Thursday, December 1, 2011

No $#!+ Sherlock - Part. 3 of 5 - Comic Book Rehab

I finally got to see "Sherlock: The Great Game", or as I call it, "Doctor Who: The Two Doctors". Let me explain:

Cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera are famous for capitalizing on the same idea over and over - Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound were their first big stars, so the following decade (this would be the 1960's) saw a large assortment of bow tie and porkpie hat-wearing anthropomorphic funny animals with similar vocal patterns. The Flintstones was their first successful half-hour length show, so they tried others, like The Jetsons and Roman Holidays. And every cartoon in the 70's was Scooby Doo in disguise - even The Superfriends! I actually thought Wally Gator was funnier than Yogi, and some people love Quick Draw McGraw over Huckleberry Hound, and some people prefer Superfriends over Scooby, and some (like Chuck Dixon) only enjoyed The Jetsons, but this goes against the grain - it's not asking whether the chicken or egg came first: we're just comparing eggs. It's like that picky shopper in the film "Clerks" who was picking a dozen eggs out of different cartons - is this madness? If we can tell the product is the same, why not move on or just stay with the one product? Why don't I find Yogi as funny as Wally?

I can answer that question easy - I don't like Ranger Smith, and the food-related storylines made the cartoon seem limiting - why would Yogi want to compete in a space race or solve mysteries in Jellystone Mall? He's just a bear who wants to snack on human food. Wally, on the other hand, was bored , and was eager to go anywhere, do anything , to break out - that speaks to anybody! Sure, the cartoons would end with Wally running back home, but after 7 minutes of "Next stop, anywhere," home is where everyone thinks of going back to.

Now... if you don't watch the BBC or BBC America, are not a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, and only surf the internet to swap recipes for rhubarb pie or see upskirt photos, than you're not reading this blog and I'm talking about Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, anyway. Doctor Who has had a very successful revival in the last few years - it used to known as "That British show with the worst special effects ever with the tall guy that looks like Harpo Marx with a long scarf and written by the guy that wrote The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy", and there are worse ways of becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Sherlock Holmes has had a big revival on film and television, beginning in disguise (CSI, House) then in an official capacity, with Robert Downey jr. on film, and Benedict Cumberbatch on television.

I've been paying more attention to the TV version in this blog, largely because I can kill two birds with one stone - Cumberbatch's performance has fans online saying that he would make a great Doctor Who, even better/equal to current Doctor, Matt Smith. But why are they so surprised? This new show, Sherlock, was conceived and written by Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss - two veterans of Doctor Who. I've already mentioned in Part 1 of No $#!+ Sherlock how much the character of Holmes and the actor's performance are very in sync with modern Doctor Who productions.

And now...the finale. I got to see the third episode, which sees the introduction of a modern Professor Moriarty. Moriarty is a wild card - he only appears in flashback in one story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - "The Final Problem", and is referred to in "The Adventure of Empty House" and "The Valley of Fear". Like Ernst Stavro Blofeld, much of what we think we know of the character is the stuff of pop culture osmosis. Was he a 19th century mob boss? Was he a mad scientist? Did he have two brothers? Was he just a simple math teacher that slept with Sherlock's mom and inspired a series of drug-induced hallucinations thereafter? Was he Sherlock Holmes in disguise? Everyone has fun guessing, but Conan Doyle was happy to see the back of him - he only existed as an not-so-fully-realized means to an end that didn't quite work out.

Andrew Scott plays the new Moriarty, presented here as a "Consulting Killer" - you hire him for advice on how to commit a perfect murder. Not everyone knows what they wanna' be when they grow up... Sherlock has obviously been cutting into his bottom line, and he decides to send his version of a friendly warning: tips on several murders that he helped fix and the one that got him started, leading to a showdown at a an indoor pool that's a rip-off of a showdown between David Tennant and Anthony Stewart Head in the Doctor Who episode, "School Reunion". Aside from a brilliant inside joke that only British fans are likely to get  (the reality show "Jim'll Fix It"), we get a "Lady or the Tiger?" cliffhanger ending - or not. I guess they wanted to end with Holmes and Moriarty taking turns at smoulder acting.

This stand-off/smoulder was the kind of thing they perfected with David Tennant on his Doctor Who and continue with Matt Smith- but here, it's with Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch. Watch a marathon of Tennant-Who episodes, then go back and watch this episode - Moriarty is clearly written as a kind of psycho Tennant. Now, watch a marathon of Matt Smith-Who episodes and repeat the same viewing steps I described. Cumberbatch's Sherlock is very Smith-ish, isn't he? Yes, you won't see the Doctor unload his revolver into the roundels of the Tardis, but the Doctor has always been viewed as a Holmesian character from the start.

Is ignorance bliss? I can still enjoy both programs (actually, I enjoyed Who because of Tennant's performance, not necessarily because I thought the show was perfect - plus, Smith's Doctor is a bit of a poser) knowing that one is taking ques from the other, but there is a sense that neither is as original as it wants to appear. And then there's the cartoons I mentioned earlier - do I need to like Yogi Bear to enjoy Wally Gator? Can I watch Wally and not acknowledge the fact that he wouldn't really exist without Yogi? I find that I can watch Yogi and wonder why he can't be as funny as Wally Gator.

You know, if it weren't for Hong Kong Phooey, The Hair Bear Bunch and the Smurfs, every Hanna Barbera cartoon in the 70's and 80's would be Scooby Doo in disguise. And I like Scrappy Doo, but that's a subject for another time...and the fact that every cartoon tried to be the Smurfs in disguise when that took off...

Which came first? The Egg? Or the other Egg?


  1. Don’t have much to say ‘bout modern versions of Holmes (Rathbone rules!) or The Doctor, but YOGI BEAR? Now, yer taklin’! I’ve written this elsewhere, but…

    Yogi Bear instituted what became a “tried-and-true” formula for Hanna- Barbera – that of a “lovable, wise guy animal” confounding a long-suffering human authority figure. This became such a recurring formula, you can actually play “Fill-In-The Blank” with it.

    Lovable, wise guy animal (Yogi Bear) confounds long-suffering (Ranger Smith).
    Lovable, wise guy animal (Top Cat) confounds long-suffering (Officer Dibble).
    Lovable, wise guy animal (Wally Gator) confounds long-suffering (Zoo Keeper Mr. Twiddle).
    Lovable, wise guy animal (Magilla Gorilla) confounds long-suffering (Mr. Peebles).
    Lovable, wise guy animal (Breezly Bruin) confounds long-suffering (Colonel Fuzzby).
    Lovable, wise guy animal (Squiddly Diddly) confounds long-suffering (Chief Winchley).

    …And more!

    Get the picture? Somehow, though, we loved it (…or, at least bought it!) every time!

  2. Yogi is the Kevin Bacon of Hanna Barbera's funny animals. He's also Joe Barbera's favorite, which is one reason why new cartoons with him were made often. Fred Flinstone was Bill Hanna's favorite, too.

  3. RE: Basil Rathbone - aside from "The Hound of The Baskervilles", none of the Sherlock Holmes films featuring Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are based on the original stories by Conan Doyle. In fact, from "Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon" on, they're set in then-present-day England! I think only the series with Jeremy Brett is based on the original stories, but even they went off the rails a bit toward the end.