Friends like these

I’ve been re-watching Sherlock because what the hey and also summer  programming in Australia partly consists of repeating Sherlock and little else new or entertaining.

Any who, I realised this program was misnamed. Sure it features the rude, scarfed, and cheekboned Holmes with and without the ‘ear hat’ but the main thing it is not a story without John Watson. We don’t start with Young Sherlock and his time at school solving swimming pool murders. No. We start with sad grumpy PTSD Dr Watson who discovers the friendless Holmes.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or somesuch.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or some such.

Of course, the crime solving adventures were always from Watson’s point of view as he was Conan Doyle’s narrator. Watson was represented as close enough to the every-man to translate the marvel that is Holmes for the rest of us.

The point is that this Sherlock’s Dr Watson is a lot less every-man and yet remains our guide to Holmes, because almost instantly there is friendship between these seemingly broken-ish people. There is frustration and puzzlement too, but mainly friendship.

Any military surgeon is no slouch in the smart stakes, they just have a narrower focus than Holmes, what with his blog enumerating the eleventy billion types of paint chips or ash or whatsits. Thus, this Watson is practical and emotionally intelligent and short-tempered, especially with Holmes. I like Martin Freeman’s take on him: his loyalty, outward self-sufficiency and uncertain and resentful vulnerability. And I think Freeman has the more difficult role. I like how his Watson notices the emotional stuff and even more I especially like how Molly Hooper notices the stuff Watson misses.

I appreciate these contrasts between them because it means this series is more about the development of their friendship and less about crime solving. It should stay that way, too, even if future episodes (?) have to negotiate Watson’s family life. I especially note how Mary Watson and Sherlock are equals and therefore able to be friends. Hopefully, there will be more of this dynamic, baby or toddler or now more likely teen Watson, notwithstanding.

Mary’s storyline had its cop out though. She doesn’t have friends. Despite being in hiding from her former life for a while, the only lasting connection she has made seems to be Watson (and then Sherlock).  I think this is wrong. And the same goes for Molly. Surely she and a friend would go down the pub and complain about insensitive geniuses? It doesn’t have to be a major part of the story, but an occasional allusion to the emotionally more rounded lives of other characters is ok, especially to contrast them to Sherlock, who ‘doesn’t have friends…just has one’.

Anyway, we need more stories of friendships. I don’t mean Carrie Bradshaw conversation set pieces that sees all issues through the prism of shoes and the boyfriend for unrealistically remunerated newspaper columns. Friends joke about important stuff and lament the mundane, whether personal, professional and the political. They complain and disagree and learn from each other. Friends sit at hospital bed sides and talk repeatedly about the same things. Sometimes they work together and often friends don’t. They hang out and do nothing or go on epic adventures or for brunch. They share secrets and maybe values. This shouldn’t be a mystery to story tellers and it shouldn’t be rendered shallow or worse, absent, by writers.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other but something must cement the connection, like gravity does.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other, but something must connect them, like gravity between planets and their moons.

Fiction generally doesn’t always greatly honour the importance of friendship unless it you’re thinking of 100 billion years ago with Cagney and Lacey, or as a point along a path to something else. That something is else the romance. This delayed but inevitable romance has been around since the intellectual sparring of Shakespeare’s Benedick and Beatrice became Maddie and David in Moonlighting or Harry and Sally in When Harry Met Sally or Mulder and Scully in the X Files or Castle or Bones or for an Australian example, Blue Heelers, or whatever.  It may start as a kind of friendship or rivalry in a workplace, but it’s always leading somewhere: mainly crime solving and suspected alien babies.

Elsewhere, friendships are cast in terms of distractions from the work, like in these randomly selected examples: Rosemary and Thyme and Scott and Bailey and Danger Mouse (with his Penfold, shucks DM).

Also who is Olivia Benson’s best friend in SVU? Where are Clara’s friends in Doctor Who? In fact the only Doctor Who episode that featured a friend plot was Blink. Even in this episode the friends joke about their own crime series Sparrow and Nightingale, and their friendship is over-written by romantic sub plots. Can main characters have friends?

Fiction doesn’t have to work like this. So I want to know, where are great modern female friendships on TV or film or literature, as subtle, entertaining and well-rounded as Sherlock and Watson?



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