Sherlock, VidAngel And The Personal Expression Of Art

Ever since my wife and I discovered the hodgepodge of weird genius eye-candy and unapologetic high-minded, rapid-fire dialogue that is the television show (or what we would probably have called the Television Movie Event of the Week back in the ’80s) Sherlock four years ago, we’ve been hooked. From the first episode it was impossible to look away from the brilliance on display. The writing, the cinematography, the acting…basically everything was, to our point of view, brilliant. Yeah, the Chinese acrobat episode in season 1 wasn’t as strongly written as the other two (each season only has three 90 minute episodes), and yes, the Irene Adler episode in season 2 wandered into the tawdry for nothing more than shock value, but still. I would argue that there has been virtually nothing else like it on television, at least that we were willing to watch.

So, on January 1st, it was with baited breath that Shannon and I AND my teenage daughter Abby (who had joined our Sherlock obsessed family fan club a couple of years ago) sat down with baited breath to watch the premiere of Sherlock, Season 4. A full two years had passed since we’d been dropped off the edge of a cliff and left hanging with only two words uttered by Sherlock’s psycho nemesis, Moriarty, left to keep us company. “MISS ME?” It had been a long hard 731 days, but the time had finally come.

And then the first episode began and…it was good. It was really good. Not great, but really good. It didn’t do much at all for our “WHAT THE #*@& JUST HAPPENED!” concerns that we’d been harboring for so long, but it did tell a pretty darn good story. Until the end, which just flat out sucked. Great story telling, but still. The following week, episode two arrived and it was…well, just plain creepy. Not the best episode in my opinion by a pretty wide margin. However, it did set up a possible humdinger of a finale, especially since it also had failed to address the cliff-hanger from the previous season. Then, this past Sunday night, after we’d put our youngest three to bed, we settled in to watch what turned out to be not only the final episode of the season, but quite possibly the final episode of the series, ever. And? Well…not my favorite.

The concept wasn’t bad I suppose and it did answer all of the outstanding questions, but…eh. First of all, it decided to dabble on the edges of horror, a genre of which neither my wife nor I are fans. Secondly, it wrapped up in such a way that I felt very unsatisfied with the resolution. (I apologize for not going into detail, but as is probably obvious, I’m trying to avoid spoilers.) I understand why the creators of the series did what they did and what they were getting at, but I personally felt that this fourth, and possibly final season was missing many of the key elements I had actually found so captivating about the show in the first place.

And so it goes. Another television show that I loved had ended and I was left to decide whether or not I was satisfied with the overall product, including the ending. And that decision will be mine and mine alone. I’ve done this before. And the one thing that I have to be careful of is letting the common consensus affect my overall enjoyment or lack thereof. I have to remember that it doesn’t matter what EVERYONE else thinks, it only matters to me what I think. Cases in point:

Seinfeld – The immediate reaction to the Seinfeld finale was overwhelmingly negative. People didn’t like that it was a clip show. People didn’t like that the four of them ended up in jail. People didn’t like that Jerry and Elaine didn’t end up together. The list goes on and on. But I remember watching it the night it originally aired and loving it. I thought it was the perfect ending to have four people who had never progressed as human beings end up getting a dose of justice and still not having that change who they are fundamentally. I was stunned that people wanted the ending of Seinfeld to be some kind of life-changing event. It was a sit-com. A sit-com that had established who these characters were and suddenly fans wanted them to be someone else? Why? Anyway, I still hear people complaining about the finale of Seinfeld and I think, “Whatever.” I thought it was perfect.

Lost – The reaction to the finale of Seinfeld was more widespread because of how many people watched the show. But the reaction to the finale of Lost was more emphatic and anger-filled because the watchers of Lost were avid fans who had been with the show for six years. They wanted answers and felt like the finale didn’t provide near enough of them. People disagreed violently about what the finale even was trying to say. But overall, the general consensus was that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and failed miserably to provide an adequate ending for the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. I, on the other hand, thought it was brilliant. I thought it was very moving and felt the symbolism of not just the finale, but the finale combined with the entire show made up the best series of television I had ever seen. Today, I still believe it ranks in the top five despite the continuing jokes from the majority of fans about how bad the series went off the rails in its final season and especially in the finale.

The Sopranos – This one I can’t speak to specifically because I have never actually seen an episode. But as a follower of pop culture, it was pretty hard to avoid all the discussions that went on about show creator, David Chase’s decision to cut to black without revealing what actually happened to his show’s protagonists. It sounds like it was ambiguity at its finest. Inception level frustration only worse because instead of investing two hours, fans had invested multiple years in this show only to be left hanging. I personally don’t have a problem with ambiguity. I liked the ending of Inception because I get to decide whether the top falls or not. But I am apparently in the minority. And it seemed that Sopranos fans were not amused.

However, when it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter what fans think of the three examples mentioned above, or any other examples from the world of film. Because art is always subjective, and like it or not, television and movies are an art form. Yet somehow, in our self-serving day of 2016, we the fans feel like we should be included in the decision making process on how best to present these particular forms of art. And when our personal feelings are not taken into account, we can get highly incensed as if a great wrong has been done to us. But frankly, that’s just not true. Television shows and movies are simply art being displayed for our enjoyment and we can either like it or not…and that’s it.

Which brings me to my final point.

The movie filtering company, VidAngel, has lost its legal battle to keep providing filtered movies on every front and is now, for all intents and purposes, out of business. They are still pursuing all avenues available to them, but it would seem pretty clear that they will lose.

In once sense, this makes me a little sad. It would be nice to see certain entertainment offerings without content that I find objectionable. But on the other hand, I totally understand and respect this outcome.

I mean, really, would I ever expect to be able to take a trip to Italy and demand that I be allowed to see all of the classic paintings and sculptures that beautiful country has to offer boob free? Of course not. If I want to go see art in Italy, I had better be ready to get an eye full of mammary glands as well as a fair amount of male genitalia. I know that going in. So if I don’t want to see those things, I better not go to Italy.

And in that vein, I have to believe at a basic level that the same should be true for the art of film. Artists in the form of writers, directors and actors (to name a few) created these works of art. I may not like the art, but it is art. I don’t understand paint splotches on a canvas, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a painting. Likewise, I don’t see any redeeming quality in a film about a doll that comes to life and kills people, but the artists did. And if I don’t like it, I don’t have to watch it.

So to say to those artists, “I think some of your creation has merit, but I’m going to pick and choose which parts those are,” can come across as a little insulting. What they created was their vision, and they created it for consumption as a whole.

Which is why I grudgingly have to agree with the VidAngel rulings. I know it isn’t fair to families looking for clean content that Hollywood seems to be working against them. I know it isn’t fair that companies whose sole purpose is to create “clean” movies also happen to make movies that are, for the most part, unwatchable. But who said life was going to be fair? I saw on-line the other day a comment by someone who was justifying VidAngel’s existence. They stated that they should be able to watch their movies without any content they find objectionable. The only problem with that statement is, it isn’t THEIR movie. It belongs to a studio. If you want to buy a copy of it and then skip through parts, that’s your prerogative. But to try and work the system so that you “buy” the movie when you really don’t…not the same.

Again, if the courts had found otherwise and ruled in favor of VidAngel, I would be the first to applaud. But I knew they wouldn’t. Because once all the arguments are made, it only makes sense that they don’t. And maybe that’s ultimately for our good.

You see, another argument I have heard multiple times in defense of VidAngel is the metaphor of eating a sandwich with a tiny bit of dog poop in it. No one would knowingly do that. So, the argument goes, we as the consumer should be able to remove the dog poop from our sandwiches. But honestly, does anyone really want to eat a sandwich that had dog poop in it to begin with, regardless of how much effort was made to take it out? I didn’t think so. Maybe the same should be said for our art. If we don’t want it as is, then we probably shouldn’t want it at all.

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