Sherlock

If you don’t like a TV programme, you should probably stop watching after the first episode, rather than keep watching and getting a bit crosser each time. Although, actually, I quite liked the first episode of Sherlock. It was the second, startlingly racist, episode that put me off, but somehow I kept watching, even when the third episode was unsatisfying and then we had to wait a year for number four. I can’t really explain it, except that I kept hoping it would get better.

And it wasn’t awful. There was lots to like about it: the casting is uniformly excellent and everybody does the best they can with the script. It looks good, and it sounds good, and it makes London look better than it does in real life.

But ugh, it’s so pleased with itself! The joy of the Conan Doyle stories comes from how clever Sherlock Holmes is, not how clever Arthur Conan Doyle is. It’s a small, but important, distinction. Sherlock is delighted by itself more than it is by the character, which makes it feel all wrong. I don’t want to be able to hear the programme-maker breathing down the back of my neck when I watch a drama, and watching this show I can feel him looming sweatily over me throughout.

(I’m not talking about anyone in particular here, but he is definitely a “he”. Drama on British TV is currently in the grip of a chummy group of clever-clever, white, middle-class men who are all jolly pleased with themselves and each other for being smarter than normal people. Unfortunately they are all quite good at making TV, damn them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.)

The problem the programme has, when it gets very overexcited about being clever, is twofold. Firstly, it loses sight of the beautiful simplicity that sits at the heart of the best Holmes stories. This show has more plot in ten minutes than an entire Conan Doyle novel. Secondly, if you’re going to be self-consciously clever, you’d better make sure that you are, in fact, being clever, and this is where Sherlock falls down for me. Quite apart from the dangling plot points and the baffling improbabilities, which flit by so fast that you can mostly ignore them, the show is terrifically excited about Technology, which somebody somewhere in the bowels of the BBC has clearly decided is going to be used as a Metaphor. The problem is, they haven’t bothered to get anyone with an actual grasp of the technology they’re talking about to act as an advisor on the show, with the result that we, the audience, are expected to be delighted by Feats of Technology which in real life are either ridiculously unimpressive or so improbable and unexplained as to be plain silly. Just as The Archers needs an agricultural story editor, Sherlock could have done with a technology advisor. And somebody should have sacked whoever decided to give Watson a “blog”. I put it in inverted commas because so do they, every time they mention it.

But that’s all nit-picking. What I really object to is the idea that the source material needs to be improved upon, when (a) it doesn’t, and (b) whatever description you might want to give of Sherlock, an improvement on the original is not it. At one point, during the entirely nonsensical denouement of last night’s show, Moriarty (wince-inducingly described in BBC1’s preamble as “Holmes’s ultimate nemesis”, as though you can have grades of nemesis) said to Holmes: “…that’s your weakness, you always want everything to be clever”. And I thought: you got it in one.

(I had a separate rant last night at the TV and the beloved about what they did with Moriarty, but since it included the words “postmodern” and “non-linear” I shan’t repeat it here, or we’ll both go away thinking I’m the most terrible kind of wanker.)

Last night’s TV

I spent most of yesterday evening watching TV in bed, which is something I should do more often, because it’s brilliant.  I got off to a bad start with Miranda, the new sitcom starring Miranda Hart, when I only realised several minutes in that it wasn’t a sketch show. Once over this initial hump, though, I started to enjoy it. There are some good jokes (my favourite is that Miranda, having been to public school, is too refined to bring herself to say the word “sex” and instead pronounces it “snex”) and, well, it takes a while to start enjoying new sitcoms even when they’re great, so I’ll give it a pass for now. Patricia Hodge was good as Miranda’s mum, although my suggestion, Penelope Wilton, would have been even better (I suggested her via Twitter; I’m not one of the programme-makers).

However. I would really love it if someone somewhere had decided to make a sitcom starring as its lead character a slightly odd-looking, slightly overweight and very funny woman who wasn’t a massive loser. Miranda’s character is 34, single, desperate for love and living with a flatmate, Stevie, who is also all of those things. Actually, it’s the last one which bothers me. The kitchen in which the scenes in the flat are filmed looks like a set from The Young Ones, and the jokes about Stevie bringing men home wear a little thin when both women are of an age when they ought to be able to have sex with whomever they like, whenever they like. I don’t mind if the BBC want to make a sitcom about a single woman’s search for love, but need she also be financially inept and a domestic disaster? Why can’t Miranda be comically bad at dating whilst living by herself, like real middle-class single women in their thirties do?

I also watched I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!, whose title deserves the correct punctuation. Last night, we were treated to the sight of a middle-aged woman lying in a glass coffin wearing nearly nothing while a selection of sea creatures and creepy-crawlies were dropped down a funnel on to her chest. Her response was admirable, and she won a full complement of evening meals for her fellow celebrities and managed to tell Dec off at the same time. Bravo her.

But while I’ve always enjoyed I’m A Celebrity, I do wonder whether the cavalier attitude it displays towards animal life isn’t a bit passé, these days. Is there any reason it’s better to kill and maim witchety grubs and cockroaches for entertainment’s sake than it would be to kill, I don’t know, puppies? It’s compelling viewing all right, but does that justify it, when we’re simultaneously watching programmes about the number of species facing extinction due to human activity?

Which got me to wondering whether it mightn’t be possible to conceive of jungle-based challenges for the celebrities which were somehow designed to have a positive impact on their environment, rather than wiping out large numbers of its insects. I haven’t got quite as far as coming up with examples, but there are many people better qualified than me to think of something. I’m sure the brains behind the show could work with local conservationists to come up with something that was at once hair-raising and sustaining, rather than destructive.  I know that sounds a bit ridiculous, but I’d like to think that one day it won’t, if some of us start saying it now.

In the meantime, like everybody else, I will be eagerly watching poor old Katie Price attempt “The Deathly Burrows” this evening.

Theme tunes

I’m trying to think of as many TV shows as I can whose name can be sung along with the theme tune. So far I’ve got these:

The Sweeney
This Is Your Life
Emmerdale Farm (it only works if you include the “Farm”, and even then you have to fill it in with scat singing: Emmerdale Farm, do be do be Emmerdale Farm…)
You’ve Been Framed

There must be more, right?