Shakespeare buffs may be surprised by “Will”

Marlow & Will. Of course they are beautiful. It’s an American show after all

Damn it’s hot; unseasonably hot even by Nevada standards. Normally the west eases into summer with the temperatures slowly rising so that by the time late August rolls around we are acclimated to the heat. But oh no, not this summer. This summer started in the triple digits and there seems to be no sign of cooling down. How hot is it, you might ask? Last night’s thunder clouds didn’t result in any dry lighting. It was as if even the lighting didn’t want to be anywhere near the scorching heat.

Compounding the heat wave issues the air conditioner in our office building isn’t working properly, forcing us to work in stifling conditions. Forget hot yoga, I’m doing hot work. For a woman of a certain age (cough, cough) this is beyond acceptable as I have my own private summer to deal with. The quote “I’m melting, I’m melting”, springs to mind as I do nothing more after work than lay under a large fan and pant. Will this horror never end?

I haven’t attempted to write these last few weeks as my brain is fried by the time I get home. I have tried to do some reading, but this summer’s choices have been duds. I think I will do a book review on what to avoid, later in the week.

I did, however, manage to watch the pilot episode of TNT’s “Will”. Between all the hype & criticism I figured I would keep an open but skeptical mind and decide for myself if this is a series worth watching. For those of you who may have missed the announcement, here is how they are selling the series:

Will tells the wild story of young William Shakespeare’s (Laurie Davidson) arrival onto the punk-rock theater scene in 16th century London — the seductive, violent world where his raw talent faced rioting audiences, religious fanatics and raucous side-shows. It’s a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s life, played to a modern soundtrack that exposes all his recklessness, lustful temptations and brilliance. 

My first thought when I originally read this was, ‘Does TNT know something scholars do not?” How do they know he was reckless and lustful (his brilliance is obvious) and so dismissed it as part of the dumbing down of the American youth. I mean really, is this the best we can hope for as far as showing Shakespeare to a young TV audience? But then again, we are talking about America so, you know…

Someone mentioned to me that if this turns out to be a gateway to an interest in Shakespeare, it couldn’t be all that bad, could it?

Thanks to Amazon video, I was able to purchase the first episode. So, fan overhead, a glass of ice water at my side, I got through the entire show without falling asleep or screaming at my TV.

Without giving some of the plot away (what little plot there is) here are my initial thoughts.

The set and wardrobe designs are bright, I mean dazzling! For 16th century London where most everyone was poor and shabby, all the characters were dressed as if Yves Saint Laurent personally picked out their clothes. The only difference between the well off and the poor was the amount of dirt rubbed into the designer clothing. This brilliance of color on every pixel of the screen didn’t pull me in; it was actually a little jarring at first. But, as the London scene unfolded I realized the desired effect wasn’t to pull the viewer into 16th century London, but to 70’s London, more specifically the underground punk scene. This begs the question, if the producers want to modernize Shakespeare for young audience, why the punk era? How many kids born after 1990 know anything about mosh pits and rooster comb hairstyles? And yes, we get both in this show.

Having it set in the Hip-Hop era would have made a little more sense. And given that one scene was a takeoff on a rap battle (battle of words in this case) may have played better. Not that I am complaining, the punk era worked for me, but I’m old enough to have been in a mosh pit and spent hours listening to The Clash (the background music of choice for” Will”).

And of course, this being an American show, the entire young cast is beautiful; complete with dazzling white teeth. This has led to some criticism of the show by others, so I won’t go to deep into this topic. Only to say that I was not as surprised by this as others were. Again, we are talking about American TV.

The plot was on the thin side, but then again, how much plot can you have when it involves a young 16th century playwright and his quest to become famous? The opening scene informs us Will is a married man with three children so there cannot be a love interest, right? Wrong! On his very first day in London Shakespeare meets a woman who finds him attractive, and he her. We see where this is going… And of course it gets there quickly.

There is some tension built around the religious persecution of Catholics. We are led to believe that Shakespeare’s family has strong Catholic views, and even though it may mean death, his father instructs him to deliver a letter to his uncle; a letter that if falling in the wrong hands would out the family as Catholic Doesn’t this man have his own raven? Oops, sorry, wrong show. But the explanation as to why the Catholics are being rounded up and tortured is brief and if one is not paying close attention is lost. If I remember correctly it is an eight-sentence discussion between two men. If this is to be the sub-plot then I would have expected more because those who are not history majors may wonder what all the fuss is about.  

Though the show was not bad, I’m just not sure it will work. The characters are far too stereotypical to be interesting. The torture and brutality may wear thin (I’m told later in the series there is a bear baiting scene in which the poor creature is disemboweled), and the plot is so thin you can see right through it.

But yet, I encourage those of you who are fans of Shakespeare to at least watch the first episode because surprisingly, there are a few smart scenes that only true Shakespeare buffs can, and will appreciate. It was fun to “see” Robert Greene calling Shakespeare an “upstart crow” and losing face while doing so. I am sure the anti-Stratfordians would not appreciate the idea of Shakespeare writing a play and giving credit to Marlow, but I snickered.I wish it the show was a little more interesting, because it is obvious someone on the writing staff knows their Shakespeare.

“Will” is not a show I care to watch, but to be fair to TNT, I am not into any show (save GOT) that uses graphic violence as a plot device. I’m not opposed to it, I’m just over it (sorry Walking Dead). Others may not be so sensitive.

I cannot tell if this will bring about an interest in Shakespeare; there was no reciting of any of his work in the first episode. Perhaps as the story processes there will be brief scenes involving his work and making it relevant to today’s youth. But even if it doesn’t I can think of worse ways to spend time out of the summer heat. Reading a poorly written book comes to mind.

 

Sherlock ends with a final misogynistic solution

 

1519196473-funny-sherlock-holmes-showIt should come to no surprise to my readers that I thoroughly enjoy the stories of Sherlock Holmes in all their iterations. Whether the stories are from Doyle himself or from the minds of modern writers who use the famous sleuth as if he were their own. I loved the playfulness of the Downey/Law movies and the older true to form BBC adaptations. But out of all of them, none has given more pleasure than Steven Moffatt’s take in the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock series. That was until this past weekend, when the four-season run finally came it stunning conclusion. I haven’t been this disappointed and disillusioned in quite some time.

For those of you who have yet to watch season four, I warn you to stop reading now. Yes, there will be spoilers and no, I don’t want to hear how I’ve ruined the show for you. So seriously, Stop. Right. Now.

tumblr_lxwm8k4bfu1qjsz00

For those of you still with me I am going to assume most of you have watched the show so I won’t give a blow-by-blow review. For the others, I am going to assume you are just curious to know want I am going to rant about now. Hopefully I won’t confuse you with my lack of a detailed recap.

sherlock-carousel-10262013

To say this last season (series for my UK friends) has been underwhelming is an understatement. These last three shows have focused on the breakdown of the Holmes/Watson relationship and the one “final solution” that brings them back together. The idea of a break-up between these two best friends would make for good drama had it been done with care; as it was, the last three shows were cobbled together slapdashedly, with major plot holes looming so large that it’s no wonder Watson ended up in a deep well. His watery prison was an ideal metaphor for the series.

In the last episode titled “The final solution” we are asked to suspend disbelief at every turn as Sherlock faces the series’ most villainous foe yet. Among the most absurd plot devices we are asked to believe are:

Mycroft’s super-hero like ability to wipe out Sherlock’s most horrific memories and replace them with memories of a beloved pet dog named “Red beard”. Really? Mycroft has the means to do this? As the head of the government’s spy agency why doesn’t he use this power to wipe out memories of the world’s global terrorist and replace them with memories of a happy Republic? If that’s too much to ask, why not wipe out the mind of the super villain he has locked up in a Arkham like asylum, thus removing the threat all together?

That Sherlock, upon meeting this locked up super villain loses his power of deduction and doesn’t notice the obvious around him. Oh come on! He doesn’t realize the villain is not behind glass or that her voice is being “altered” by a hidden microphone.

That even though Sherlock and Watson show up to the asylum unannounced, the super villain has her traps ready and waiting for them, including a dog bowl with the name “Red beard” on it. This can only mean that Mycroft has talked to her about Sherlock. Again why not wipe her mind too since he has access to her? I don’t think I am going to get over that one.

That we see Watson chained in a well. In fact the writers make it clear that John cannot escape the rising water because of the chain on his leg, yet he is rescued when a rope is thrown down to him. Unless that rope included an underwater diver with a bolt cutter there was no way out for John to excape, but there he is safe and sound. Speaking of John, two episodes earlier his wife died saving Sherlock. Mycroft could have replaced those memories with memories of Mary dying trying to save a puppy from a burning building, thus relieving John of his more horrific memories and saving the duos friendship. At this point I think we can all agree that Mycroft is an asshole. But the most egregious mistake Moffatt and the writers make is with the villain. It’s misogynistic ,and utterly, utterly pointless.

It turns out the most wicked character Sherlock has ever faced is his younger sister Eurus, named for the God of the East wind. We not only learn that Sherlock has a sister he cannot remember, but that Mycroft has teased his younger brother about an “east wind” all his life. See, I told you Mycroft is an asshole. This younger sister is not only smarter than the two brothers (Mycroft says her brilliance is incandescent and that a mind like hers has not been seen since Newton) but that she is a vicious psychopath, lacking all forms of emotion both mentally and physically (Pain? Which one is that? She asks Mycroft). As an adult she subscribes to the philosophy that good vs. bad behaviors are merely societal constraints. She is fully aware of the contradictions of such constraints; it’s deemed bad to murder someone but killing in war is expected. She is also fully aware of the danger she poses as a woman. She answers her own question of “why am I here?”, with the chilling words, “Because I am smart”.

This smart yet very dangerous woman spends the last hour of the episode torturing Sherlock by making him responsible for the death of other people by forcing him to play “games” that can only be solved by murder. She does all of this because though she lacks every other emotion, jealousy is her driving motivation. Jealousy is a trope we see used in literature over and over again as the expression of out of control women. To see it here is madding.

Eurus we learn had no friends and was jealous of Sherlock and his small boyhood companion. So much so, that she drowns this companion in a deep well and sets the Holmes estate on fire, hoping to kill Sherlock. It is at this point that she is locked up for life. There is no attempt to rehabilitate or even medicate this smart yet dangerous woman; Mycroft forbids it. In this he renders her help-less. Wiping out Sherlock’s memory of her effectively kills her. He completes this “murder” by telling his parents she has died in a fire. If this isn’t misogynistic I don’t know what is, yet it only gets worse from here.

In the most mind-bending side plot of the series, Sherlock is a willing victim in his sister’s games in order to save a little girl who he thinks is trapped on a doomed airplane. It turns out, the little girl who really needs saving is his sister, because despite all of her wickedness and psychosis, what she really needs is love from her older sibling. Yes, in the end, Sherlock is able to save her by a goddamn hug.

The episode ends with the family being reunited and all seems well. Yet the viewers are left with a damning question left unanswered. Why is Sherlock’s sister now unable to speak? Though the reasons for her incarceration appear to be gone she is left in the asylum, unable to speak, thus unable to defend herself against those who wish to keep the smart one locked up.

Not only was this a terrible way to end what started out as a brilliant show, it did so in the most misogynistic way possible. I can only surmise that Mark Gatiss, the man who plays Mycroft, and one of the lead producers, is also an asshole. Too bad he can’t wipe out the viewer’s memories of this last episode and replace it with a better one.