Storytelling Breakdown Blog Entry 039

While I’m Thinking About Benedict Cumberbatch – By Ben Clemmer.

My wife and I just watched The Courier (2020), which is another example of Benedict Cumberbatch finding himself in a spy drama after The Imitation Game (2014) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). I’ve seen the first and the last of these and enjoyed them both immensely.

I mentioned in our most recent episode that there’s an episode concept that Caleb, Stephen, and I have been kicking around for a while that we haven’t actually done. It may still happen some day, so I’ll provide a small example from what would be a larger project.

Tweaking the things we love is its own pop culture category. Nando v Movies on YouTube has an entire channel and podcast dedicated to these concepts, with most of the real estate dedicated to superhero properties and feature films. His “One Small Change” concept is one we liked and thought a lot about as it could relate to shows, video games, books, and anything else.

We also thought about all of the different ways the finished products can change along the way. Scenes are deleted. Parts are recast. Plots are rewritten, moved, or dropped for all sorts of reasons. We worked on creating a system where any changes we would make would come at a low cost but have a high reward. Are we improving the experience of the product significantly while keeping the changes minimal? Given how I started this blog post, it should come as no surprise that one of the changes I proposed was for a series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. Let’s talk about Sherlock.

I know feelings about the show are somewhat mixed. The earlier seasons, or series, are stronger than the later ones. The straightforward modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes even detours into the era of the original stories thanks to The Abominable Bride.

My favorite season is probably the second one and I say that because it has my favorite episode, A Scandal in Belgravia. This is actually part of the problem that I want to address. The early episodes of Sherlock feel very much like a whodunit. The later episodes feel like a drama as Sherlock’s addiction and Watson’s marriage along with the relationships with many of the characters around them take up more time. This is not to say either elements of the series are bad. It’s an entertaining whodunit and when the drama is more of a focus, the stories still work pretty well.

Where things get muddled is in the transition. A Scandal in Belgravia is a drama unlike any Sherlock episode before it. The events of the story take place over an entire year. Irene Adler is introduced. It resolves the cliffhanger from the previous season in its opening minutes, but then quickly advances beyond that with an incredible tale all its own.

And what has to follow it?

The Hounds of Baskerville.

While this is one of the most iconic titles and stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon, the episode feels somewhat lackluster after following A Scandal in Belgravia. I like both of these episodes, but the order of the episodes is doing one of the most iconic Sherlock Holmes stories no favors. 

That brings me to my tweak. Thankfully this could happen in the editing room rather than requiring any significant reshoots in the alternate universe where I was involved in the show’s production and could greenlight this change. Thank you Belated Media for that concept.

We’ll leave the intro from A Scandal in Belgravia where it is. It has to remain to resolve the cliffhanger, but after that we can essentially switch episodes. The Hounds of Baskerville opens the season and A Scandal In Belgravia follows it. It improves the structure of the overall show for a viewer. We get a continuation of the whodunit formula from the first season and then A Scandal in Belgravia can mark a turning point not just in the season but for the entire show that follows. By the end of the second season, Sherlock is a drama with whodunit elements and if I could tweak anything about the show, it would be making the sections completely free of overlap.

That’s one of my tweaks. What would you change about a story you love?
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