by Lucy Liu. It certainly goes against tradition.
So was it worth all the kerfuffle?
In some respects no. In last night's pilot of Elementary, Lucy Liu proved herself very adept at being the every man foil to an unhinged detective. As the element people were most worried about, she was a pleasant surprise. From a design point of view, she also had a very good "look." I also don't mind the New York setting. It can work.
I suppose my main criticism of the show thus far (and I realize most network shows need to settle in over the first few episodes) is that it's sort of bland. Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes is an arrogant detective and recovering drug addict. Yes, he may have the capacity to be an interesting character, but he's not yet. Nothing is really screaming "Holmes" about him either. He keeps bees, that was the one token quirk they threw the audience last night. The possibility of Holmes' father is new to the pastiche genre and may have some possibility, but I'm still not convinced by the writing or Miller's portrayal of the character. He doesn't have the mystique or the charisma yet.
The NYPD is also really boring. So far we've seen Captain Gregson who worked with Holmes while he was abroad attached to Scotland Yard. Their history and relationship doesn't really read at this point. Detective Abreu seems like someone Holmes might rub the wrong way. In their first scene, Holmes disproves the Detective's assumptions about a crime scene. Yet, later in the episode he does Holmes' bidding with little trouble. Right now the police are just placeholders, filling a function, not real people with internal lives and the possibility for conflict.
I wish they hadn't advertised this as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. If they had changed everyone's names, I would have no trouble enjoying it as a new "consulting detective" show on CBS. We could have had a show that pays homage to Holmes in its inspiration instead of a "Sherlock Holmes" show that never quite delivers.
There is a good possibility that the show will find its footing and be quite decent. But nothing so far says it's Sherlock Holmes to me. Sherlock Holmes wouldn't have kinky ladder sex with a prostitute. I also don't believe that he would ever have a "temper tantrum" to the extreme he does in this pilot. His mind is always in control. He may do bizarre things, but it's for a purpose, a master plan. So far, I'm not certain Miller's Holmes is capable of the "long-game," if you will. How will he cope when a Moriarty is eventually introduced?
Some fans are rejoicing the fact that Miller is an attractive and competent actor that they can enjoy in the role for twenty or so episodes per season. Yes it's hard to wait a year and half for each set of three episodes from Sherlock, but they are more than episodes, aren't they? They're really mini-films. "A Study in Pink" held up side by side with this first episode creates a sad comparison. Really, there is no comparison. Elementary is.... HolmesLite. We'll be getting a decent, Sherlock Holmes-ish series in great quantity, but nowhere near the quality and detail of Sherlock.
So will I watch it? Probably. At least unless they do something that's unforgivable to me. It's just an entirely different beast from Sherlock.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Passing Thoughts on Finding Inspiration

"How do you get your ideas?"
It's inevitable. If you write, or paint, or compose, or do anything creative, people wonder where the grain of that idea comes from. Even creative people wonder about where the ideas of other creative people come from. There's something mystical and secretive about the creative process: no wonder the ancients believed in the Muses arriving and blessing the artists with ideas. It's as good an analogy as any.
Most writers have a process, a schedule, a pattern, for when they're writing. That initial burst of thought: that unraveling of images that somehow gives you a character, or a plot, or a theme, that's much less scientific.
Writers can provoke inspiration by exposing themselves to things that have the capacity to be inspiring. By reading, watching films, traveling, or trying something new, you expose yourself to new people, ideas, and sensations. Sometimes things just randomly align for no reason.
What's most important (in my young, limited experience) is not dismiss small inspirations. Just because you don't have a fully formed idea doesn't mean you might not have something important. Keeping a little notebook on you at all times is essential. Write down that unusual name you heard, or that fragment of a line that occurred to you while in line at the grocery store. When you flip back through your notebook, you might realize that some of these little things might go together. You might have your big inspiration after all.
I wrote a short story almost two months ago. I wasn't entirely happy with where it ended up, so I put it aside. Tonight while sitting in a linguistics class watching a video of Noam Chompsky talking about Universal Language, I suddenly knew. I knew how I could fix that story.
The mind is an amazing thing. Sometimes it might be working on a problem in the background, in the subconscious. We just have to live our lives and work on other things. The inspiration will come. And if it doesn't.... well, we do something else until it does.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had a weird breakthrough in the middle of something totally unrelated.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bill Bryson: The Mother Tongue

The Mother Tongue: English and How it got that Way is a delightful book. Anyone interested in language, etymology, or history will love this book. Anyone vaguely curious about why English can seems so strange or confusing will find it enlightening and amusing.
Bryson works his way through some of the basics of the history of the language: how a bastardized peasant tongue somehow became one of the dominant languages of the world. Some of the sketchier bits of history like "the great vowel shift" are skirted over with good reason: there is no definitive understanding of that strange happening to this day. Dialects, American and British are discussed, as well as how the names of places and people came to be, and also the origins of swear words.
What always rings clear in this book is the fact that language is not a permanent thing. English is strangely malleable, constantly shifting, picking up bits of other languages, and changing. Where some languages have change very little in the past thousand years (so much so, you could read ancient manuscripts with little difficulty), old English is nearly unrecognizable to modern readers. Though Bryson admits English has its failings and that other languages are more expressive or sensible in certain areas, his love of the language is seen on every page. He reminds native speakers that the language they speak is beautiful, expressive, and unique among world languages.
Perhaps he is a little biased in his love of English, and doesn't go into all the textbook definitions. It's not a textbook, and it never feels like one. Overall, it's a book that is both fun to read and will teach you dozens of new things about the English language. Something about Bryson's voice is engaging and personable. You feel like you're chatting with an incredibly smart friend while having a drink together on a lazy Friday night. I'm currently in a Linguistics class at the moment, and I must say, that though The Mother Tongue seems light on the science, it was a fantastic book to read before the class. Nearly all of the topics on our syllabus were touched on by Bryson. I feel much more prepared than going into the class cold.

Friday, September 7, 2012

No Room For You (in the workforce)

Perhaps it's my own fault for keeping an email account with Yahoo. It seems like every few months they post a new story about "useless" college majors. They're not the only culprit, plenty of news sources print and post such articles.
In their most recent article, they discussed the usual "worst" majors (mine, English, included). When discussing the poor job prospects for philosophy majors the writer said,"Our philosophy, at least, is to look into a major with a better return on investment."
Hilarious. It seems that this is the mindset toward education now. We treat it like a product. Commercials for online degrees are a perfect example of this. "I want to get my degree faster." "I don't want to take classes I don't need." If only we could streamline it and have people line up to get implanted with a micro-chip labelled "bachelor's degree."
I don't understand how anyone can call something that enriches your mind a waste. The concept of the Renaissance Man is now outmoded. People want to take the classes that give them a specific set of skills that will enable them to do a specific job that will bring home a certain sized paycheck. 
It's true that perhaps if I had gone into the sciences I would have a more certain job when I graduate, but I prefer language and literature. Obviously most of the people pursuing the "worst" degrees are doing them because they love them. They are more interested in feeding the soul than feeding the wallet. These constant articles in the media beating down the Arts and Humanities are basically saying to me: "There's no room for you."
There's no room for the poets, the philosophers, the painters. There's no room for the people who appreciate beauty or show us society in a new light. There's no room for people who try to give us greater understanding and consciousness. We don't need them as long as we have doctors, lawyers, scientists, and investment bankers.
You shouldn't go to school to become a smarter, better person, you should go to school so you can make lots of money. Even if you do it by studying a subject you don't love.
I know that I won't be a Warren Buffet. I will never live in a mansion or have servants.  I will live in an apartment and cook Ramen noodles over a hot plate. So what? There are more important things in my opinion. I'm a story teller and I don't have a choice. I came out of the womb that way. 
I think I've gained something from every college course I've taken-- even the courses that weren't in my major. Thanks to our liberal arts curriculum, I've take classes in biology, sociology, mathematics. I don't think they were a waste. Learning something new can only improve your mind for whatever it is you plan on doing.
<I can't help but wonder if the writer of that article is just a frustrated English major stuck writing for Yahoo now. And consider: would the world be any richer had Shakespeare chosen the more sensible profession of fishmonger or become a glover like his father?