Published for Yahoo TV
Poor Sherlock Holmes. One fictitious death and a torturous kidnapping later, he returns to a punch in the face, his love interest engaged to a man in a similar coat, and Twitter thinking he’s gone too meta.
Indeed, when Sherlock was released back to us yesterday after over a year of fervent Tumblr mumblings and frenzied internet speculation over the climactic ending to The Reichenbach Fall, show runner Steven Mofatt and Mark Gatiss were once again put under the tremendous stampede of fan pressure that the pair knew quite a thing or two about with a certain well known sci-fi series. After all, in a world where we can gossip to apocalyptic speeds that would rival Coronation St’s Norris, a chat on the sofa after the credits of a TV event is now not enough to quench our thirst for rumination.
Yesterday, the long-awaited episode “The Empty Hearse” (inspired by the Conan-Doyle short, “The Empty House”) was unleashed, like a raw steak to a pack of hounds. The results? Could’ve done with a bit more salt. Or at the very least, a plot, the fans said.
To tell the tale of a fake death, The Empty Hearse began with a fake opening too; a montage of every internet fan theory brought to life – masks, doubles, a Hollywood kiss for the Molly/Sherlock shippers, and an elaborate action sequence. They almost had us, until Derren Brown showed up of course. The stunt was met with mixed reaction, naturally, that the show had become “too self-aware”, and “too knowing”, “too eager to appease the fans.” How about that - Sherlock Holmes too knowing.
But where the episode lacked in narrative, it did at least bring up the point that the internet and TV have had a rocky relationship over the years, and brought to light a sub-genre of culture that had previously been treated as a kiddish fad. Now, a TV series that has spawned hundreds of blogs acknowledges blogs exist in real life too.
With an entire world of satirical remit sitting in a web browser, panel shows such as Have I got News for You are showing their age. Any attempts to fuse the two mediums together have, in the past, merely resulted in disaster, or as it’s otherwise known: Rudetube. “Why watch Youtube videos readily at home, when you can watch a fuzzier version with a stretched aspect ratio, and Alex Zane’s wry voiceover instead? Complete with ad breaks!” The concept seemed a little thin.
More stabs in the dark were flagrantly thrusted. Any tenuous link to the internet was put together in a lazy You’ve Been Framed-style mosaic of television content, such as Robert Webb making use of the pun availability of his last name, (“Robert’s Web”, in case your memories have faded) reading about the internet on the TV, just in case the laborious task of opening a web browser ourselves hurt our arms too much.
When social media began to melt into TV marketing, the ‘get with the times, granddad’ consensus was exacerbated, reminding us of Rob Brydon’s quintessentially uncool character in Gavin and Stacey discovering the totally kickin’ new phenomenon called “the world wide web”. Britain’s Got Talent began encouraging viewers to tweet along the hashtag “hottie” whenever an attractive person sauntered on stage, just in case we didn’t have any of our own ideas on how to perform a synchronized act of chauvinism. The community spirit of it all, seemed more like community service.
So who was going to tackle a decade of technology with the intellect that brought it to us in the first place? The internet in itself is an entirely new plot device, a slice of sci-fi in modern day storytelling. For years, films and TV alike have been without this tool – now we have it, why aren’t we using it more to our advantage? Charlie Brooker began the pastiche on viral web culture quite before its time with Nathan Barley, that documented perfectly the ugliness and tackiness that tired brains fed with too much web access crave. Hidden in a crevice on Channel 4’s late night slot, it generated cult status, and ominously predicted human nature’s cyber-shenanigans; this darkness reflected more plaintively in his drama Black Mirror. At the same time, Graham Linehan made an entire sitcom from the hilarity of it with the The IT Crowd. Now, a pair of characters nearly 200 years old, are alive and blogging, just as they should be in 2013.
So why do TV and the internet struggle so? It could simply be a process of speed. By the time a TV joke writer on Never Mind the Buzzcocks gets time to write a funny down, online, we’ve already retweeted a similarly worded witticism over 200 times, and the laugh has echoed in the distance. Maybe it’s best to leave the warring mediums to their own devices, rather than fight a losing battle. To the internet, TV is our embarrassing dad, trying to keep up with the times and join our inside jokes. Sometimes, a fan club is members’ only for a reason, and therein lies the real community spirit.
As such, maybe this is why Sherlock was deemed too on the nose. But, for what The Empty Hearse may have lacked in drama, it sure did draw focus on to the drama we, as an audience, now have the technology to make ourselves.