Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

When I think of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I now think of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  That these two actors have so thoroughly eclipsed their predecessors obviously has a lot to do with the medium of television, but it’s mostly due to Steven Moffat  and Mark Gatiss’s brilliant reinvention of a Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.  They set the tone in the first episode of the first series (2010) with  A Study in Pink, and carried it through to A Scandal in Belgravia.  As with Moffat’s other project, Doctor Who, I have to watch each episode twice to get catch everything the writing and acting has to offer.

In A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock meets his match in the supremely intelligent and beautiful dominatrix, Irene Adler, played by Lara Pulver.  Her clients from the upper reaches of the British establishment tell her everything, and she has it all stashed away in her cameraphone, protected by a passcode that takes Sherlock almost the whole episode to discover.

This duel of minds and sexual attraction (“Brain is the new sexy”) is the core that runs through A Scandal in Belgravia, relegating the serious business of why these secrets are so important to the subplots that weave around it.  Irene’s first meeting with Sherlock, when she walks into the room naked, was stunning.  It set the agenda for her plan to seduce him into complicity, something she seems to have accomplished until he confesses to feeling her pulse at that opportune and tender moment.  So deducing that she was in fact aroused, and extrapolating from it the passcode for the cameraphone.  What else but SHER?

But Sherlock is also smitten enough to rescue Irene from terrorists about to cut off her head.  “The Woman.  The Woman” says it all.

There is so much to enjoy.  A jumbo jet filled with dead people, so terrorists don’t realize that their plot to blow it up has been discovered, is wonderfully Gothic.  The kicking the CIA agents get is thoroughly satisfying – couldn’t happen to more deserving characters.  I particularly like the way their leader falls out of a window several times after brutally interrogating Mrs Hudson.  And it’s heartwarming to see how Sherlock reacts to her being in danger.  He’s a good boy, and he protects the people who care for him, despite his offhand manner.

That said, he’s also cruel in his honesty.  Poor Molly is humiliated at the Christmas party when she turns up dressed to seduce, armed with the knowledge that she’ll have Sherlock to herself when everyone leaves.  Sherlock’s dissection of her behaviour, and discovery that the present was meant for him, is painful to watch.  His apology is even more surprising.

Then there’s the assumption that Sherlock and John are a couple.  Even Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) accepts that John is now part of the family and can be trusted with emotional secrets.  Irene thinks they are, and so does John’s date at the Christmas party when he stays behind to keep an eye on Sherlock after Irene’s purported death.  At Mycroft’s insistence, no less.  Only John is convinced he’s not gay, and they’re not a couple.  Yet there’s a whisper of jealousy in the way he asks Sherlock if he’ll see Irene again, when she’s revealed as still alive.

John’s blog is a great joke, and making it the reason for Sherlock’s runaway success as a consulting detective is inspired.  Leading as it does to them fleeing the paparazzi in a hasty disguise, which of course means Sherlock grabbing a deerstalker.  What else would he wear?

Terrific stuff.  Can’t wait to see what Mark Gatiss makes of the Hound of the Baskervilles next week.  Robert Downey, Jr. can take his action/adventure, CGI-enhanced Hollywood Sherlock and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Secrets of the Pop Song: Breakthrough Single (2/3)

Secrets of the Pop Song: Ballad (1/3)

For Breakthrough SingleGuy Chambers collaborates with record producer, Mark Ronson, and singer, Tawiah.  I thought about giving this episode a miss, since I don’t pay any attention to chart hits, but decided to challenge my (almost) invincible ignore-ance of things that don’t immediately sound interesting.  After all, the previous episode opened my eyes and ears to the enjoyment of pop ballads.

The major difference between Ballad and Breakthrough Single seems to be that in the latter, music sets the tone (as it were) and lyrics are added as a secondary process.  Chambers and Ronson first worked out a rough musical framework before calling in Tawiah to write lyrics for it.  In the Chambers/Wainwright collaboration, music and lyrics evolved simultaneously.

The programme raised the question of pop songs being manufactured out of a set of musical ingredients – hook, bridge, chorus and so on – combined in formulaic proportions.  So, by extension, bands like The Spice Girls and The Monkees could also be assembled to appeal to a particular demographic.

Breakthrough Single used the example of Motown, which did indeed churn out songs on an industrial basis, using formulas and writing teams.  But they could still be good songs.  Lamont Dozier, of Holland-Dozier-Holland, pointed out that talented and creative musicians made the difference: “Works of art make rules, but rules don’t make a work of art.”

Another issue was the emergence in the 60s of singers writing their own songs – before that, record studios would commission songs independently of the singers.  And who’s to say just what it is about a song that makes it sell, so creative writing credits were given for quite small, but possibly decisive, contributions.

What emerges sometimes needs selling even to the singer.  Boy George talked about the hit single, Karma Chameleon, which he wasn’t so sure about at first: “I’m going to have to sing this for the rest of my life.”  Needless to say, he changed his mind.

By the end of the first day, Chambers, Ronson, and Tawiah had a structure, melody and potential chorus for a song called Ghost, about a woman waking to an empty bed and singing about her lost lover.  Tawiah moved the musical structure toward Highlife, a musical genre from Ghana.

On day two, Guy and Tawiah finished the lyrics, while a real drummer laid down a drum track, and horns were added for sparkle.

As with Ballad, the greatest pleasure of this series is watching and listening to the musical alchemy, as they create a new song.  There’s something about professionals, deeply involved in practicing their craft, that kindles a delight in the final product.  Even if it’s something I normally wouldn’t bother listening to.  The comments from other musicians come a close second, and the package is nicely rounded out by insights into the industry from the narrator.

Final verdict from the radio pluggers was lukewarm.  One said, “It’s not bad but it’s not great,” and the other was “not using the H-word.”  You can decide for yourself in this video of the first live performance.  I like it.