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Thinkin' About Adaptations

I cross-posted this from tumblr, because Discussions are Important, so... that's why all the pictures. ;)

I remember being still in school, and going to see a movie called Clueless with all my friends. I sat there enjoying myself and then slowly, slowly it started to dawn on me that I KNEW THIS STORY.
SARAH: Guys guys guys! This is Emma! It’s Emma!
SARAH’S FRIENDS: What’s that? Blithering as usual…

I was the only Jane Austen fiend among my friends. But they certainly started to pay attention when I began whispering the plot twists.

They thought I was psychic.

I am a Jane Austen fiend, and I have watched almost all the adaptations I can think of of her books—but Clueless remains, I think, with some fierce competition from the BBC Pride and Prejudice, my favourite Jane Austen adaptation.

Because I am a writer, and because I am a ferocious reader who goes loopy and starts reading cereal packets without regular books, I think about story a lot—and a lot of stories are riffs off ideas, themes, tropes, and sometimes riffs off specific stories. I generally go to see movies adapted from books because I’m curious about what they’re going to do with them. It’s fun to see different imaginations shaping a story.

So I watched both Sherlock Holmes films, and I’ve watched a good bit of Sherlock, too.

I didn’t intend to watch ‘Elementary,’ an American modern version of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures, because I’d heard it described as the American version of Sherlock. No, thanks, said I to myself! I am not American, my books aren’t American, and I don’t see any reason that stories need to be changed just to be American and therefore relatable.

I’m currently at a writing retreat: last year I brought DVDs of a British dark fantasy show called Misfits, and all my Americans loved, loved, loved it. No need to American it up!

But… always a need for a good adaptation.

A rule of good adaptations for me… do something new, do something cool, do something different because you are working in a different space/time/medium/philosophy from the original. Make people have fun and make them think. (Those two goals really should be the goals of all good media, of course…) I mean, one of my long-cherished projects has been to write a modern Pride and Prejudice with a gay storyline.

My new favourite show is an adaptation of a classic story (the Count of Monte Cristo) modern’d up and with a lady lead.

Hello, Revenge.

So yesterday, looking up from my computer where people assumed I was Virtuously Working, I totally blew my cover by announcing ‘LUCY LIU JUST GOT CAST AS DR WATSON!’

The doctor’s in the house.

And instantly, Casa Writing Retreat to a woman and a man, all of whom are writers or artists (Holly and Theo Black, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cristi Jacques, Cassie Clare, Josh Lewis and me) was in.

Because hey, something new and cool! Something that indicated the people making it were thinking of ways to make it their own, and thus more entertaining. Because if we want the same thing over and over, well, nobody has to go to the bother of making a whole show/movie/writing a book.

Amazing ‘rewinding’ and ‘re-reading’ technology has been available for ages.

So I happy-clapped and tweeted my joy, and received… mixed responses. And I was entirely freaking confused by said responses.

1) It will be TOO DIFFERENT from and against the spirit of the original.

Oh, okay. I guess that’s why everybody hates that show Sherlock, where they moved the story a hundred years in the future and solve so many crimes with modern technology…?

2) It will be just like every other show! Cynical grab for cash!

It will be just like every other show with a lady of colour front and centre? Because there are… so many more of those shows than white guys…? There are so many more ladies of colour who are huge box office draws as compared to those poor white guys?

It will be just like every other show with an interracial couple (platonic or otherwise) front and centre?

Is everyone watching TV in Opposites Land? Can someone give me a TV subscription in Opposites Land? I can think of a couple of shows that fit this description, but very, very few.

Besides which, speaking of being like every other show, it’s not like we’re short on bromances. Which brings me to my next point…

3) Le Bromance!

Hey, I am all in. I love a bromance. I wrote a whole trilogy devoted to a bromance! I generally like a bromance which also has a lot of time for the ladies, but… bromance. Sure. In. I love friends, I love family, I love people of whatever gender and in whatever relation to each other having loving complicated relationships!

(Aw, look. Those vampire bros love each other.)

But we have, like, out this very year just gone by, two different Sherlock Holmes franchises separately doing the shimmy and crooning along to ‘Guy Love.’

Nobody is tearing Starsky & Hutch, Supernatural, Sherlock, the Sherlock Holmes movies, House (which is in fact just another version of Sherlock Holmes, and also centers on the bromance of Two White Guys), need I go on, out of anybody’s arms. But a third version of Sherlock ‘I Love You Man’ Holmes in the space of two years sounds a bit like ‘For the Lord’s sake whatever you do, it’s gotta be all about dudes, all the time!’

And it’s not like bromances are doing badly commercially, either.

4) It’s… homophobic to cast Lucy Liu as Watson…

I would like media to be less sexist, less racist, and less homophobic.

Having an Asian lady instead of a white dude as a lead character gives me at least some of that.

Less homophobic, well, I don’t know yet about Elementary, but Holmes and Watson are not portrayed as openly gay in any adaptation I’ve seen. You cannot ‘straighten up’ something that does not contain a gay storyline to begin with! (We don’t even know whether or not they are going to put Lady Doctor Watson and Sherlock in a romantic pairing.)

I am all in for Lady Dr Watson/Sherlock True Love if they do it well, and I am in for just friendship. Romance is awesome. Friendships, also awesome.

I’ve also seen it suggested that Watson had to be cast as a woman because American audiences wouldn’t be comfortable with gay subtext. I think that anyone who has seen the Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr. and watched more than an episode or two of House will agree that American audiences appear to be fine with gay subtext and Sherlock (in fact, see above point regarding bromances). Both the TV show and the movie are wildly popular successes. I think the creators of this show wanted to do a new thing — not had to, but wanted to. And that’s fine.

Gay subtext fine with audiences, who can enjoy it or not notice it… gay text happens less.

I would be all in for gay Sherlock/Watson too! I haven’t at any point got it in a movie or a TV show, but I am all in. I own and have read A STUDY IN LAVENDER, a book of short stories where Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters are gay. (I recommend it highly.)

I would be all in for girl Sherlock and boy Watson. I would be all in for girl Sherlock and girl Watson.

All those things would be great things to do, but this thing they have done is a great thing to do, too. And I am all in for the girl Watson we have, and I think it’s especially cool she’s a lady of colour.

I actually saw pictures of the three Watsons, with a note saying ‘One of these things is not like the other.’

One of these things is not like the others? And a good thing too.

To summarise again my Rule For Adaptation: All things new again. Don’t do the same thing over and over, do something new with the material… and do it well.

A show with a girl Watson automatically being regarded as going to be worse than a show with a boy Watson… is very close to saying that girls are not as good as boys.

Is Elementary going to be good? I don’t know. Maybe not! But something I do know… I’m going to watch it.


( 110 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 28th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
LOL @ Americans not liking homoerotic subtext. Have people not seen Supernatural? Or House? Or the internet?

I think it's cool and I was planning on checking this out because I'm an unrepentant JLM fan, but I'm psyched about LL and I hope they make her true to the Watson character without calling her a slut all the time, because when you know.. A woman goes through several relationships, she gets treated differently than when a man does it. But we shall see. If they handle her well, I'll be on board.
Feb. 28th, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Subtext's been embraced as a way of eating your cake and having it too, to a point where I'm like 'if you want gay subtext--and as a writer, I love layers of subtext and text and guessing games, I am all in--but if you want it, also put in actual gay characters. Not as a punchline.'
(no subject) - swevene - Feb. 28th, 2012 11:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
On one hand: I love the idea of a lady Watson because Watson (as I think Martin Freeman demonstrates in his portrayal) is the show's emotional center, the person through whose eyes we see the magnificent, completely barmy character of Sherlock. In many respects, I consider Freeman's Watson the BBC show's protagonist, despite the fact that it's called Sherlock. So...will we be having a POC lady protagonist on a TV show? Will we be experiencing things through her eyes? As both a lady and a non-white character? PLEASE SAY YES! OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE...

On the other hand: Watson is so often characterized as being something of a good-natured idiot, the one who walks around and says "I say, Holmes, how marvelous!" while fluffing Sherlock's ego. I am leery of a female Watson precisely for this reason, especially when cast against a male Sherlock; the male Sherlock will probably CONSTANTLY being proving her "wrong", or that his superior intelligence trumps her in every respect. The wonderful thing about Watson in Conan Doyle's work is that Watson is an intelligent human being, a brave soldier, and a very good doctor. The reason Sherlock is so extraordinary is because Watson is so intelligent himself. If there's one thing the more recent adaptations of Sherlock Holmes have done is bring the competent side of Watson back, which I very much appreciate. While I don't think they'd turn Liu's Dr. Watson into an idiot, my hackles still rise at the idea that she's a "disgraced" surgeon.

But hopefully my doubts will be proven wrong! I wonder who the writer is...
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
Oh AMEN. That's a major reason I would have preferred to see Holmes as the female. How much better would it have been to have a *non* disgraced Watson who is a capable doctor and soldier who is fascinated by the amazing intellect of *female* Sherlock Holmes... and stands up for her as just being independent and intelligent when people call her a bitch because she is smart and capable... etc. That could really have gone a ways to working on some stereotypes of smart, capable women. (For some reason while I'm thinking this I keep remembering various interviews with Barbra Streisand over the years about how she has been treated badly by the film industry because she is intelligent and certain of what she wants which, in a man would be seen as just that but because she is a female is just seen as being a bitch.)


(no subject) - thegreatmissjj - Feb. 29th, 2012 12:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Feb. 29th, 2012 01:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
I am currently waiting for the reviews to come in on this as to how different it is. When I first heard about it I was very annoyed... for some reason American TV simply *has* to copy the BBC rather than copying the basic reason most of their outstanding shows succeed--originality and excellent acting. I love BBC Being Human and tried the first US version and HATED it. I adore Sherlock. The entire style of the show is so fresh, and the acting is just unbelievably good... When I heard that CBS had asked for the rights to copy Sherlock here only to be told "No" and were still going ahead with the show regardless I was really offended. I find it a bit embarrassing that US networks feel the need to copy the BBC rather than either a) paying to broadcast the ORIGINAL shows (and not assuming the American public are all too stupid to understand someone with an accent) or b) think up their own excellent, well made shows and then support them until they get an audience rather than cancelling before they have a shot.

Here is my worry-- that the female Watson idea is solely to give CBS a leg to stand on when the producers of BBC Sherlock sue them for copyright infringement. If the tone of the show is similar to Sherlock except for having a female (disgraced) Watson, then shame on CBS. I think it is somewhat telling that they cast the actor who jointly won a theater award with Benedict Cumberbatch for Frankenstein in the Sherlock Holmes role. To me it feels like they are encouraging the comparison to the fans by casting someone who has a connection to Benedict Cumberbatch (and who co-won an award because they alternated parts each night) and then throw the red herring of a female Watson at us...

I would have preferred, if they were doing non-traditional casting, to see a female Holmes. It would be a lot more interesting to see Dana Delaney or Marg Helganberger-- or what about a really accomplished black male actor as Holmes or Watson? A Denzel Washington type?

If it actually is a quality production and not just ANOTHER knock-off of an excellent BBC production, I'll watch it. We shall see.

Right now, for my money, the network to watch is NBC--they have two new Dramas that are truly original--Smash and Awake (starring wonderful Jason Isaacs.) Both are *different* than everything else on, have excellent acting and are interesting to watch.

Of course I'm also still mad at CBS for cancelling "Moonlight" after its first season, when it was winning its time slot... they don't really have a habit of supporting their shows.

Feb. 28th, 2012 11:23 pm (UTC)
You don't know how much it means to me to read this. Having a new adaptation doesn't take a thing away from any of the others. It doesn't end the Ritchie movie franchise; it doesn't get Sherlock cancelled, it doesn't make the original canon go out of print.

If the worst happens, we point and laugh. If the best happens, we have something *new* to love. Fandom isn't a zero-sum game, particularly this fandom.

I started getting cautiously interested in Elementary simply to be contrary. The more I read about it, the more interested I get, but I've felt very, very alone in that.
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:32 pm (UTC)
There was a TV movie (it seemed like a failed pilot) in the late 80s in which a female descendant of Dr. Watson revived a cryogenically frozen Sherlock Holmes, and then they solved crimes together. I am not making this up. Here's the IMDB listing. Margaret Colin played modern-day Watson, and I must have loved her character because I've watched things she was in just because she was in them ever since. I don't remember much about it other than wishing they had made a series out of it instead of just showing the pilot as a TV movie during the summer. We not only had the culture clash with the Victorian Holmes adapting to the 1980s, but I seem to recall part of his problem being dealing with a woman like Watson, who was not amused with the sexism. I don't recall if there were any romantic vibes, but this was the Moonlighting/Remington Steele era, so there was likely a lot of bickering with romantic subtext.
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:37 pm (UTC)
There was a TV movie (it seemed like a failed pilot) in the late 80s in which a female descendant of Dr. Watson revived a cryogenically frozen Sherlock Holmes, and then they solved crimes together.

I remember that movie!!! Which is a bit shocking all by itself, since the 1980s were mostly my TV-free decade. I had no idea the lead was played by Margaret Colin, whom I adore as Blair Waldorf's bitchy mom on the increasingly unwatchable "Gossip Girl."

And yes, I too was disappointed that it never got picked up as a series.
(no subject) - meganbmoore - Feb. 29th, 2012 01:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:36 pm (UTC)
I wish they'd cast Lucy Liu as Sherlock, honestly, but that presents its own set of problems and stereotypes.

There's plenty that could go wrong or right, but I have my fingers crossed.
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
I’ve also seen it suggested that Watson had to be cast as a woman because American audiences wouldn’t be comfortable with gay subtext.

Hahahahahahahahahaha! Speaking as a fan of "House" since episode 1, I must say that's pretty hilarious.

This is the first I've heard of an American Sherlock series. But if Lucy Liu is going to be in it, I'm already all over it.

Feb. 29th, 2012 12:15 am (UTC)
I had wondered about Revenge; now that I know it's a (loose) adaptation I'll check it out. One of my favorite animes is an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. With gay text/subtext. In space.
Annie Schwarz
Feb. 29th, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)
I love Sherlock Holmes - in all adaptations. I don't have a problem with an American version (mostly because the current BBC version is only 3 episodes per season!). I think different interpretations on the same theme can be very different and very good. I'm looking forward to it.
Feb. 29th, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
Given that it's a Sherlock adaptation, I was already likely to give it a try, but now, knowing that it's a Sherlock adaptation with Lucy Liu as Watson? It's bumped up to a definite on my 'to watch' list.

And it might not work for me (for whatever reason), but I'll at least watch the first episode to see how they've remixed the story and characters.

Yay, new show! :)
Feb. 29th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
Probably it was testing poorly. Then somebody said, well, we're not going to rewrite it, we don't have the time or talent. Get Lucy Lawless. Or Lucy Liu. Not Lucy Ricardo, she's dead.
Feb. 29th, 2012 01:38 am (UTC)
First off, I had not known until this post that they had cast Lucy Lui and OMG SO AWESOME I AM SO EXCITED. Then of course I went on tumbr and facebook and discovered all the hate you described. I have now posted a link to this post on facebook and reblogged it on tumbr.

Also a note "I would be all in for girl Sherlock and boy Watson. I would be all in for girl Sherlock and boy Watson." Is that just a repeat or did you mean to say "I would be all in for girl Sherlock and boy Watson. I would be all in for girl Sherlock and girl Watson."
Feb. 29th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
Tch. I had this proofread, too. Shame on my friends! Thank you and fixed.
Feb. 29th, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
On the topic of Sherlock, however, I have to admit to being inordinately excited when Sherlock hinted that he was gay. Not only is he the main character, instead of just a gay supporting role, but he is a brilliant, beloved character who is pretty nonchalant about the subject. It still makes me squee thinking of Sherlock and Watson sitting in the restaurant, getting to know each other.

Watson: So, do you have a girlfriend?
Holmes: Girlfriend? No. Not really my area.
Watson: Oh. Ooooh. Do you have a boyfriend, then? Which is fine, by the-
Holmes: I know it's fine.
Watson: ... Right. So. Boyfriend?

With all the extra ridiculous homophobia running rampant in American politics right now, I admit I wish it were an American show getting all like, "Sure the main character is gay, what of it?" But at least some countries haven't lost their minds.

Feb. 29th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
Yeeees, except then he says 'not really my area' and when he does get romantic tension, it's with a lady. Great to have an asexual Sherlock too, great to have sexual fluidity discussed, but America or Britain, we don't get gay main characters often.
(no subject) - critterel - Feb. 29th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Feb. 29th, 2012 03:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 29th, 2012 02:23 am (UTC)
What I don't get about the Haters is... why worry? There are billions of TV shows and nobody CAN watch them all, let alone would WANT to watch them all, so if you think this is going to suck, then don't watch it! It's not like you haven't got OTHER OPTIONS. Sure the coattail-riding is goofy, but, a) the show hasn't even been MADE yet, and b) no matter how it turns out, it's not going to NEGATE any of the other adaptions. It's like a less life-affecting version of people who think gay marriage would somehow make straight marriage invalid, but UTTERLY LESS WORTH CARING ABOUT.

And if people hate the very idea of this show so much, they should probably stop talking about it. It's gotten so much attention and the pilot hasn't even been shot.

And I say all this as someone who is madly in love with Martin Freeman's John Watson and can never truly accept, in my heart, anyone else in the role, even if it's the wrong century. I don't feel the need to tear this casting decision down. Why should anybody?
Feb. 29th, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
I'm all for it. Lucy Liu is amazing! I agree the whole bromance thing gets tiring after awhile. I want more girlmance (you see! we don't even have equivalent slang!) that doesn't revolve around boys or fashion. *sigh* I fear I'll be waiting awhile.

Thing is, you really can't trust Hollywood, so I think there's about an 80% chance that there will be heterosexual tension resolving with a dramatic kiss in the season finale. But it'd be awesome if they stepped outside the box (even more) and showed an awesome non-romantic hetmance (doesn't really make sense, but you know what I mean).

Honestly, a lot of the push back probably came from the Sherlock fandom. People take their ships very. seriously. I'd probably react the same way if they decided to remake the Harry Potter movies (you know, 40 years from now) with Draco Malfoy as Draca.
Feb. 29th, 2012 03:10 am (UTC)
I would be all in: only Harry Potter movies (I didn't see the last two) I'd ever watch. I love a mean girl with layers and it would change stuff up, which I love.

Karen Healey coined the phrase 'sromance' which i enjoy: http://www.karenhealey.com/2012/01/on-the-sromance/

I have no problem with heterosexual tension, as I said above. I like friendships and romances, gay and straight, and family love and everything. Straight romance doesn't have cooties.
(no subject) - allika - Feb. 29th, 2012 05:26 am (UTC) - Expand
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