Crap Journalism: Party Lines – update

What did I tell you?

The final episode of the fourth series of Sherlock is tomorrow, but the Guardian, which has no idea of proportion, or balance, or indeed when to knock it off because it’s creating the opposite reaction to that intended, has resumed its campaign of hate against the programme.

I’m not even linking to the latest salvo, which takes the form of the TV review page in the Weekend pocket-sized supplement. The column, entitled ‘The Other Side’ is usually written by Filipa Jodelka but – warning! warning! self-important twat alert! – this week it’s been handed over to the egregious Stuart Heritage to tell us, guess what, that the long-running American series, Elementary, is a better Sherlock than Sherlock. Well, no shit, er…

It’s not even as if Heritage can muster any great claims for Elementary: indeed he damns the show with faint praise by pointing out that there already over 100 episodes and that there are ones that don’t work but, hey, so what, other ones do.

Heritage even paints Elementary as a procedural, just as much as CSI or NCIS, but argues, on the basis of no evidence produced, that it is a cut above them, seemingly more honourable.

Now I have no comment to make on Elementary. I have seen nothing of it bear a handful of trailers, a few minutes in total, none of which have inclined me to want to watch more. It may well be very good, and/or highly entertaining, or it may be the kind of sterile formula-follower that over 100 episode in five years might suggest. I don’t know, nor do I care.

But on its behalf, I resent it suddenly being talked up like this, at this time, in this very week, not out of any merits it may possess in itself but as a stick to be deployed in the Guardian‘s vendetta. This is a show so monumental and magnetic that it appears on Sky Living, remember.

The thing about this kind of full-bore piling in, slinging mud at every possible moment, is that it demonstrates just how ineffectual the Guardian is being. If it had any confidence in itself and the validity of its opinions, it would make its point (without Heritage’s unfunny witty and ‘cutting’ comments) and rest on it. Instead, it has to shriek and blare, over and again.

It used to be a decent paper, too. I’m trying to remember how far back that was.

Crap Journalism: Party Lines

It’s never difficult to tell when the Guardian has decided to take a party line on something.

There was the astonishing vehemence with which it attacked the Steven Speilberg CGI Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn back in 2011, with nearly two-dozen different articles, frequently appearing on a daily basis, slagging off the film unmercifully. This was in contrast to the generally positive tones of reviews worldwide. To the Guardian, however, the film was a personal insult to Herge, a complete misrepresentation of the series, the rape of Tintin the character himself.

Basically, the audience was ordered to boycott the film, and if they ignored that advice, to hate the film. By the time I saw it, I was determined to like it, just because the response was so hysterical, unreasoning and dictatorial. And enjoy it I did (although, despite Andy Serkis being brilliant in it, Captain Haddock still wasn’t right, because he didn’t sound like the guy who voiced the old Tele-Hachette/Belvision cartoons).

Then there’s Jeremy Corbyn, whose every word, thought and deed has been slagged off by the Guardian, relentlessly, since it became apparent that he was going to be voted Labour Party leader.

And now the screw is being turned on Sherlock.

Whilst criticism of the opening episode of the current season was legitimate to some extent, it’s plain that the Guardian has a major mad on again, and the series is to be ripped to shreds. I refrained from comment two days ago when the buffoon Stuart Heritage wrote a full-length and wrong-headed condemnation of the programme based on what hasn’t yet happened in the final episode, and they’re at it again today demanding that all of television give up including ghosts, with Sherlock as its principal target.

Heritage chooses to describe the programme as ‘gutless’ and professes his personal and projected disappointment at the cliffhanger which, in case you didn’t watch it yourself, consisted of the revelation of the third Holmes sibling as being female and shooting directly at John Watson’s face.

Apparently, the programme can only be tolerated – not appreciated or enjoyed – if Watson is dead. Otherwise, it reveals itself as being permanently contemptible. What can you say? Would it help to mention that the Sherlock Holmes novels, and every last colourable adaptation from them, are about the duo of Holmes and Watson? No, the party-line is in. A cliffhanger has been set up and instead of the hero freeing himself, by one mighty bound or, more likely some ingenious twist (is the pistol actually loaded or is this another element of the psychological game Euros Holmes is playing with her younger brother?), the idiot Heritage puts himself in the stupid position of demanding that the co-star dies.

I mean, it’s a complete misunderstanding of the basis of the series that we expect a complex, implausible escape and the fun is finding out how it was done. Only the Guardian, in its new, get-Sherlock phase would imagine anything different.

But it’s today’s piece of idiocy that makes plain there is an agenda. Gwylim Mumford’s piece is ostensibly an attack on a TV trope, which he describes as cheap and lazy writing, and demands it be banned instantly. The piece quotes other series guilty of this factor, which has been overused to the point of cliche, except on Mr Robot, where it’s apparently fundamental to the series’ success. Hmm.

But no, this is another excuse to slag off Sherlock. The trope in question is having dead characters appear on screen as psychological projections visible only to the audience and to the grieving character to whom they relate. This is Mary Watson turning up and having conversations with John, during which she reminds him several times over that she’s dead and has no more knowledge than he has.

One problem is that Mumford analyses the problem as being that “(w)e all know exactly how the dead person vision will pan out. The dead person appears to the living person to help them work through something monumental. Because the dead person is aware of the deep truth about the living person, they’re almost always an insufferable know-it-all, prone to saying things like “I see you’ve finally figured it out” while lying on a chaise longue reading the newspaper. These people aren’t just dead, they’re dead smug. Then when the living character has finally realised what was causing them such angst, the dead character disappears for good, leaving the living person staring into space and looking confused.” And the apparition of Mary Watson does none of that.

But no, the party-line demands another attack, in case the audience gets a bad case of thinking for itself, and decides it knows its own tastes better.

In a couple of months time, I will have been reading the Guardian for thirty-six years. I started buying it not long after it started publishing Doonesbury every day. I haven’t kept buying the paper this long because of that alone, especially not when it went into daily reprints. But day by day, as the paper betrays every (small l) liberal and social instinct it once had, as it gets rid of good writers because they cost and installs ever more right-wing writers who tell us that Theresa May is the ideal Prime Minister, I re-evaluate that decision, day in, day out.

At the moment, the biggest factor in keeping me buying this excuse for a newspaper is the Cryptic Crossword. Doing it on-line just doesn’t compare. And some of the sports writers are still good.

But crap journalism like this grows ever more prevalent. I wouldn’t mind if it were just a difference of opinion, argued out by someone who doesn’t think he’s a great wit or that his personal opinion is the word of a secular God. I like reading dissenting opinions, testing them against what I believe. But that’s not what I’m getting, and the cost of the paper each day becomes harder to justify to myself.

Uncollected Thoughts: Sherlock series 4 episode 2

I said last week that I couldn’t be objective about Sherlock and I still can’t. Last week’s episode got a lot of abuse for its ‘sexing-up’ and the Bond-ification of Sherlock, instead of the clever, witty, cerebral case solving that, apparently, was the only thing remotely interesting about the first series or two. Some of that criticism was the old, old thing about not letting things change or grow. Some of it, to be fair, was justifiable: I said I never liked the idea of Mary Watson, assassin and mercenary.

Well, given the nature of ‘The Lying Detective’, all about cerebral deduction and the careful trapping of a monster into confessing crimes that, though undetailed, were beautifully conveyed as monstrous by the simple device of having Greg Lestrade push back his chair and suspend the interrogation until the following morning, you’d almost think that Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat (writer of this week’s episode) had been playing for just such a response. Nah, they ain’t that clever, are they?

But this episode was undoubtedly clever, winding an astonishingly convoluted, yet very simple plot into so many curlicues, with hidden motivations and hidden crimes folded into it like the micro-dimensions of string theory, that it became impossible to believe that what we were watching took only ninety minutes of our lives.

To put it at its most basic: John Watson is having therapy for his appalling loss and the unbridgeable gulf it has created between him and Sherlock, only one of which conditions he wishes to resolve. Sherlock, in turn, is back on the smack, collapsing in on himself, driving himself towards death, unable to control his own intelligence.

Both appear to be hallucinating. John is carrying on conversations with Mary, despite her constant reminders that she isn’t real, nor is she independent of his mind. And Sherlock spends an entire night being put onto a complex case by the walking-cane carrying daughter of Culverton Smith, millionaire businessman/philanthropist/serial killer, only to discover that she, too, doesn’t exist (actually, the woman, Faith, does exist, it’s just that Sherlock’s hallucination isn’t her, she just looks alike. She’s not even an hallucination, but lets not get ahead of ourselves).

Sherlock sets out to prove that this highly respected public figure is indeed that most despicable of creatures, a serial killer. Toby Jones plays the part masterfully, a creature of vast intelligence, intellectually the equal of Sherlock, publicly streets ahead of him. Jones treads the delicate line of hiding in plain sight, his every utterance an invitation to see through him, if you actually dare think that. The message that, if you reach a certain level of power and public recognition, you can do anything, was written before Donald Trump was elected, but it’s ghastly apt.

John is drawn into this, against his will, constantly treading his own line between believing Sherlock’s deductive capacities and fearing that it’s all because he’s off his tits. John even puts Sherlock in the hospital where he is directly in Smith’s power, his frustrations leading him to smash Sherlock’s face in.

But it’s a game. An elaborate put-on, a fake. Yes, Culverton Smith is a serial killer, and yes, Sherlock has picked a fight with him because he is a big, powerful, evil figure who needs to be stopped, but that’s not why. It’s not why until we – and John – see the rest of Mary’s DVD, the one where she charges Sherlock with saving John. Where she identifies John Watson as a man who cannot be helped, who will not let himself be helped, but who cannot refuse to help. Who will move mountains to save Sherlock, if only Sherlock can create a scenario where he is in danger. Real, true, palpable danger.

And thus it all comes together, and in a manner that is wholly satisfying and completely believable (to the value of belief that this extraordinarily clever and mannered programme operates), the friendship is restored: Holmes and Watson live on.

Or do they?

There’s a third episode to come and there’s a handful of scattered clues lying around. There’s the hints of a third Holmes brother, Sherringford, that even John Watson susses out. There’s his therapist, with her French accent, the ‘hallucinatory Faith’ and her northern accent, not to mention last week’s girl on the bus with whom John text-cheated. She had a pronounced accent too. All the same woman, Sian Brooke, beautifully disguised.

And a killer. The real therapist is in the airing cupboard. She’s holding John Watson at gunpoint. Her real name is Euros (the East Wind). Her parents had a thing for convoluted names for their children. Euros. Mycroft. Sherlock. The third Holmes brother is a sister. John’s making a silly face. She thinks she’ll put a hole in it. She pulls the trigger.

Oh, mother.

I think we now know how Jim Moriarty has seemingly risen from the dead.