Quotes: She Gets to Screw It Up

After the release of Terminator: Dark Fate in November of 2019, Emmet Asher-Perrin wrote at Tor.com about the Terminator franchise. This section at the end describes perfectly why the original T (1984—oh gosh!) will always be my favorite of the series and why we need more (super)hero stories with women in the focus:

“The end of The Terminator is maybe more entrancing than any other finale in the franchise for that reason. It has more in common with a horror film than a sci-fi action flick. Sarah Connor, the final girl who has to make it through for so much more than the sake of her own life, crawling away from two glaring red eyes. Her leg is broken, she’s barely fast enough, but she pulls it all together to crush the T-800 into scrap parts. You can see the moment where the unflinching hero of Judgement Day is born, and it’s right when she says ‘You’re terminated, fucker.’ It only took a span of days to rip her normal, unremarkable life apart, but we get the chance to take the entire journey with her, to sit in her emotions and think about how it would feel. It’s just as fast as most ‘Chosen One’ narratives tend to be, but it doesn’t feel rushed because we are with her for every terrifying second of that ride.

“There are a few more heroes who get this treatment, but they are rarely women. Black Widow has a few muddled flashbacks in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Captain Marvel gets flickers of her past in formative moments. Wonder Woman gives us a brief introduction to Diana’s home and the women who raised her. Rey doesn’t get much time to wrestle with her budding Jedi abilities before heading off for training. We get brief hints of where these women came from, of how it feels to take everything onto their shoulders. But Sarah Connor gets to muddle through it. She gets to wear weird tie-dyed t-shirts and shiver when she’s cold and decide whether or not she can accept the idea of time travel and unborn sons and machines that will always find her no matter where she hides. She gets to present herself as wholly unqualified, and she gets to screw it up, and she still makes it out the other side to fight another day.” [original emphasis]

– Emmet Asher-Perrin

We’ve recently watched a few excellent crime procedurals (for example, Vera and The Fall, plus a new Finnish-Spanish production called Paratiisi) where the female protagonists were written with multiple characteristics that television’s stereotypical damaged males have (like a traumatic past, superficial sex / multiple throwaway partners, alcohol use, difficulty maintaining meaningful human relationships or, indeed, behaving professionally towards your colleagues, to mention a few).

Criticism of these kinds of women in stories is often framed in terms of likeability: you can’t like a woman who behaves in “un-feminine” ways. Well, assuming we’re not talking about comfort-watching or reading (which I’d allow some liberties to), do you have to? I’ve never met anyone who liked everyone they ever met.

I’d say it’s lazy storytelling at its core to plop in a feature of a given character or culture or setting without examining its purpose in the story. For example, while I appreciate the performances of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in the Sherlock series by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, I detest the selfish, egotistical, arrogant, inconsiderate way Moffat and Gatiss have their Holmes behave. (There’s a reason we haven’t rewatched the series.) He if anyone is unlikeable, to put it mildly, but somehow people can only see his genius—even when the original Sherlock Holmes emphatically behaves with kindness.

And while it’s true that none of these “unlikeable” people would be easy to have as friends, it’s also true that none of them is without any redeeming qualities either. The point is, depicting one gender only in a certain light and cutting off other possibilities of being from them is overly limiting, because in the real world possibilities are nigh on infinite.

Depicting a variety of individuals is exactly what makes for instance heist stories like Ocean’s Eight or Jane Austen’s novels so enjoyable and delicious. Flipping details around, reversing patterns, defying expectations—these are exactly what make a story shine. Women are people and people come in a range of shapes, sizes, and mentalities. Just think of the range of abilities and body shapes Olympic athletes represent, for example.

Just like I do not want all men in my fiction to be cookie-cutter copies, I certainly don’t want all women in my fiction to be cast from the same mold. Expecting all or even most members of any group be an amorphous mass is really rather ill-advised, for it ruins many a good tale and taken to extremes would make stories untellable.

To re-phrase Asher-Perrin: what The Terminator really gets right is that Sarah Connor gets to feel her feels, to react, emote, and flail (like Ye Old Female Protagonist)—AND she gets to win the day.

Asher-Perrin, Emmet. “The First Terminator Movie Gave Sarah Connor One of the Most Compelling Origin Stories”. Tor.com, November 01, 2019.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Rating: Castle, Season 1

We enjoyed the mystery/comedy Castle, despite some problems, and it makes a good comfort rewatch when we’re in the mood for something light. Here’s our take on season 1.

  1. “Flowers for Your Grave” – 10
  2. “Nanny McDead” – 6
  3. “Hell Hath no Fury” – 7
  4. “Hedge Fund Homeboys” – 6
  5. “A Chill Goes through Her Veins” – 7.5
  6. “Always Buy Retail” – 7
  7. “Home is Where the Heart Stops” – 9.5
  8. “Ghosts” – 6
  9. “Little Girl Lost” – 5
  10. “A Death in the Family” – 5.5

The short first season is excellent, with a lot of strong episodes from the beginning. At an average rating of 7, it’s one of the best seasons of any series we have. It starts right form the beginning with “Flowers for Your Grave,” at a full 10, the best of the season, which delivers a perfect combination of the mystery and comedy we expect from Castle with well-realized characters. Even the lowest-rated episode this season is a perfectly decent 5, for “Little Girl Lost.”

A big part of what makes Castle work so well is the characters. There’s Richard Castle, mystery writer and overgrown child, who foists himself on hard-nosed detective Kate Beckett in the name of “research,” but mostly just to pull her pigtails. There’s Espo and Ryan, the secondary-character buddy cops. There’s Castle’s flamboyant actress mother Martha and his teenage daughter Alexis, who seems to have gotten all the maturity that missed her father and grandmother. Any of these characters could easily have fallen into annoying caricature, but between smart writing and strong acting, they remain alive and enjoyable. Nathan Fillion’s sweet goofiness keeps Castle from being overbearing, while Stana Katic gives Beckett a depth and canniness that makes her more than a match for Castle’s antics. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever, as Espo and Ryan, have a brotherly bond that only grows over the seasons. Susan Sullivan makes Martha infuriating and endearing in equal measure, while Molly Quinn makes Alexis both a rock of level-headedness in the madness of the Castle household and an awkward teenager growing into self-confidence step by stumbling step. The show may be named for one character, but it is the brilliantly balanced ensemble that makes it work.

Another part of the strength of Castle is how well it balances the mystery and the comedy. The cases that the team tackles are sometimes wacky, but they revolve around real and powerful human emotions, as all good mysteries do. Castle’s off-the-wall leaps of logic are often important in solving cases, but so is the solid investigative work that Beckett and the boys do. The characters often play off each other in funny ways, but they also have real and growing emotional connections. Castle is as much a show about family, in all its weird and wonderful permutations, as it is about solving crimes.

Any other Castle fans out there? Let us know what your favorite episodes of season 1 were!

Image: Castle and Beckett at work from “A Death in the Family” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 6

Season 6 was originally intended as the final season of Elementary, and it would have been a strong season to end on if the show had not been unexpectedly renewed for a short seventh season. Here’s our take on season 6.

  1. “An Infinite Capacity for Taking Pains” – 6
  2. “Once You’ve Ruled out God” – 8.5
  3. “Pushing Buttons” – 5.5
  4. “Our Time Is Up” – 7
  5. “Bits and Pieces” – 8
  6. “Give Me the Finger” – 7
  7. “Sober Companions” – 2.5
  8. “Sand Trap” – 5.5
  9. “Nobody Lives Forever” – 4
  10. “The Adventure of the Ersatz Sobekneferu” –4
  11. “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” – 5
  12. “Meet Your Maker” – 7
  13. “Breathe” – 8
  14. “Through the Fog” – 8
  15. “How to Get a Head” – 6.5
  16. “Uncanny Valley of the Dolls” – 6
  17. “The Worms Crawl in, the Worms Crawl out” – 6
  18. “The Visions of Norman P. Horowitz” – 7
  19. “The Geek Interpreter” – 7.5
  20. “Fit to Be Tied” – 2
  21. “Whatever Remains, However Improbable” – 3

The average rating for this season is 5.9, which is pretty strong, but also a little misleading, as averages can be. A few bad episodes drag down what is otherwise mostly a good to very good season.

The problem with this season is, as it has been in previous seasons, the ongoing arc story. This time it’s Michael, a fellow addict who befriends Sherlock, then turns out to be a serial killer who is using the cat-and-mouse game with Sherlock as a substitute high to stay off drugs. Desmond Harrington gives an excellent performance as Michael, and the interplay between him and Sherlock is better handled than in most mystery series where the heroic detective faces off against a serial killer, but we are tired of serial killer stories altogether, especially stories about serial killers who have unhealthy emotional attachments to the detectives hunting them. The shadow of Professor Moriarty looms so large over the legacy of Sherlock Holmes that many writers forget that the professor was no more than a convenient plot device to kill off a character that Conan Doyle had gotten tired of writing. Holmes has never been at his best when chasing an enemy but rather when untangling a mystery, and that fact is as true today as it was a century ago.

On the other hand, the non-arc stories this season are some of the best ever written for the series. It looks like the writers pulled out all the stops for what they believed to be their last season. Many episodes are richly complicated mysteries that unfold through surprising twists and turns. Our highest rated episode this season, “Once You’ve Ruled out God,” at 8.5, begins with a murder by lightning gun, ends with a daylight diamond heist, and goes through stolen plutonium, neo-Nazi prison gangs, and terrorist threats to midtown Manhattan along the way. Your average television mystery series would be content to take any one of those ideas and make a whole episode out of it, but Elementary barely slows down to take a breath as this exhilarating episode rockets form one big thing to the next.

Other highly-rated episodes are similarly daring in the inventive problems they offer up for Sherlock and Joan. “Bits and Pieces” opens with Sherlock carrying a severed head with no memory of where he got it, “Breathe” finds Sherlock and Joan investigating the death of a professional assassin, and “Through the Fog” has a suspected biological attack on the police station as cover for a more daring crime. All these episodes come out at an excellent 8.

This season ends with Sherlock banished from the US, but carrying on his partnership with Joan in London, what would have been a fitting end for our characters. We hardly regret getting a little bit more of such an excellent series as Elementary, but if season 6 really had been the end, it would have been a final season to be proud of.

Image: Sherlock, Joan, and Detective Bell from “Sand Trap” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 5

Season 5 marks a return to form for the excellent mystery series Elementary. Here’s what we thought of this season’s episodes:

  1. “Folie a deux” – 5
  2. “Worth Several Cities” – 6
  3. “Render, and then Seize Her” – 6.5
  4. “Henny Penny the Sky is Falling” – 7
  5. “To Catch a Predator Predator” – 6.5
  6. “Ill Tidings” – 6.5
  7. “Bang Bang Shoot Chute” – 5
  8. “How the Sausage Is Made” – 6
  9. “It Serves You Right to Suffer” – 3
  10. “Pick Your Poison” – 6
  11. “Be My Guest” – 8
  12. “Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown” – 6
  13. “Over a Barrel” – 7.5
  14. “Rekt in Real Life” – 8
  15. “Wrong Side of the Road” – 6
  16. “Fidelity” – 9.5
  17. “The Ballad of Lady Frances” – 5.5
  18. “Dead Man’s Tale” – 7.5
  19. “High Heat” – 6
  20. “The Art of Sleights and Deception” – 5.5
  21. “Fly into a Rage, Make a Bad Landing” – 6
  22. “Moving Targets” – 6
  23. “Scrambled” – 4.5
  24. “Hurt Me, Hurt You” – 4.5

Season 5 builds on the series’ strengths: the unraveling of complicated mysteries and the growth of the friendship between Sherlock and Joan as complicated people. The average rating for this season is 6.2, the best since season 1, and the continuing overall quality of the series shows in our individual ratings. Only one episode falls below 4, our unofficial cutoff point for being worth rewatching, and a lot are in the 6-8 range of not extraordinary but well done.

The only real drag on this season is the arc story about Shinwell, an ex-gang member former patient of Joan’s who may or may not be trying to go straight. This arc never lives up to its potential and ends up being an unsatisfying shaggy dog story.

The one real disappointment of an episode this season is “It Serves You Right to Suffer,” at 3, mostly because it is primarily concerned with Shinwell’s story. The episode revolves around a shady FBI agent and it never grows into anything interesting.

By contrast, our favorite episode of the season, “Fidelity,” coming in at 9.5, does a much better job of playing into the series’ longer story arcs. “Fidelity” is the second half of a two-part episode, after “Wrong Side of the Road,” in which Sherlock and Joan, along with Sherlock’s former protege Kitty, investigate a series of deaths that seem to be linked to a traffic accident in Britain years earlier.

Another touch we appreciate this season is that a number of episodes end with living victims being rescued, which is a nice change in a series mostly focused on solving murders. Episodes like “Be My Guest” and “Rekt in Real Life” have happy endings in which people in danger are found safe. Marcus’ girlfriend Chantal, after being assaulted at the end of “The Art of Sleights and Deception,” makes a full recovery, which is a better fate than often happens to detectives’ loved ones and people of color on television.

All around, it’s another satisfying outing with Holmes and Watson.

Image: Sherlock and Joan at work on a case, from “Folie a Deux” via IMDb

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Delightful Music: Fringe Theme

One of the most enjoyable things about Fringe is the theme song. Here is a full, 6-minute version:

Fringe Theme [FULL] via mrbrzoskwinka on YouTube

It’s composed by Michael Giacchino, who has an extensive music department background in genre tv, movies, and games (Jurassic franchise video games and movies, Alias, Zootopia, some rebooted Mission Impossible and Star Trek movies, Rogue One and both of the new Spider-Man MCU movies, for instance).

It’s rare to come across a speculative show theme that uses the piano so unapologetically, let alone a story of an FBI agent investigating weird crimes. I’m in no way an expert, but I seem to have noticed that piano has fallen out of fashion these days, so for me the Fringe theme is valuable on those grounds as well.

An occasional feature on music and sound-related notions.

Rating: Elementary, Season 4

Here’s our take on Elementary‘s fourth season:

  1. “The Past is Parent” – 4.5
  2. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” – 4.5
  3. “Tag, You’re Me” – 7
  4. “All My Exes Live in Essex” – 5.5
  5. “The Games Underfoot” – 4
  6. “The Cost of Doing Business” – 5
  7. “Miss Taken” – 3.5
  8. “A Burden of Blood” – 5
  9. “Murder Ex Machina” – 4.5
  10. “ Alma Matters” – 5.5
  11. “Down Where the Dead Delight” – 6
  12. “A View with a Room” – 8
  13. “A Study in Charlotte” – 8
  14. “Who is that Masked Man” – 4.5
  15. “Up to Heaven and Down to Hell” – 6
  16. “Hounded” – 8
  17. “You’ve Got Me, Who’s Got You?” – 5.5
  18. “Ready or Not” – 7
  19. “All In” – 6.5
  20. “Art Imitates Art” – 5.5
  21. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – 4
  22. “Turn it Upside-Down” – 7
  23. “The Invisible Hand” – 1.5
  24. “A Difference in Kind” – 2

Elementary continues to entertain with complicated mysteries and the ongoing evolution of Sherlock and Joan’s partnership. This season’s ratings average out at a perfectly respectable 5.5, but it could have been better.

The big weight dragging this season down is the ongoing arc about the tangled relationship between Sherlock and his father Morland Holmes. Although John Noble gives a fantastic performance of Morland Holmes as a rich man who can’t quite buy off his own conscience, we are sick to death of stories about fathers and sons who don’t get along. The arc takes up too much oxygen in this season and leaves some episodes that otherwise had potential with not enough air to breathe.

The lowest episodes of the season are at the end, “The Invisible Hand” (1.5) and “A Difference in Kind” (2), a two-parter in which the Daddy Morland story crashes into the ongoing saga of Moriarty and her international network of evil. The collision of these storylines is poorly handled and ends up feeling perfunctory and more the product of the need for an “exciting” season finale than the internal logic of the characters involved.

For the best of the season, though, we have a trio of 8s, each of which stands alone and apart from the Morland drama: “A View with a Room,” in which Holmes investigates a video shot inside the headquarters of a violent biker gang, “A Study in Charlotte,” about a dead mushroom expert, and “Hounded,” in which a man is chased to death by what seems to be a glowing dog. Two of these episodes—“A Study in Charlotte” and “Hounded”—riff on classic Holmes novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles) in interesting ways, although “Hounded” is more faithful to the original while “Charlotte” just borrows some scene-setting. All three of them present Holmes and Watson with unusual problems—a video that seemingly couldn’t have been shot, a set of deaths that may have been accident or murder, and a phantom hound on the streets of Manhattan.

Apart from these episodes, though, most of this season is in the okay-but-not-great range between 4 and 6. This season is solid, but not exceptional. Still, the chemistry of the characters and the inventiveness of the mysteries keep Elementary afloat, as always.

Image: Sherlock and Joan consult a skeleton, from “All My Exes Live in Essex” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 3

Season 3 of Elementary adds a new character to the mix, shaking up the relationship between Sherlock and Joan in some interesting ways.

Here’s our episode ratings:

  1. “Enough Nemesis to Go Around” – 3.5
  2. “The Five Orange Pipz” – 5
  3. “Just a Regular Irregular” – 6
  4. “Bella” – 4
  5. “Rip Off” – 6
  6. “Terra Pericolosa” – 8
  7. “The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction” – 7
  8. “End of Watch” – 7
  9. “The Eternity Injection” – 5.5
  10. “Seed Money” – 6
  11. “The Illustrious Client” – 4.5
  12. “The One That Got Away” – 4.5
  13. “Hemlock” – 6
  14. “The Female of the Species” – 8
  15. “When Your Number’s Up” – 5.5
  16. “For All You Know” – 4
  17. “T-Bone and the Iceman” – 3.5
  18. “The View from Olympus” – 7.5
  19. “One Watson, One Holmes” – 8
  20. “A Stitch in Time” – 7
  21. “Under My Skin” – 7.5
  22. “The Best Way Out Is Always Through” – 6
  23. “Absconded” – 8
  24. “A Controlled Descent” – 0.5

The average rating this season is a solid 6, which is pretty good and a small step up from season 2’s 5.4. This season continues the previous season’s efforts at threading larger stories through the individual episodes. These larger stories include Watson striking out on her own as a detective and tangling with a female drug dealer, and Holmes taking on a new apprentice, Kitty (based on a character from one of the original Conan Doyle stories). Since one of our few ongoing complaints about the series is the shortage of female characters other than Watson, we find both these story lines offer positive developments, although we miss the Holmes-Watson camaraderie that the first two seasons had built up so carefully.

We are spoiled for choice for the best episodes this season with four topping out at 8: “Terra Pericolosa,” about the hunt for an antique map, “The Female of the Species,” in which Holmes and Bell chase stolen zebras, “One Watson, One Holmes,” about an internecine feud in the hacker collective Everyone, and “Absconded,” a kidnapping case connected to bees. Each of these episodes offers the wonderful complexity and unexpected turns that we have come to expect of Elementary, while leading to a satisfying conclusion. It is also significant that, although there are dead bodies in each episode, none of them is primarily a murder investigation. Not only does this ring true to the original stories, in which Holmes investigated everything from bank robberies to things that go clang in the night, it also makes a nice change of pace from the usual routine of the murder mystery procedural.

While there are a few weaker episodes in the 3-5 range, only one stands out as singularly bad: “A Controlled Descent,” at 0.5. In this episode, Holmes is dragged back into his drug-using ways by a lonely former dealer. While there is something to be said for the complexity with which Elementary handles Holmes’s addiction and recovery, this episode just feels cheap and forced, its dealer character a flat and uninteresting plot device.

Image: Watson and Holmes interview a prisoner, from “One Watson, One Holmes” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Trailer for Sanditon

Emmy Award winning screenwriter Andrew Davies has adapted Jane Austen’s last, unfinished work Sanditon into an 8-episode series. To my knowledge it hasn’t been adapted for the big screen before, so this is rather a big thing!

Here’s the trailer:

Sanditon Preview by Masterpiece PBS on YouTube

Among the big names in the production are Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood (e.g. in Medici) and Theo James as Sidney Parker (the Divergent movies, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, among others). Anne Reid as Lady Denham is also a well-known career actor (I mostly remember her from Doctor Who “Smith and Jones”—the Judoon on the moon episode).

I heard through the grapevine that Davies will move entirely away from Austen’s material after the first half of the first episode. Wow, that’s soon! I did already notice a number of character names not found in the book in the IMDB listing. I hope Davies will not go overboard, though; I’ve seen a number of his adaptations, and he can be a bit of a hit or miss for me.

The U.S. release set to 2020. Can’t wait!

Found via Frock Flicks.

This post has been edited to update a removed link to video.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Rating: Elementary, Season 2

Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson are back on the case in New York in season 2 of Elementary. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

  1. “Step Nine” – 5.5
  2. “Solve for X” – 4
  3. “We are Everyone” – 5
  4. “Poison Pen” – 6
  5. “Ancient History” – 6
  6. “An Unnatural Arrangement” – 4.5
  7. “The Marchioness” – 4
  8. “Blood is Thicker” – 6
  9. “On the Line” – 4.5
  10. “Tremors” – 5
  11. “Internal Audit” – 6
  12. “The Diabolical Kind” – 6
  13. “All in the Family” – 7.5
  14. “Dead Clade Walking” – 6
  15. “Corpse de Ballet” – 5.5
  16. “The One Percent Solution” – 4.5
  17. “Ears to You” – 4
  18. “The Hound of the Cancer Cells” – 6.5
  19. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colvillle” – 8
  20. “No Lack of Void” – 6
  21. “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – 6
  22. “Paint it Black” – 5.5
  23. “Art in the Blood” – 4
  24. “The Grand Experiment” – 3.5

The average for this season is 5.4, which is fine but a bit of a dip from the first season’s 6.5. There are few standout episodes this season, but none that really fall flat, either. It’s mostly a competently handled second season for Holmes and Watson.

This season sees an attempt to introduce arcs and connected stories, all of which more or less work, but few of which are really compelling. The main arc of the season has to do with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, an interestingly reimagined version of the original lazy, self-indulgent polymath whose brilliant mind was the interconnecting tissue in the late Victorian British government. This version of Myrcoft is a self-indulgent restauranteur who turns out to have a different but equally complicated role in the modern British government. He makes for an interesting character who plays off Sherlock and Joan in surprising ways, but his story lacks payoff. Our lowest-rated episode of the season is the finale, “The Grand Experiment,” at 3.5, in which the truth about Mycroft is revealed, and it doesn’t add up to much.

Other arcs and extended stories this season include the formation and healing of a rift between Sherlock and Detective Bell, the reappearance of Holmes’s former collaborator and self-promoting drunk Inspector Lestrade, and the emergence of Everyone, an anarchic hacker collective who sometimes help with investigations in return for various acts of public humiliation by Sherlock and Joan. Some of these stories work out better than others. Bell and Holmes’s rancorous split isn’t always fun to watch, but it does give Jon Michael Hill, who plays Bell, some rich material to work with. Lestrade is an entertaining buffoon, another interesting take on a classic Holmes character. The hackers of Everyone are a nebulous group who become mostly-unseen recurring side characters providing useful information for Sherlock and Joan and creating amusing opportunities for Sherlock to do ridiculous things in return.

As usual, though, the most rewarding part of Elementary is not any season arc, but the devious crimes Sherlock and Joan get to untangle while Joan grows as a detective in her own right and Sherlock comes to appreciate the value of their partnership. The best episodes this season, the only two that rise above competently average, offer just such cases. “All in the Family,” at 7.5, gives Detective Bell a chance to shine as he uncovers a long-term mafia plot. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville,” at 8, presents a curious challenge as bite marks found on recent murder victims seem to implicate a serial killer who died years ago.

Not everything this season works as well as we might hope, but it’s still a solid season full of intriguing cases for Sherlock and Joan.

Image: Joan and Sherlock, from “Ears to You” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 1

Elementary is the American answer to Sherlock, a modern-day Holmes and Watson series which we have found to be more enjoyable than its British inspiration. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant detective and recovering drug addict. Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson, former surgeon, who starts out as Sherlock’s sober companion but soon becomes his partner and an accomplished detective in her own right. Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Pilot” – 10
  2. “While You Were Sleeping” – 8
  3. “Child Predator” – 8
  4. “The Rat Race” – 6
  5. “Lesser Evils” – 7
  6. “Flight Risk” – 6
  7. “One Way to Get Off” – 4
  8. “The Long Fuse” – 5.5
  9. “You Do It to Yourself” – 6
  10. “The Leviathan” – 7.5
  11. “Dirty Laundry” – 8
  12. “M.” – 6
  13. “The Red Team” – 6
  14. “The Deductionist” – 5.5
  15. “A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs” – 6
  16. “Details” – 4.5
  17. “Possibility Two” – 4
  18. “Deja Vu All Over Again” – 8
  19. “Snow Angels” – 10
  20. “Dead Man’s Switch” – 5
  21. “A Landmark Story” – 4
  22. “Risk Management” – 5
  23. “The Woman / Heroine” – 10

Elementary gets off to a roaring start in its first season with a great combination of complex characters, rich performances, and intricate mysteries. The average rating for season 1 is 6.5, which is very strong showing for a new series.

There’s a lot of credit to go around for that strong start. The writers give the actors a lot to work with, and the actors take it and run with it. Sherlock and Joan are both interesting characters in their own right, but the dynamic between them as they slowly figure out how to live and work together and each one starts to bring out the best qualities of the other is wonderful to watch. In the best Holmesian tradition, the mysteries they investigate unfold in surprising but logical ways, often leading to resolutions far afield from where they began. The production design feels real and precise—you can smell the dirt on the New York sidewalks and the money in the corporate offices. Even though this series takes some dramatic departures from the Holmes and Watson canon, it is also filled with loving touches of fannishness that reward those familiar with the original stories—if you remember, for instance, that in one original story Holmes tells Watson that his nemesis Professor Moriarty has a painting in his front hall that he could not possibly afford on his academic salary, you are a step ahead of one episode’s twist.

Of course, even in such a good first season, not everything quite works. The lowest rating for this season, a passable but uninspired 4, is shared by three episodes: “One Way to Get Off,” about a potentially wrongly convicted man from Captain Gregson’s past, “Possibility Two,” in which a client comes to Holmes believing that he has somehow been given a genetic disorder, and “A Landmark Story,” which begins the set up to the final reveal of Moriarty. Each of these episodes has its merits, but they suffer from some weak plotting.

These three low episodes, though, are balanced by three full 10s. The pilot episode combines an interesting case in which a deliberate murder was cleverly stage-managed to look random—a subtle callback to the original Holmes story A Study in Scarlet—with our introduction to the characters of Sherlock and Joan and the first steps in their friendship. “Snow Angels” pits the detective pair against not just a daring robbery but a blizzard which knocks out power throughout the city (and, as a bonus, gives us the delightful side character of Pam the snow plow driver). The double-episode finale, “The Woman / Heroine” offers the most interesting take on both Irene Adler and Moriarty that we’ve ever seen.

I’m often disappointed in Sherlock Holmes adaptations that pit the detective against his nemesis Professor Moriarty. In the original stories, Moriarty is nothing more than a plot device to get rid of a character Conan Doyle was tired of writing. He appears in only one story and is briefly mentioned in just a couple of others. I find Holmes to be at his best when he is unraveling a problem, not chasing an enemy, but Elementary found a way to make Moriarty work.

We look forward to reviewing and rating season 2.

Got your own take on Elementary? Let us know!

Image: Joan and Sherlock from Elementary via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.