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Series that shouldn’t have stopped (plus). July 18, 2014

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As we all wait…and wait…for “Game of Thrones” Season Five (and for “The Hobbit” and “Mockingjay” and… ), our friend Ben is picking up the theme from yesterday’s Silence Dogood post “Feel-good films.” There are some film series and TV series that Silence and I loved and feel simply shouldn’t have stopped, or should have swapped out leading actors. Here are a few that ended before their time, starred the wrong guy, or passed on the chance to star the right girl:

* The Conan movies. We love “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.” Rather than waiting until Ah-nold was too old for the role, then trying to revive the series with a younger man (Jason Momoa of Khal Drogo fame), they should have kept going while the going was good. (And kept Conan’s original sidekick rather than replacing him with that creepy little man.) Robert E. Howard wrote many Conan stories, so the filmmakers had plenty of material to work with. A missed opportunity for fun for all ages, more classic lines from Ah-nold, and campy entertainment for adults.

* The Tony Hillerman PBS “series.” Tony Hillerman wrote a shelf or two of Navajo murder mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, with a slew of great recurring characters, lots of Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni rituals and beliefs, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Four Corners as his setting. Robert Redford saw the books’ rich visual potential and filmed three PBS “specials” starring Wes Studi as Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Chee, and the marvelous Native American character actors Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than making a regular series, Redford made one episode a year, stopping after just three. He should have filmed all the books while the cast was together, rather than letting them drift and losing momentum.

* The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels that follow the adventures of the beloved Botswana detective, Precious Ramotswe, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, and a cast of gently humorous and unforgettable characters (shout out to you and your famous fruitcake, Mma Potokwane), calls out for a series. And it looked like it was finally getting one, with Anika Noni Rose giving a true star turn as Grace Makutsi, but it fizzled and died after just three episodes. No fault of the series or the actors—the director suddenly died. I’d have thought another director would have been brought in, but instead, the series ended just like the Tony Hillerman specials. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the Tony Hillerman novels both get a second chance.

* Master and Commander. Russell Crowe and the ensemble cast gave such a strong showing in the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic seafaring novel, showcasing everything from warfare at sea to natural history and Regency-era espionage, that it seemed a natural for followups based on O’Brian’s subsequent novels. Instead, no more were ever made. Silence and I are still waiting.

Moving on to casting:

* Sean Connery in “Shogun.” James Clavell wrote the lead character in his blockbuster novel Shogun with Sean Connery in mind, and Connery would have been perfect for the role. (He proved his range beyond Bond once and for all in “The Man Who Would Be King,” and gave his greatest performance, in our opinion, in “Rising Sun.”) Watching the series, if you picture Connery in Richard Chamberlain’s place, everything suddenly makes sense. What a wasted opportunity, since everyone else in the series was so good, and Sean Connery would have made it perfect. But in this case, it wasn’t the producers’, director’s, or casting team’s fault. Whoever played Pilot-Major Blackthorne would have had to commit to filming in Japan for two years, and Connery wasn’t willing to do that. Chamberlain was.

* George Lazenby as James Bond. Speaking of Sean Connery, there have been a lot of Bonds over the years, but none were so perfect in our opinion as Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who was chosen to succeed Connery. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby proved virile, resourceful, intelligent, educated, and—in the only instance known to Bond—capable of actually falling in love. (Well, it was Diana Rigg.) You could totally believe both his 007 and human sides. This is a depth of character missing from most Bond portrayals, and, as Silence is constantly pointing out, he was very easy on the eyes, too. Yet he just played Bond in the one film. Why? Because his agent told him that being typecast as Bond would hamper his career. No doubt that great advice is why we all know him as an A-list actor. (Sarcasm.) I hope that agent is now supporting himself as a Wal*Mart greeter. We think Sean Bean, who played villain Alec Trevelyan in another Bond film, “GoldenEye,” would have made a fantastic Bond, too, so much stronger than Pierce Brosnan.

* Liv Tyler as Arwen Evenstar. Peter Jackson brought back Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, but passed on the opportunity to bring the gorgeous Liv Tyler back to Middle Earth in his film trilogy “The Hobbit.” She was, in our opinion, the strongest character in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (sorry, Sean Bean and Andy Serkis, we loved you, too), and since they decided to simply stuff Orlando Bloom’s Legolas into “The Hobbit,” not to mention Galadriel, we don’t see why Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be there, too. We do applaud the choice of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, though.

Speaking of “The Hobbit,” which stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug, we are very concerned that the series “Sherlock,” starring Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as Watson, might go the way of the Tony Hillerman specials. As it is, you’re lucky to get three episodes of “Sherlock” every two years, and its stars, and even its co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series and now the Banker of Braavos on “Game of Thrones,” are becoming increasingly busy with other projects. They’re promising a “Sherlock Christmas special” in December 2015 and three more episodes in 2016, but gee, that’s a long way off, and a lot of inertia and dispersion can happen between now and then. Hey, guys, show some pity! We could be hit by a bus between now and then and miss the next installment… if there even is one.

In an ironic turn, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in all the Peter Jackson movies, is also playing Sherlock Holmes (at 93) in the upcoming movie “Mr. Holmes.” We look forward to seeing it!

Now it’s your turn: Tell us some we missed, or what you miss.

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Bring back “Sherlock.” May 28, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing that’s really aggravating, it’s when your favorite books finally are made into a series and then they just… vanish. Today, “Game of Thrones” fans are outraged because the producers chose to skip a Sunday showing over Memorial Day. Fans have to wait two weeks for the next episode.

But this is not a hardship compared to fans of “Sherlock,” who are apparently now going to have to wait until 2016—and, in case you’ve forgotten, it’s now 2014 and we last saw a season of “Sherlock” in 2013—for the show’s next season, thanks to star Benedict Cumberbatch’s hectic filming schedule.

Or fans of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries. Robert Redford took an interest and filmed three great PBS specials starring Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Jim Chee, the marvelous Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, the always delightful Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and the fantastic Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than filming a weekly series, Redford chose to release a single episode a year. For three episodes, total. No surprise when you have a bunch of busy actors and are trying to get them together once a year. But what a disappointment, since we know there will never be any more episodes with these beloved actors. Shame on you, Robert Redford! You had a great chance, great plots, and great actors, and you blew it.

Ditto for Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, starring Jill Scott as the beloved, compassionate, and wise detective Precious Ramotswe and the incredible Anika Noni Rose as her outspoken assistant, Grace Makutsi. The director died after just a few episodes were filmed, and the project was sidelined. For those of us who’ve read all the books and wait eagerly for the next tempting slice of the formidable Mma Potokwane’s famous fruitcake to be served up, this was and is a serious blow. Can’t blame the director this time, or the producers for not knowing how to move the series forward without him. But what a shame.

So, “Game of Thrones” fans, it’s tough to skip a week. But think of those of us who don’t get HBO and won’t pirate the series and are going to have to wait a whole year to get Season 4. Aaaagghhh!!! At least the showrunners are promising that they’ll take “Game of Thrones” through Season 7.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Did Sherlock do the right thing? February 3, 2014

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Having just watched the season finale of “Sherlock” last night, our friend Ben was unprepared to read an article this morning that attacked Sherlock for shooting and killing the villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen (a play on Charles Augustus Milverton, “the king of blackmailers,” in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story). The author of the article said that Sherlock should have been able to come up with a rational, non-violent way to defuse Magnussen without killing him.

I have no doubt that Sherlock could have, and did, think of these options. But that’s missing the whole point.

The whole point being that Sherlock is more than “a high-functioning sociopath,” as he often describes himself. More than a computer embodied in flesh. He is, in fact, a human being who is fiercely loyal to the few people who mean something to him.

The reason he killed Magnussen was not that he hated him for being a blackmailing bully, or because he couldn’t think of any other options: It was because Magnusson was torturing his dear friend Watson, and Watson was helpless to resist because of his love for his wife Mary. We saw another example of this in an earlier season when a thug had been hurting Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock, completely out of character, hurled him through a glass window into a dumpster two stories below. I feel certain that he would do the same to anyone who tried to hurt his brother Mycroft, his parents, or his colleagues Molly and Inspector Lestrade.

And let’s not forget that in “A Study in Pink,” Watson shot dead the man who was threatening Sherlock’s life. Nobody suggested that he was behaving badly by doing so; he was simply showing a very human loyalty and protective instinct towards his friend. Could one expect less of Sherlock himself, described by Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson as “the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known”? I think not.

“Sherlock” fans, beware! January 31, 2014

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In a report worthy of “The Onion,” we read that Tumblr’s new Terms of Service agreement specifically prohibited users from pretending to be Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the hit BBC series “Sherlock.” We don’t know if that’s because a majority of Tumblr users are pretending to be Benedict Cumberbatch, or because the Tumblr people pulled his name out of the hat as an example because he’s the male shooting-star equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence. (And why not use her?) Heck, Luddites that we are, we don’t even know what Tumblr is.

But whatever it is, if you use it, beware. Apparently it’s okay to pretend to be Martin Freeman (who plays Sherlock’s faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson), or Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, or, say, the actors who play Irene Adler, Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, or Professor Moriarty (“the Napoleon of Crime”). But Benedict Cumberbatch? Don’t even think about it! Unless, we suppose, you want to pretend to be Smaug…

Sherlock or Super Bowl? January 30, 2014

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Our friend Rob was asking our friend Ben how many people we planned to invite to our Super Bowl party this Sunday. “None,” I replied. “Silence Dogood and I will be watching the last episode of season 3 of ‘Sherlock’, the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The only super bowl we’re likely to be seeing will be filled with popcorn or nachos.”

At first, Rob, a rabid sports fan, looked completely taken aback. Then he began laughing. “I can picture it now: You invite 19 enthusiasts over to watch the Super Bowl. It’s the end of the fourth quarter, and the game is tied 21-21. Suddenly, it’s 10 o’clock, and Silence, grabbing the remote, announces, “It’s time for ‘Sherlock'” and presses the button. Do you know what would happen then?!”

“Of course I do.” Our friend Ben, having known Silence well for many years, is no fool. “Silence would boot all the football fanatics into the icy street and settle down in front of the TV. After, of course, making sure we had our popcorn or nachos and some wine, and asking me to make the fire up. To add insult to injury, while she was throwing the football fans into the street, she would probably tell them that they could catch the last few seconds on their smartphones and to have a nice night!”

“Oh. I guess I’ll plan on spending Sunday night with some guys I know,” Rob said. “We’ll have hot dogs, chili, wings and beer in front of the game, and maybe even pizza.”

“What, no guacamole? Silence makes great guac, and it goes really well with her nachos and fresh salsa.”

“Uh, maybe I can bring some storebought guac and chips to the Super Bowl gathering just in case.” Rob paused for thought. “Er, Ben, want to come with me? I’m sure Silence wouldn’t really mind.”

“Any other time, Rob,” I lied, a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fanatic who loves brilliantly solved mysteries (as opposed to murders) far more than sports. “Silence says the final episode shows Sherlock with a girlfriend. This I have to see!” I refrained from noting that Silence has already pre-ordered season 3 on Amazon, so we’ll presumably be able to see it as often as we want. But not as soon as Sunday, when the game—Sherlock’s, not the Super Bowl’s—is finally afoot.

Sherlock is back! May 6, 2012

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We’ve decided that May is Sherlock Holmes month here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. Yesterday, Silence Dogood found a new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Mulholland Books, 2011), at our local library. And tonight, the second season of “Sherlock” launches on PBS.

For Holmes fanatics like Silence and our friend Ben (who has actually penned a Holmes novel himself), this is very heady stuff. First off, Mr. Horowitz is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, and his novel has been authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate, the first time they have ever leant their imprimatur to a non-family member. We’re looking forward to a wonderful read. And tonight’s episode of “Sherlock” brings the World’s Greatest Detective together with his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, and “The Woman,” Irene Adler.

Mind you, we had a few issues with the series’s first season. We really enjoyed the wonderfully-named Benedict Cumberbatch—a name straight out of Dickens—as Holmes (though we still think he’d better as Dr. Who) and Martin Freeman as Watson. And we loved whichever of the show’s creators (alas, we forget which one it was) as Holmes’s older brother Mycroft. We thought the way the show depicted Holmes’s thought process was nothing short of brilliant, and we appreciated the way they kept the element of humor that made the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films so entertaining, but this time made sure it wasn’t at Watson’s expense.

On the other hand, we found the Moriarty woefully weak—a fatal flaw in any Holmes effort—and the plots far too transparent. We’re hoping for better things from this season, though we have our doubts about the decision to turn poor Irene Adler from an actress into a dominatrix. Thing is, she was the actual victim in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” rather than the king who enlisted Holmes’s efforts at protecting his reputation from her. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true in “A Scandal in Belgravia”!

Holmes lovers, check your TV listings and let us know what you think!

Elementary, my dear Sherlock. November 2, 2010

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Is anybody/is everybody watching the new PBS series, “Sherlock”? The first two episodes have aired (at 9 p.m. Sundays here on our local PBS station as part of their “Masterpiece” program), and of course, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just had to watch them, rabid Holmes fans that we are. The premise is that Holmes and Watson live in contemporary London. The first episode was about how they met and became flatmates, as well as how Watson becomes sucked into the world of private detection; the second was a more conventional mystery.

Our friend Ben assumes that we all have our own picture of how Sherlock Holmes should look and act. Some might match him to an actor who’s played him: Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, even Christopher Lee or Robert Downey Jr. Some might match Holmes to an actor we wish would play him. (Silence and I are still hoping for Johnny Depp.) But our friend Ben and Silence would never have matched Holmes to the actor who plays him in “Sherlock,” a man with the marvelously Dickensian name of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mind you, this isn’t because we found Mr. Cumberbatch bad or offputting. He’s quite a good actor, and it’s not his fault if he looks exactly like a young Mr. Spock rather than Sherlock Holmes. (Our friend Ben was unable to resist Googling him to see if he’d ever portrayed Spock. Alas, no.) But Silence and I both thought he’d make a better James Bond than Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal was more that of the nerveless agent, the man of action who gives nothing away, than of the high-strung Holmes who delights in his own cleverness and is both visibly excited and happy when announcing “The game is afoot!” Mr. Cumberbatch’s marble face was, to us, the antithesis of Holmes’s own highly expressive, mobile features.

Silence and I wish with all our hearts that the idiots who cast Daniel Craig as the latest James Bond would come to their senses and hire Benedict Cumberbatch instead. And future Star Trek films could certainly use his appearance and talent to advantage. Meanwhile, we’ll keep watching him in “Sherlock.”

Our friend Cole, who’d recorded the first episode so we could watch it, said we’d either love the series or hate it. (He loved it.) But, having watched two episodes at this point, we neither love it nor hate it. We enjoy some parts and regret others, but find it perfectly watchable overall. We’d recommend it to any Holmes fan. Here’s our analysis of strengths and weaknesses based on what we’ve seen so far:

Strengths:

* Holmes and Watson are portrayed as (relatively) young men, as their creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, intended. Benedict Cumberbatch is in his 30s, not early 20s as Conan Doyle depicted Holmes when the stories began, but it’s still a lot closer than pretty much every other depiction we’ve seen, where Holmes is middle-aged or worse.

* Mr. Cumberbatch fires off some truly wonderful one-liners as Holmes, either intentionally or through Holmes’s oblivion to the motives and feelings of others. They’re great and in character.

* The longsuffering Watson is given some great moments as he endeavors to come to grips with Holmes’s lack of normal human emotions. The second episode, in which Watson attempts to go on a date with a luscious female doctor, only to be thwarted at every turn by the oblivious Holmes and/or a cadre of Chinese mafia, is richly humorous. And Watson has the best line in the episode when he tells the kidnapped and terrorised woman, after Holmes manages a last-minute rescue, “Our next date won’t be like this.”

* Conan Doyle intended Holmes to be a sexless logic machine and Watson to be a normal redblooded man, but because Holmes’s charisma transcended his author’s intentions and because it’s rather difficult for us moderns to imagine a pair of men living together for financial convenience, people have long assumed that there was more going on between Holmes and Watson than the author conveyed. The series remains true to Conan Doyle’s intentions while squarely confronting other people’s assumptions about Holmes and Watson’s actual relationship, beginning with their landlady, Mrs. Hudson, who assumes they’re a couple.

Weaknesses:

* Our friend Ben can’t bear logical flaws in anything, and far less when a supposed master of logic like Sherlock Holmes is concerned. There are plenty to be found in “Sherlock.”

* Maybe it’s just us, but Silence and I can’t get used to everybody and his brother calling Holmes “Sherlock.” Maybe, just maybe, a 21st-century Watson would call him Sherlock rather than Holmes. But surely to God someone like Inspector Lestrade would call him Holmes or Mr. Holmes rather than the too-familiar “Sherlock,” especially since Holmes in the series always refers to him as Lestrade.

* And speaking of Inspector Lestrade. This is a minor quibble, but in “Sherlock,” the good inspector’s name is pronounced “LeSTRAHD.” This is good French, and many previous versions of Holmes have pronounced it the same way. Unfortunately, however, the Briton’s compulsion to maul all French names, to the extent of calling the French kings “Lewis” rather than “Louis,” applies here as well. The inspector would have pronounced his name—as would Holmes, Watson, and all the folks at Scotland Yard—“LeSTRADE.”  A few versions have in fact pronounced it, ahem, “correctly,” at least as far as its owner and his contemporaries were concerned. Too bad this version didn’t follow suit.  

As you can see, strengths outweigh weaknesses in “Sherlock” as far as we’re concerned. Please let us know if you’re watching the series and what you think. And if you’ve missed it so far, tune in next Sunday and tell us what you think! We’d love to hear.