Plenty to say about “Sherlock”, and plenty is already being said. It was proper, everyone watched it, everyone’s talking about it. We’re (almost) all agreed: it was clever and funny and brilliantly performed.
One thing I found interesting is the hormonal outpouring from female viewers (including me): I’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch in plenty of stuff before and surely he was never sexy (I mean, “Stuart: A Life Backwards”? Thanks no) only now suddenly he is wearing a long coat and his eyes look kind of oh yes, and he’s got a very funny script and a decisive don’t-give-a-toss demeanour and he’s clever and YES I WOULD.
In addition, I don’t know if it’s the presence of a gay co-creator but there’s so much man-on-man flirting going on: Holmes and Watson, Holmes and Lestrade, Holmes and Moriarty, Holmes and everybody basically. And we love it. By which I mean the ladies love it.
Any downside? Sadly yes. Sherlock’s representation of women is awful. It’s maybe unfortunate for writers Moffat and Gatiss that I watched it so soon after hearing about the Bechdel test. This is a formula for figuring out whether films have the most basic characterisation of women. It works like this:
1. Is there more than one woman in it?
2. Do the women have names?
3. Do they talk to each other?
4. Do they talk to each other about anything other than men?
TV is way ahead of the curve on this, with the likes of “Mad Men” or “The West Wing” proving that it is entirely possible to have a fantastic show with a wealth of intelligent female characters. Sadly “Sherlock” isn’t one of them. There are plenty of female characters, but they never speak to each other— and that’s because they’d have nothing to say, as they aren’t really characters at all, just a bunch of girlfriends, victims and idiots whose lives revolve around the men.
So Sarah, who exists to be Watson’s girlfriend, and gets captured and shrieks; and Molly, who has a simpering crush on Holmes that renders her incapable of using the brain you assume she must have to be a qualified pathologist; and the policewoman who slags Holmes off but doesn’t appear to have much by way of a job to do; and Mrs Hudson, who is Una Stubbs and therefore wonderful and very funny but a bit thick and makes the tea. And lots of dead people, and one criminal mastermind in episode two who actually isn’t that much of a mastermind because she’s just following orders from Moriarty.
Ah, Moriarty. When the envelope turned up in episode three with a woman’s handwriting on it, I had high hopes that Moriarty would be a woman; making Holmes’ evil nemesis female would have been a nice 21st-century touch. But no, this is boys’ games in a boys’ world, and the girls are incidental. Which is not to say that Moriarty wasn’t fantastic: like the rest of the male characters, he was bright, witty, sharp and very hot. In fact, the irony is that while female viewers have got the total horn watching all the sexy men running around being clever and cool, (straight) male viewers have some eye candy here and there, but nobody who is any fun or actually does anything. So in a way, we women have the better deal. But in another way, we really don’t.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, picking holes in something that is so much better than British TV norm, but I don’t mind a lazy attitude to women as much in something that’s crap, because it’s crap across the board; this is good, and so it should know better.
End of mini-series report, then: brilliant as far as it goes, but when it gets recommissioned, if the women could actually talk to each other next time, that would be great.
The full version of this piece appears on Marie Phillips’ blog, The Woman Who Talked Too Much.