Welcome, once again to Stormy Petrels! While usually we will be more likely to post individual reviews due to our busy schedules, on occasion we will be lucky enough to do joint reviews.
We introduce today our first review: the episodes “The Slobbery Hound” and “A Dogged Expose” from the PBS television series Wishbone. The conceit of this series is that a small, well-read Jack Russell terrier imagines himself as the main characters in all his favorite books. These fantasies parallel events going on in modern day- or the 1990s- in the lives of himself and his owner, a middle-school kid named Joe. Wishbone covered many classics of literature, including two Holmes stories: The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Scandal in Bohemia.
Title: Wishbone, Episodes “The Slobbery Hound” and “A Dogged Expose”
Year: circa 1995/1996
Creators: Executive Producer Rick Duffield
Cast: Soccer the dog and Larry Brantley (voice) as Wishbone/Sherlock Holmes, Ric Spiegel as Dr. Watson, Sally Vahle as Irene Adler
“The Slobbery Hound” When Wishbone is blamed for neighborhood messes, he must find the dog who is the real culprit. Classic Work: The Hound of the Baskervilles
“A Dogged Expose” Samantha tries to figure out who is distributing embarrassing pictures of her. Classic Work: A Scandal in Bohemia.
Read on for our reviews…
Rating: 4 Orange Pips
I must first admit my bias: much of my introduction to classic literature was influence by Wishbone. I also have an emotional connection: my grandpa’s dog, a robust rat terrier, looks rather exactly like Wishbone. When I was growing up, it was common for kids to come up to our pup and call out “Wishbone!” Given that PBS stations were three out of about 7 stations we could get at my grandpa’s place, Wishbone was a show he was familiar with. When my grandpa passed a few years ago, we inherited his dog. My “puppy” is now 18 years old, and would probably shame me severely if I ever put him in a wee bowler hat. More is the pity.
Wishbone was likely my first introduction to Sherlock Holmes. As a first introduction for children, this is a fantastic place to start. In fact, I so associated Wishbone with Holmes that I confused another episode, featuring Dupin and the Purloined Letter, for a Holmes story. It took rediscovering Holmes to even realize my mistake. For cramming the plots of classic literature into about 15 minutes of a 30 minute program, the show does very well in capturing most of the essence of the piece, including the scary and sad parts. Re-watching this show for the first time in 10 years I am simply amazed at the actors who were able to dress in period garb and act in all seriousness to a wee dog in adorable costumes. And Make Kids Buy It. As an adult I am still totally charmed, even if some parts leave me in hysterical giggles.
While both episodes are intensely charming, and a good introduction to the characters and style of Doyle, they are very different. Of the two Wishbone Holmes adaptations, “A Dogged Expose” is superior as an adaption of the canon. I’d give three major reasons for this: one, “The Slobbery Hound” is rather early in Wishbone canon, so it’s possible it hadn’t quite gotten its footing yet. Secondly, the budget of the show was much more suited to London and the indoor sets of SCAN rather than the moors and manors of HOUN. While “SLOB” certainly has its eerie moments, in never quite reaches it’s potential. And third, and perhaps the most understandable, the short story of SCAN is much easier to fit into the prescribed episode time than does HOUN. Plots get cut, and some things are never fully explained. SLOB’s best bit- beyond the sheer snarkiness of Wishbone’s Holmes- is its Stapleton, who just oooooooozes EVIL. (As an aside, this actor would also play Prince John, Long John Silver, The Sherriff of Nottingham and Frollo, among others)
“A Dogged Expose” is nearly perfect within the constraints of the media. While both the stories lack Sufficient Watson, EXPO uses him better. The story is very close to canon, and surprisingly, doesn’t gloss over the implied naughty bits, correctly assuming that kids probably will just assume that Adler and the King had dated once. There are still flaws- the London set is sparse, the German accents are appalling, some of the British accents are also silly. But, EXPO does do a much better job at showing Holmes’ deductions and ingenuity. Given how well and succinctly Wishbone adapted SCAN I would have loved to have seen what they would have done with other Holmes short stories. My favorite bit is when Holmes comes in after having been the witness at the Norton wedding, and Watson cannot recognize him.
I don’t have much to say about the modern day bits- the links to the original stories are thin, but I can’t get myself to mind much at all. Nostalgia filter aside, I don’t think I ever got how snarky wee Wishbone was as a kid. I love it now! All in all, I truly enjoyed these, both as a Holmes fan and as a child of the 90s. While I would rate SLOB 3 pips, the excellence of EXPO moves this adaptation up to 4 pips for me. The shows make a great introduction to the Holmes stories for kids, and a fun treat for Sherlockians who could use a snarky terrier in their lives.
Canon Compliance: Middling for “The Slobbery Hound” and excellent for “A Dogged Expose.” What is great about most Wishbone adaptations is that while they need to cut quite a bit for time, they hardly ever ADD anything.
Most Awkward Moment:I would say the rushing of the middle act of SLOB. Actual plot is substituted for scenes of a be-deestalked Wishbone hiding out in Baskerville Manor. I find I couldn’t get myself to care because it was so freaking cute.
Most Awesome Moment: Wishbone/Holmes playing the wounded clergyman in EXPO. The voice and body language of Soccer (the dog who played Wishbone) here is fantastic.
Most Adorable Moment: The denouement of the Hound scenes in SLOB involves Watson giving “Holmes” some well deserved scritches. What fourth wall?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Title: The Slobbery Hound (SLOB)
Rating: 3.5-4 Orange Pips
General Comments: Slobbery Hound (or ‘SLOB’ as Hamishmd and I have humorously dubbed it) is nothing if not endearingly adorable. I have to admit that I found this particular adaptation surprisingly good, considering the ‘venue’ within which it is couched. I never had the opportunity to watch Wishbone as a child (though I knew of it and had always wanted to watch it), and thus had only the vaguest of ideas as to what I should expect. This isn’t to say that my expectations were particularly low (or high, for that matter), only that I had no pre-existing impressions upon which to base my interpretation. That being said, I rather enjoyed this. It is fun, engaging, light-hearted, witty, and pleasingly supportive of bookwormish tendencies. Anything that encourages children to take an interest in reading, particularly when it comes to classical literature, is liable to at the very least earn my respect.
Canon Compliance: No one can reasonably expect a thirty-minute children’s show starring a Jack-Russell terrier and just a handful of actors to produce a full-fledged reproduction of something as massive as Hound of the Baskervilles. Add to that the fact that this episode simultaneously contains a secondary, only marginally-related plotline and you’ll have to admit that the producers did a fairly respectable job of at least getting the general gist of the story across. The writers managed to keep with most of the original text’s core essence, while also very strategically shaving some of its more intense elements down to a somewhat less nightmare-inducing size. (Let’s face it, HOUND is not something most of us would think to categorize as a children’s story.) However, SLOB does feel a bit overly-truncated and leaves the viewer (or at the very least me) with a nagging sense of improper resolution. I get the impression that an attentive viewer might perceive that there is more to the [canon] story beyond what is portrayed here, even without familiarity with the original text. Furthermore, there is more ‘clue gathering’ and deduction to be found in the secondary plotline than within the ‘canon’-based plotline (where we might otherwise expect to find it), and there seems to be very little consistency between the two stories beyond the fact that both feature some sort of large, mysteriously elusive dog. Put more clearly, one story involves the false-accusation of a main character (Wishbone) in place of another (a very slobbery bloodhound); while the other is all about the extremes to which one individual (Stapleton) will go in order to forcefully obtain the possessions of another (Sir Henry). All in all, however, I haven’t got any particularly large bones to pick (*chortle*…‘bones’) with this episode. It is fun, fairly light-hearted, ridiculously adorable, and does provide a decent enough introduction to Hound of the Baskervilles, but could really have been better on the ‘accuracy’ mark.
Most Awkward Moment: That exceedingly melodramatic sequence where the camera sweeps in on Stapleton as he theatrically rips the artificial beard from his face.
Most Awesome Moment: Watson giving ‘Holmes’ a good scratch about the ears at the very end.
~ ~ ~
Title: A Dogged Expose (EXPO)
Rating: 4 Orange Pips
General Comments: Overall, I found this episode to be significantly more effective than SLOB, but every bit as adorable. The combination of the canon storyline (A Scandal in Bohemia/SCAN) and the secondary, ‘modern’ storyline was much more balanced and the link far easier to identify. Both SLOB and EXPO have given me the sense that the producers were making an effort to underscore not only the fact that reading is cool, but also provide a certain level of ‘real world’ comparison or applicability. For example, in EXPO we are presented with two parallel storylines both involving what is essentially the same theme: Blackmail. In both instances, the focus of said blackmail is the release (or threatened release) of a sensitive photograph. In both cases we are walked through first learning of the photograph’s existence, then trying to fox out its location/source, followed by a clever ploy to [peacefully] neutralize the threat. The overlap between these two storylines almost seems to be suggesting to us that books are not just good for reading, but also now and again for a little bit of ‘real world’ instruction. Not that we would want to find our children infiltrating other people’s homes and throwing smoke bombs through their windows, mind you, but I think you get my point.
Canon Compliance: I must admit that I was actually really rather impressed by the accuracy of this, given the obvious limitations. It seems to me as though the writers really made a solid effort to try and keep their interpretation as close as possible to the essence of the original text, without pushing either the canon plotline, or the secondary modern plotline over the edge. There are, of course, details missing, but what can you expect? As mentioned above, it’s tough to thread two storylines into one ca. half-hour episode and yet have them both make sense. There is only so much detail that can be squeezed into that time slot before things go to pot, and then there is also the fact that this is a children’s show. The transitions between these two plotlines are much cleaner in EXPO than in SLOB, and the reasons for pairing the literary scenario up with the modern scenario are much clearer. I could crack my copy of the canon open and nitpick my way through either of these episodes, but that would be severely unfair. Neither SLOB nor EXPO are intended to function as full-fledged cinematic adaptations and really should not be criticized as such. The goal of these filmings, as I have understood it, is to get children (and perhaps even some adults) interested in engaging with literature on their own. As far as I can tell, the writers have succeeded in reaching that goal, while simultaneously remaining respectfully true enough to the original text so as not to seem ‘sacrilegious’. Furthermore, I would also like to give ‘kudos’ to the actors who succeeded in convincingly pulling off portrayals of classic literary characters, while working with a non-human co-star. You would think Wishbone were, in fact, another human actor the way the other cast members work with him, and I have the utmost respect for that.
Most Awkward Moment: I can’t say that I have an answer for this. I was too preoccupied with how face-meltingly adorable it was.
Most Awesome Moment: I’ll just leave this here…