TV Review – Elementary, Heston’s Fantastical Feasts, The Aristocrats: Blenheim Palace, QI, Stephen Fry: Gadget Man

elementary

Compressed Melon

Last week’s review was a bit BBC-heavy, so let’s dip a toe in commercial waters. On ITV it’s nothing but The X Factor and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here so let’s move swiftly extraterrestrial and a little programme called Elementary (Sky Living), the American version of our own Sherlock.

Except it’s not. The BBC version simply wouldn’t work on American TV, because American TV doesn’t make programmes like Sherlock. Elementary is a show done in the usual US style, a constantly churning sausage factory of anything that the show’s makers believe works (belief is a big thing in these laboratories) endlessly repeated in the hope that the sausage meat is palatable to an audience who, at best, don’t really care about the taste.

The only part of Elementary that is challenging is the casting of Jonny Lee Miller as the modern-day Sherlock Holmes, in that he’s allowed to keep his English accent. Even when Hugh Laurie played another modern day version of Holmes in House, he had to acquire an American accent. The controversial casting of Lucy Liu as Doctor Joan Watson is nothing compared to this. American TV may be stuffed with British actors but they all have to give it the full ‘murkin (see Damien Lewis).

Everything else about Elementary is formulaic. It’s easy to recognise the signs, speaking as someone who watched every single episode of House. That’s 22-24 episodes a year for eight years – take that losers who think Lost’s mere five years was a commitment. Sherlock’s producers were worried that Elementary was ripping them off. You’d think they’d know how the US system worked.

Elementary is a mere seven episodes in – which means of course that it has more episodes than the British version – and it’s been judged a huge success, already penciled in for the prestige post-Super Bowl slot at the end of January. This sort of thing means nothing over here – it means everything over there.

At the beginning of the latest episode, Holmes is seen strangling someone. “This is important work Watson,” he assures his sidekick, as he climbs off a dead person and makes notes. This is about the closest Elementary gets to Benedict Cumberbatch thrashing dead bodies in St. Bart’s hospital, as Lucy Liu looks deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing, rather than passively tolerant as Martin Freeman would.

This Holmes also has Cumberbatch’s talent for blithely saying the wrong thing, as he points out her discomfiture is possibly related to her “being a disgraced surgeon and all.” Liu flounces out in annoyance, which is not too bright as her role in his life so far is a drug abuse therapist keeping him in her sights at all times.

Meanwhile, Holmes is briefly annoyed by a silent hospital cleaner. This cleaner is played by an actor who previously was the editor of The Baltimore Times on The Wire and coffee-loving Gale on Breaking Bad. Strange bit of casting for such a minor role. Do you think he might be more than just a hospital cleaner? At least the British version kept Phil Davies in the shadows.

Holmes stops the cleaner as he is just about to wipe away an important clue relating to someone who recently died of supposedly natural causes. With a murder proven, Holmes and Watson are on the case. They track down a woman who was the dead man’s last visitor. She doesn’t work in the hospital as a cleaner so she’s dismissed as a suspect. Holmes has a theory that the killer is an Angel of Mercy, a real type of serial killer who likes to bump off perceived terminally ill patients. “It’s just a theory,” avers Sherlock, “but I’ve been right about everything so far.”

His initial focus is not on a famous actor playing a cleaner but on the smooth Head of Surgery, whom Holmes eventually notes is “too indifferent to your patients” to be the Angel of Mercy. Then Holmes discovers that one of the patients only spoke Ukrainian, which in turn leads them to… the cleaner. Before he was a cleaner he was a doctor in the Ukraine, and is willing to confess. “I freed them.” So that’s why they cast such a well-known face. But wait, there is a twist. One of his supposed victims wasn’t terminal at all, and was in fact a set up by… the smooth Head of Surgery. It never helps to be smooth in shows like this. Or famous for other things.

Elementary is enjoyable nonsense and knows it. Simply by being produced in America it has the advantage over its British-made cousin. It would be far better if Sherlock was a series of six one-hour shows rather than the current formula of a feature length three part series. I think this is what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss would have preferred too, as this is closer to Conan Doyle’s sparse original stories. Some arse covering dick in the BBC decided otherwise and went for the more flashy longer formula to which the show is now inextricably tied. To the show’s detriment. As it is, Elementary feels much more like getting a new copy of The Strand every week.

Onto other laboratories. If Jamie Oliver is the Annoying Cook and Gordon Ramsay is the Punchable Cook, what is Heston Blumenthal? The Pointless Cook, perhaps? In his latest show Heston’s Fantastical Feasts (C4) he’s tried to solve the problem of cooking sumptuous meals that we will never be able to taste by going for quantity rather than quality. We all know what ice cream or chocolate digestives taste like, but what if they were the size of compost heaps or bin lids?

He also feels the need to get cooking for the masses, rather than the usual Channel 4-friendly celebs. In the latest episode, he ventured to Chesterfield in a quest to make the ultimate sweets. Inspired by Willy Wonka, Heston has a deep, almost mystical sense for this mission. “I need to create the most amazing sweet shop they’ve ever seen.” Heston, you don’t need to do anything, other than whip up snail porridge for a millionaire in Bray who booked three years in advance.

Instead he makes giant Liquorice Allsorts, Rolos, Jelly Babies, Fruit Pastilles and a sweet Spaghetti Bolognese filled with “compressed melon”. It’s entertaining enough, but one can’t help feel we’ll be describing it to future generations who will look surprised and say, “what was the point of that then?”

The Aristocrats: Blenheim Palace (C4) was all about legacy. The occupants of this palace have the unbeatably posh name of Spencer-Churchill. The current Duke of Marlborough is a softly-spoken, kindly old duffer. He could make a lucrative sideline doing reassuring voice overs. His son and heir Jamie, Marquess of Blandford, seems to be the model for Peep Show’s Super Hans. He too finds crack very more-ish. The Duke, also known as Sunny – short for the Earl of Sunderland, another of his titles – tried to disinherit his wayward son back in the nineties.

“Two decades on, tempers have cooled.” Jamie’s now clean and they’ve sort-of reconciled, although the Duke has sensibly made sure that not everything will go to his wayward first son. Jamie is podgy, wild-haired and slurs constantly, but he helps his dad in ‘working the land’, which somehow seems to consist of driving around country lanes in Range Rovers, although never in the same Range Rover.

Otherwise the Duke is overseeing the building of a new lavatory block, when not getting married. He’s on his fourth marriage, so maybe his son’s instability is inherited, although Jamie has only two marriages under his straining belt. A passing historian notes that seven out of the 12 Dukes suffered from depression and had trouble with their wives. Jamie describes the palace as a “high maintenance wife”, something father and son can both relate to.

Meanwhile, Jamie pronounces about his frustrated ambitions in politics, somehow thinking he has his finger on the pulse of the nation. This seems to run to not particularly liking Peter Mandelson. “I don’t think there’s any honesty anymore. Any morality. It’s bent.” He promises to have a word with his local MP, one David Cameron. Why not just hand the palace over to Lady Henrietta, Jamie’s sister, who seems eminently sensible and is an interior designer to boot. The aristocracy needs less men.

I’m a bit worried about Stephen Fry. In the last episode of QI (BBC2) he was noticeably slower and slurring his words like the Marquess of Blandford. In the new series Stephen Fry: Gadget Man (C4) he is patently slimmer and has grown a debilitating beard. This all bodes ill for the next series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie now his comedy partner has been freed from the yoke of playing an American version of Sherlock Holmes on US TV. Which brings us back to the beginning.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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