Thursday, January 12, 2012

Confronting disappointment

Welcome back! Apologies for my absence. I just returned from a long trip to the US to visit family for the holidays. Since then I've been coping with my jet-lag by eating Christmas candy and catching up on all the great British TV I missed while I was gone.

Seriously. The Brits have a tradition of showing their best programming around Christmas. Kind of like how the US has the best commercials during the Super Bowl. Or something.

So when I got home Monday evening, a bit sick, hungry, and exhausted, I got myself some lentil soup and lamb meatballs from the Middle Eastern deli down the street, and curled up on the couch to eat dinner and watch the two hour Downton Abbey Christmas special. Yay! It was everything I hoped it would be. I've been a bit disappointed in season 2, but this was nearly perfect in every way. If you haven't seen Downton Abbey (season 2 premiered in the US Sunday night, and currently the episodes from Season 1 can be seen online) you're really missing out.

Still jet-lagged and irritable Tuesday, I sat down and watched the Christmas special again.

Then that evening, feeling a bit more myself after grocery shopping and cooking dinner, I settled down to catch up with Sherlock, a modernized series about Sherlock Holmes. I quite enjoyed season 1 (I'm a huge Martin Freeman fan and can't WAIT to see him in The Hobbit), and within minutes was equally absorbed in the first episode of season 2. Until I wasn't.

Sherlock meets this mastermind female villain and it's a game of wits. Or that's what it was supposed to be. Except she's a professional dominatrix, so her only real power is sexual. Because she's not really that clever. And too emotional. And in the end (SPOILER ALERT) she needs Sherlock to rush in on his white horse and save her because apparently she's not clever enough to save herself.

It was a good episode. I watched the whole thing. I laughed a few times. I was surprised. But at the end, I had a sick feeling in my mouth. So I searched for #sherlock on Twitter. And I was so grateful to discover I wasn't alone. The Guardian published an article pointing out the episode's sexism. And there were several blog posts on the topic as well (here's one).

Except this was just the first episode of the series. Another one has already come out, and the last one will premiere Sunday. Are the other episodes as bad? Probably not. They probably don't have any females to speak of. The first season didn't. Would I enjoy them? Probably. Will I watch them?

What do you do when you find something you hate in something you love?

I thought about it all Tuesday evening. Finally I decided I didn't really love Sherlock. The acting was great, the characters and set-up are totally fun. But the plots sometimes don't hold together. I'm not emotionally entangled in the show (as I clearly am with Downton Abbey). So if I have to give it up, I could. And I think I will. Because even though I know I'm a very small voice among thousands, I don't want to support Sherlock anymore.

Of course, art is never perfect. I believe in criticism, in discussion, in subjectivity. And we all have our biases. Downton Abbey has had a few sexist, cringe-worthy moments, too (a great review from The Book Smugglers, see number 3). But it hasn't weighed down a whole episode for me. Yet.

I find myself frequently drawing these imaginary lines in the sand. When is something bad enough that I can't support it any longer? It's easy when it's something I don't care for. But what about when it's something I love? What about Apple and their poor factory conditions (This American Life recently provided a moving and thought-provoking report on this)? I want to believe Apple's PR that they're doing something about it. What about all the power and money tied up in college sports? I just hope a scandal never comes out about my team.

How do we deal with finding ugly things in what we most enjoy?

For me, at least when it comes to stories, the answer is to create better art. Sure, I have plenty of my own biases. But at least, every day, I can absorb myself in a world I believe in and think is worth sharing.

Have you ever discovered something you hate in something you love? Did you give it up?

Sorry for the downer of an opener to 2012. I promise to come back next week with more pep and excitement. But the TV, it must be talked about! In the meantime, happy New Year!


  1. Glad you made it back over the pond safely. :) That is such a bummer about the episode. This has happened to me with some TV shows. I usually just stop watching. :(

    Those lamb meatballs really sound divine.

  2. The world's imperfections do not spare TV land. Not even exquisite British television.
    But I loved sitting along side you with your Middle Eastern deli food (my favorite) and ruminating on all this.

  3. Hah! Maybe I should stop with the ponderous reflections on life and art, and instead just tempt you all with food! ;) I've had better lentil soup, but the meatballs were really lovely--spicy and with pine nuts!

    Karen: Thanks, Karen! Yeah... it's often a hard decision to stop watching a show, but once I do, I'm usually much happier!

    Mirka: No... in some ways, maybe the world's imperfections are magnified a bit, because I so want TV land to be an escape... Interesting to think about.

  4. Welcome Back and Happy New Year! You were sorely missed. I knew you were taking a break, but all this week I kept checking my Reader to see if I'd somehow deleted my subscription to your blog. Does that scare you? I'm an ocean away, so maybe not. :)

    You are the second person to rave about Downtown Abbey, so I think I will go and plug that in and see when I can get started. As far as Sherlock -- we liked season 1 kind of. The first episode was excellent and then the others weren't. So, I can see how you could walk away from it.

    As far as the line in the sand, oh yes. I vote with my wallet and/or my time often. My one-woman boycotts are my tiny claim to activism. lol.

    But I'm not alone. My husband holds a grudge against Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for the way he treated Tom Laundry. (20? years ago) and my mother-in-law think New Orleans Saints treated Archie Manning poorly 40? years ago so still cheers against them. (She lives in Louisiana, so this is high treason.)

  5. Bridgette: Thanks for the exuberant welcome back! Not scared--I'm unknown enough that all take all the fans I can get! ;)

    Yes, yes, yes. I've actually been meaning to blog about Downton Abbey for some time now, but never know quite what to say. But it's quickly become one of my absolute favorite things, so you really must get your hands on that first season and start watching the second pronto!

    Yeah, your feelings about Sherlock are similar to what mine were. So nice to talk TV with other friends who I know have good taste!

    I'm glad to hear I'm not the only lone boycotter out there! But of course we need to stand up for what we believe in, however small. That IS brave of your MIL living in LA and rooting agains the Saints! ;)

  6. Anne - I took your advice and got my hands on Season 1 of Downton Abbey. LOVE IT. My husband - who was very skeptical - also is hooked as well as our daughters. We have DVR'd Season 2 so we are slowly making our way through those episodes as well. (Christmas special that was worth 2 viewings? Can't wait.)

    Thanks so much for the recommendation. That's from ALL of us. :)

    1. Hah! Well, my work here is done. ;)
      Seriously, I'm so glad to hear you (and your whole family!) have enjoyed DA so much. It's something I absolutely adore, so I'm so happy to be able to share it with other people. Now if only I could get MY husband into it.
      The Christmas special is DEFINITELY worth two viewings, along with multiple pausings and rewindings. Okay, maybe I'm a tinge obsessed. ;)


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