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Roger Quinonez

November 26, 2014


Professor Haas
Writing 37

Updated Watson Conventions in Modern Text


The detective genre experienced the classical phase of genre development during the late
Victorian Era. The detective genre came to its own mostly because of its unique conventions
and the social progress of the middle class during the era. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a Victorian
author, wrote the Sherlock Holmes series which brought the detective genre into the Victorian
middle class. One of the conventions that Conan Doyle created was the use of the sidekick:
Watson. Watson is Sherlock Holmes sidekick/partner and as the classical Victorian middle-class
male, he represents the reader. Watson is the narrator in the Sherlock Holmes series and is not
as smart or logical as Holmes. Watson has the same perspective as the reader and doesnt find
out how Holmes solved the mystery until he tells it to the reader. The everlasting popularity of
the detective genre has been maintained by several adaptations of the series in movies and TV
shows including Sherlock and Elementary. Sherlock is a British reenactment of Sherlock Holmes
that started in 2010 and was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. The show is primarily
shown On BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) for 3 seasons and now a 4 th season is in the
works. The show is basically some Sherlock Holmes short stories in the 90 minute episode.

Elementary is the American adaption of the Sherlock Holmes series. Robert Doherty created
Elementary and it began in 2012. Soon enough, Elementary became a prime-time hit on CBS.
Elementary is different from Sherlock mainly because Elementary takes place in Manhattan
instead of London. The reason for the relocation is because Holmes was in rehab and he
became unpopular in England. The 3rd season is currently airing and there will be probably be a
next season. These shows are modern but how can they present the show in a modern way?
Sherlock and Elementary both showcase updated detective conventions of Watson such as,
gender change and modernization of his attitude, in order to appeal to the present day
audience. Elementary updates the gender while another updates Watsons attitude to a low
degree but they each have their own way of updating these Watson conventions.
The Watson-Holmes relationship in Elementary tends to be more a duo than a studentteacher relationship. Doherty made a controversial decision and starred Lucy Liu as Watson.
Joan Watson was a surgeon until one of her patients was lost. She then became a companion
for Holmes so he can transition for being in rehab to a sober life. Elementary changed the
dynamic of Watson being a male and portraying him as Holmess student. In the pilot episode,
both Holmes and Watson go to a victims house to question her about the assault that
happened to her. Holmes asks her a series of questions and she starts to feel uncomfortable.
However, Holmes doesnt realize or doesnt care so he begins to act out strangling while asking
more questions. The victim calls him out on it and suggests he leave, but Holmes knows that
shes lying about her answers. Meanwhile, Joan Watson repeatedly tries to stop Holmes from
asking any more insensitive questions. Sherlock Holmes loses his temper and shouts at Watson
that hes correct and that she should read a book. Watson eventually gets him to leave the

household and she gets valuable information from the victim.


This scene shows that the modern Watson is in your face to Holmes. She doesnt take his
nonsense and isnt afraid to call him out on it. The Victorian Watson would not do any of that
because Holmes would absolutely destroy him. Literary scholar Leroy Panek wrote a book
about the detective Genre and Holmes and he wrote that, Holmes feels impelled to point out
Watson's errors and to show him how to do the thing correctly(21). This is not the case in
Elementary .The scene starts off with a picture of another victim in the middle of the frame and
then the victim talking to the right of the frame. When she is talking, there is a shallow focus to
Watson, who is in the middle of the frame but towards the back. This shows that Watson will
be a significant part of the scene. The camera angle of the scene is medium height because the
point of view is slightly below the victims face. However, Holmes is standing up so the angle is
low on him. Whenever the camera is on him, he is speaking down to the victim. There are close
ups for each character in the scene and the dialogue goes back and forth. Then, when Watson
has enough of Holmes, she is standing and Holmes is now sitting. There is a low angle of
Watson as she tells Holmes to get out of the house. It is the complete opposite from the
beginning of the scene and it shows that Watson isnt the little one that was in the classical
convention. She is still a student but she is much more equal in the present interpretation. The
modernized Watson is upfront, sassy, and just about everything youd expect from a 21 st
century sidekick. After Holmes leaves, Watson gets the assaulters name and reports it to
Holmes. They worked well together even though it wasnt in the best circumstance. The
dramatic and controversial update of Watson turned out to be a success as it appealed to the
prime time American audience because the American audience loves to watch shows that have

attractive people that are geniuses. However, huge updates arent necessary for the appeal of
the Sherlock Holmes series.
Sherlock, the more accurate reenactment of the Sherlock Holmes series, updates the Watson
conventions but not to the same degree that Elementary did. Sherlock takes place in London
and Watson is still a male. Moffat and Gatiss were huge fans of the Sherlock Holmes series and
they both have experience with adapting Victorian literature for TV, thus Sherlock being
accurate for the most part. Going back to Watson, he is the sidekick for Holmes and in the
show, he is exactly that. He is the other guy thats with Holmes. However, Watson and
Holmes have more of a partnership than in the Conan Doyle novels. In the second season
opener of Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes is in a home after getting mugged. While he is waiting,
Irene Alder shows up completely naked. Theres awkwardness between and then Watson walks
in and sees her as well. Dialogue ensues between Irene and Holmes, and Watson interrupting at
some points. Then Watson bluntly tells Irene to put some clothes on and even references the
napkin that he was holding. At this point Holmes is studying both Irene and Watson. Holmes
does his genius magic when he studies them both. In this scene, Watson was not the gentleman
that has been portrayed in the novels. Even though there would be no scene with a dominatrix,
the version of Watson would have walked away and not say anything. Watson in the novels was
a classy gentleman and would not hurt a lady no matter what. In the modern day, it would be
appealing and relatable that Watson would be a blunt remark about Irene being naked on
purpose. He is still a gentleman because he didnt look at anything below her neck, and that is
still appealing to the modern audience. In modern TV , a person would make sure to look below
her neck.

The scene starts with a low angle on Irene as she comes in. As she walks around, her body is
being blocked by some objects so the camera never gets her full body. There is a also a tracking
shot during the dialogue. The tracking shot shows what facial expression Holmes shows when
he looks at Irene. When Holmes studies both Irene and Watson, there are a number of
extreme close ups. The close ups include Irenes face, Watsons eye bags, his eyebrows, shoes,
and collar. Watsons outfit is another way that Moffat and Gatiss made the show more
appealing to the present day audience. Watsons outfit includes a flannel, denim, and nice
hipster shoes that mostly everyone will recognize. Watsons bluntness made him more comedic
in a sense because when he tells Irene to put some clothes on, he says, even a napkin. Many
people today would find that little joke hilarious. Yet, Watson still provides that relationship
with the audience that he is most relatable to them. In the Victorian Era, he is very relatable to
average reader because Watson himself was middle class and shared the same perspective of
the stories. The same could be said today with Watsons comedic attitude and appearance.
Even though Conan Doyle was the reason for the prolific popularity of the detective genre,
its continuous growth should be credited to all the adaptations of the novels. Both TV
adaptations , Sherlock and Elementary, display updated conventions of Watson; although
Elementary updated them in a more controversial way. Updated conventions of Watson include
changing the gender, having a different personality and attitude, and even his appearance.
These modernized conventions are meant to be appeal to the present day audience even
though the Sherlock Holmes series are popular regardless. Modern day audiences differ greatly
from the past, so even the slightest details in these shows have to be relatable to the audience
in some type of way. It could be as simple as displaying a piece of relevant technology to as

complex as updating conventions of the detective genre to mesh with the present. In 50-100
years from now, the newer adaptations of Sherlock Holmes will have conventions that will
seem very odd to the present day but be relatable to the audience in the future. The main goal
for media makers is to appeal to the audience and the way they will show that will be very
different depending on who they want to appeal to . Conan Doyle successfully did it during his
time and Doherty, Moffat, and Gatiss have been successful in the present, now we await on
who will successfully appeal to the future audience.

Works Cited
Chapman. "10 Reasons Why Elementary Is Better Than Sherlock." WhatCulturecom 10 Reasons

Why Elementary Is Better Than Sherlock Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

Doherty, Robert, dir. "Elementary/ A Scandal in Belgravia." Elementary. CBS. N.d. Television.

Gatiss/Moffat, dir. "Sherlock/ Pilot." Sherlock. BBC. N.d. Television.

Panek, Leroy. Doyle. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State
University Popular Press, 1987. PDF File.