Sleuths and con artists abound in 2012 TV

This past year was a busy one for genre television. I had meant to post my first impressions of the new fall season, but I struggled with how to organize it: short lists, or detailed analyses? By subgenre, night of the week, or network? At least a few additional months have given me perspective on the shows I like most and least.

Janice and I tend not to watch a lot of reality shows, situation comedies, crime dramas, or serialized soap operas, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for reviews of those types of shows. In live-action TV, we do watch some procedurals, with Masterpiece: Mystery and the second season of the modernized BBC/PBS Sherlock as favorites.

Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch
Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes

The competing Elementary is decent, if not quite as brilliant as its British forebears. Castle has managed to balance humor and drama, as has White Collar, even though both have occasionally veered too far into gruesome melodrama on the one hand or silly romance on the other. At the same time, I look forward to the goofy shout-outs to the 1980s and ’90s in Psych.

I’d put do-gooder capers such as the original Mission Impossible in a closely related category. This includes the recently canceled Leverage (whose tabletop role-playing game is the best implementation of the Cortex system) and Hu$tle. I haven’t been following popular detective shows such as Bones and the remake of Hawaii Five-O.

In the related genre of supernatural crime fighters, I thought that the canceled Awake was decent. I prefer Grimm, which has inherited some of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel‘s writers and style, to the fairy tale soap Once Upon a Time.

Fringe is in a league of its own, with the mind-bending perspectives of Farscape and the procedural style of The X-Files. I’ll miss Fringe, which is at least going out strong. I haven’t been following Supernatural.

On the slightly more realistic side, thrillers such as Homeland, Person of Interest, and Last Resort have been pretty good, but I dropped Nikita, which of course outlasted much of its competition. What have you been watching?

Coming soon: More SFTV, animation nation returns, and books and games!

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows review

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.
The game is afoot -- again!

On Friday, 16 December 2011, I picked up the registration for my new car and got it inspected. I also handed over the title to my old automobile. The next day, Janice and I met role-players Sara F. & Josh C. for lunch at Whole Foods at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts.

We then went to the Showcase Cinemas de Luxe to screen Sherlock Holmes [2]: A Game of Shadows with Sara & Josh’s friend “Viking.” We enjoyed the steampunk movie, which had even more action than its 2009 predecessor and was somewhat faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s detective stories.

Director Guy Ritchie is still fond of explosions, Gypsy music, and slow-motion fisticuffs. Actors Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. John Watson appear to be having a blast playing up their “bromance.” Downey Jr.’s comedic chameleon owes at least as much to Peter Sellers‘ manic Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther flicks as it does Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett’s sleuths.

Jared Harris, the son of the late Richard Harris and already a villain on Fringe, acquits himself well as that “veritable Napoleon of crime,” Dr. James Moriarty. As with the original serialized fiction, women are merely in supporting roles in Sherlock Holmes 2. Mrs. Mary Watson (Kelly Reilly), Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and fortuneteller Madame Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) are involved in Moriarty and Holmes’ chess game as attractive pawns.

Noted Sherlockian Stephen Fry does get an amusing turn as Holmes’ older (and smarter) brother Mycroft. In A Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and Mme. Simza race across Europe to investigate anarchist bombings and a profiteering scheme to plunge the continent into war. This plot is surprisingly faithful to “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Final Problem,” and the historical facts of how the Victorian era eventually led to World War I or the so-called Great War.

I’m not sure that Conan Doyle would recognize his world in this latest cinematic adaptation, however, with its steampunky emphasis on grime, crime, and pyrotechnics over erudite detection. Still, it’s worth remembering that the late 19th century was an era of technological change to match our own, with electrical street lights, the horseless carriage, telegraphs, and machine guns all changing daily life.

Fans and practitioners of the steampunk subculture will no doubt find inspiration in A Game of Shadows, which includes swordplay, waltzes, and fights aboard a rushing train. Both Tim M.B.‘s GURPS “Arth” and my GURPS/D20 “Gaslight Grimoire” scenarios used similar elements, as do recent role-playing games such as Airship Pirates and the FATE 3e Kerberos Club.

More serious Holmesians (Janice and I have been to 221b Baker Street) may prefer the upcoming second series/season of the BBC/PBS Sherlock, coming soon. Despite its modern setting, I’ve also enjoyed the latter adaptation. Like other enduring British icons, such as King Arthur, Robin Hood, James Bond, and Doctor Who, the great detective can be interpreted in many ways.

Overall, I’d give Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which is rated PG-13 for violence and innuendo, a B+, three out of five stars, or 7.5 out of 10. The movie is good popcorn entertainment, and another sequel is reportedly in the works, even though its box-office performance could have been better.

We also saw promising trailers for the actioner Haywire and Christopher Nolan’s Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises, but even the previews for Marvel’s Avengers, sword-and-sandals sequel Wrath of the Titans, and Disney/Pixar’s animated fantasy Brave didn’t excite me the way those for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit [1]: An Unexpected Journey have. I look forward to returning to Middle Earth, and genre film fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming year!

5 January 2010: Sherlock Holmes review

Sherlock Holmes
Jeremy Brett as the great detective

We found Sherlock Holmes to be entertaining, if not especially cerebral. Guy Ritchie did a better job of adapting Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal mysteries than some critics had feared, using dialogue and descriptions recognizable to Holmes enthusiasts. On the other hand, the movie has the director’s trademark slow-motion fisticuffs and explosions, modern quips, and focus on the seamy side of Great Britain.

Robert Downey Jr. is as much a caricature of Oscar Wilde or other Victorian bohemians as he is the great detective. As with Iron Man, he brings appropriate charisma, nervous energy, and intelligence to the role. Jude Law is good as Dr. Watson, giving Holmes’ sidekick a more youthful energy and making him more of a true partner than he has often been portrayed.

The pretty Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler in the largest deviation from “canon” as a recurring love interest of Sherlock Holmes, and genre veteran Mark Strong plays Lord Blackwood, the key to a nefarious plot threatening London, and by extension, civilization itself.

The story is similar to that of Young Sherlock Holmes and other pastiches, and even though I’m a big fan of the original books, I can appreciate well-done variations on the classic characters. The script leaves an obvious opening for a sequel.

I’ve argued on Facebook and elsewhere that Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is a decent adaptation of the literary sleuth but a better steampunk movie. I plan to blog more about this subgenre of speculative fiction, which has been growing in popularity and has had relatively few successes in film or on television.

Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example of steampunk, including social commentary implied in the Dickensian images of a gritty (and class-stratified) industrial metropolis, a few clockwork and steam-powered gadgets, opulent costumes, playful anachronisms, and a lively soundtrack inspired by Gypsy music.

Although my favorite version of Sherlock Holmes so far is the early 1980s BBC/PBS television series starring Jeremy Brett, I enjoyed the movie, which I’d rate an 8.5 out of 10 or a B+. It’s rated PG-13 for violence and some sexuality. Let’s hope that more movies this coming year are equally fun!

3 January 2010: Holiday report

Happy Holidays! Friends, I hope that all your holidays were happy! Janice and I enjoyed relatively quiet workweeks at the end of December 2009, and we drove to Upstate New York on Christmas Eve. We feasted on lasagna at her parents’ home and stayed at the Country Inn & Suites across from the Great Escape amusement park.

The next morning, we exchanged gifts with Janice’s parents and her middle sister Shelly’s family. Among other things, I got some DVDs, a Jedi costume, and books. Thanks to Amazon.com, I exchanged most presents online and through the mail with my own family in Virginia. Janice and I then headed down to the house of her youngest sister, Melinda, for a Christmas dinner of ham.

I gave comic books and Lego sets to my nephews David and Joshua, and we played pool and Wii video games with grandpa Marvin and brothers in law Melvin and Gary. My nieces Laura and Amanda played Dance, Dance Revolution, while Becky texted her boyfriend Tristan. I also caught up on videos, including the mildly amusing G-Force
and Night at the Smithsonian.

The day after Christmas, the children went sledding, and we enjoyed a sloppy Joe (what Janice’s family calls “barbecue”) lunch before returning to Massachusetts. On New Year’s Eve, Janice and I got vaccinated for the H1N1 flu virus and screened Sherlock Holmes at the new Showcase Cinemas at Legacy Place in Dedham, Mass. I liked the steampunky film, which I’ll try to review in more detail in the coming week or so.

We also had lunch at Qdoba and picked up my subscription at New England Comics in Norwood, despite the snow. That night, we went to local New Year’s Eve celebrations, including a Celtic music concert, some square dancing, an ice sculpture, the Needham Concert Society, and the Homegrown Coffee House. It was also interesting to visit various churches, which served as venues for the civic events. We had dinner at The Rice Barn, a good Asian restaurant.

On Saturday, 2 January 2010, former co-worker and fellow genre fan Ken G. and his girlfriend Kahmmie came over to play more Wii games. Thanks to Ken, I finally got my Wii hooked up to the Internet, and we ate nachos and macaroni and cheese. We had considered going to Avatar, but snow and mixed reviews led us to postpone seeing James Cameron’s latest blockbuster. We did watch an episode of the geek comedy The
Big Bang Theory
.

I liked the finale of Doctor Who: the End of Time, which I’ll also try to review in the coming weeks, along with other genre entertainment. The D&D4eVanished Lands:
the Faith-Based Initiative” fantasy campaign has finally wound down, amid some
contention among the role-players and clearing the way for one-shots and
miniseries.

Since my circles of acquaintances suffered through layoffs, divorces, and other stresses over the past year, let us hope that 2010 is better for everyone!