Revenge of the Eccentrics

From 1984 to 1994, Jeremy Brett played Sherlock Holmes on a British TV series that ran in the US on PBS.  Brett’s Sherlock was the definitive curmudgeonly, genius, eccentric, opium-smoking hero of Sir Authur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries.  According to Wikipedia:

Brett was obsessed with bringing more passion to the role of Holmes.  He introduced Holmes’ rather eccentric hand gestures and short violent laughter.  He would hurl himself on the ground just to look for a footprint, he would leap over furniture or jump on the parapet of a bridge with no regard for his own personal safety.

Brett, like the mythical Holmes, struggled with life.  His parents made him change his name, so he wouldn’t embarass the family.  He suffered from dyslexia.  While playing Holmes, he was in and out of mental institutions, struggling with manic-depression.  He was also bisexual.  His portrayal of Holmes was brilliant.  I loved this show and it is still reshown frequently on local PBS stations.

Several Holmes-styled characters have appeared on television lately, the two most memorable ones are on the Fox Network.  Gregory House, MD, is much like Sherlock, except he is a doctor (dianostician) instead of a private detective.  The misanthropic House (played by exceedingly well by British actor Hugh Laurie) is every bit as ill-tempered as Holmes.  And he also has an affinity for drugs.  Hopefully, Hugh Laurie’s life is not quite as convoluted as Jeremy Brett’s.  I’m not a big fan of medical shows, even medical mysteries, so this show doesn’t make my recommended list.

The other Fox drama with a Sherlock-style is Lie to Me, which also involves a curmudgeonly genius.  This time the eccentric, Cal Lightman, psychologist, is played by Tim Roth.  The mind doctor studies facial micro-expressions and body language to tell if a person is lying.  A very useful skill when going after bad guys.  Lightman is every bit as obnoxious as House or Holmes, but he has a daughter.  Lucky her.  The gimick of being a human lie detector works well and most of the plots on Lie to Me have been well stitched together.  For me, this show is a must-see.

Why do we as viewers have an obsession with social misfits?  What is our attraction to curmudgeonly behavior?  Why do we like eccentric geniuses?  I think many of us prefer to see investigators use their brains in solving cases rather than resorting to car chases and shootouts.  Holmes, House, and Lightman mostly uses their brains instead of their brawn. 

I think many of us struggle with fitting into the world around us, most of us feel like social misfits at one time or another, and would dearly love to abuse those who irritate us.  Most of us wish we were a lot smarter and could level the playing field with the world’s miscreants.  On TV, anyway, justice always seems to prevail.  And its fun to watch quirky characters insult their way to a satisfying ending.

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3 Responses to Revenge of the Eccentrics

  1. dor says:

    One of our deepest needs (IMO) is to feel known by others. This means, perhaps, a deep desire for others to see us for the gifts we offer and not simply how we are able to express ourselves. There is a desire for forgiveness of our rough edges and an appreciation of our depth.
    These characters (Holmes, House, Monk, Columbo) are at once out of touch with being human and representing deductive reasoning skills based, in part, on understanding human nature. They as characters also have other people around them who know them and love them in spite of their inability to pick up on/be concerned with social cues.
    How much like God it allows us as viewers to feel to cherish them, admire them and forgive them their flaws. Perhaps we wish for the same compassion from others.

  2. susan says:

    Reconsider “House” as a recommendation. It is an intriguing show. Dr. House reminds me of a guy I know in real life. Watch it, Roger. You’ll see what I mean.

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    Susan, I will admit that I’m a little awkward in social situations. Perhaps that is the reason I enjoy watching House, Lightman, Holmes, Colombo, Monk, etc. But to compare me to them is a flawed analogy for at least two reasons. First, each of the above has an extreme personality disorder. Hopefully, I’m not that far gone yet. (But give me time.) Second, each has brilliant powers of deductions, something I’m severely lacking. I’m too emotional.

    Dor, you are right when you say that the referenced eccentrics have people around them who provide an effective buffer. This allows them to partially function in society. These buffers, and we all have them, deserve more credit than they receive. Media critics always seem to point out that it is more difficult to play the straight man than the funny or quirky man. We all need to pay tribute to our straight men and women. At times, we must put them through living hell.

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