Tag Archives: Sherlock

BBC Naked: the Clever Coverup that Reveals all!

The other night I finally had the opportunity to watch the final episode of the BBC’s Series 2 of “Sherlock” with my friend and colleague, the lovely and talented K. K and I have spent many a Saturday night at my apartment, watching and re-watching some of our favorite films, most recently BBC’s “Sherlock” (about which we are publishing a long-anticipated book chapter…watch this space for details). Well-equipped with equal measures of wit and wine, K keeps up a live descriptive video commentary. As she has frequently pointed out, my blindness shouldn’t rob me of essential (and sometimes non-essential) visual details. So adept has she become at transmitting visual information that, in true Sherlockian fashion, I have often declared, “I’m lost without my describer.”

This past Saturday night’s viewing of “The Reichenbach Fall,” in addition to the usual routine of giggling, pausing, rewinding, and giggling some more, was responsible for the coining of a new catchphrase about to take the world by storm. Partway through the episode, K drew my attention to two particularly enticing scenes. IN the first, John Watson (Martin Freeman) emerges from the shower at the Baker Street flat he shares with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).

K: John just walked into the room, and he just got out of the shower, and his hair is wet, and it’s really sexy. Oh, and he’s wearing a robe. Nothing else. Just a robe. You need to know that. It’s important.
Me: And he’s clearly naked under the robe, even though you can’t see anything, because, you know, this is the BBC.
K: Yes, exactly, and he looks really sexy. I mean, really. I just think you need to know. I don’t want you to miss out.

Scene Two: Sherlock and John are in their Baker Street flat, finishing dressing for a court appearance.

K: OK, so, get this. Sherlock and John are in the flat, and they’re finishing getting dressed for court. IN the same room. Sherlock is buttoning up his shirt, and John is adjusting his tie, and oh…Sherlock is totally undressing John’s reflection in the mirror with his eyes. So, they either were just naked, or they’re thinking about getting naked.
Me: They’re BBC naked!

And thus was coined the phrase “BBC Naked,” adjective- a state of appearance in which a character’s clothing is arranged in such a way as to suggest a prior state of nudity or to encourage the audience to visualize the character in a state of nudity to circumnavigate the awkwardness of actual televised nudity. Perhaps one of the best-cited examples of BBC naked is this scene:


Enough said. And you’re welcome.

Discussing the scene in an Interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” several years ago, Colin Firth (whose dripping Darcy has become iconic among fans and scholars of Austen alike) revealed that in the original script, Darcy dives into the lake completely naked. “But,” Firth pointed out, “the BBC didn’t consider that acceptable…so, then in the end I thought, well, what’s second most spontaneous to taking all your clothes off and diving into a pond? And I suppose, really, not taking any of them off.” Thus the image of him emerging from the lake to confront Elizabeth Bennet, dripping and distinctly flustered, while intended to lend an air of propriety to the sexually-charged scene, had precisely the opposite effect.

Hence my assessment of the above “Sherlock” scenes as prime examples of the BBC naked strategy, particularly in scene two. The ritual of dressing together is sumptuously sensual. If John and Sherlock are not dressing after an episode of intense lovemaking (which K and I have in fact theorized is the case), the depiction of dressing together intensifies their level of intimacy and comfort with one another, which, sexualized or not, is an oft-inevitable result of sharing domestic spaces and routines.

Now, of course, having coined this catchphrase, I am presented with a daunting task, because with great power comes great responsibility. It is now my mission to re-watch every BBC series to which I have ever been exposed to seek out examples of “BBC nakedness,” which extensive list will serve as evidence for introducing the term into popular discourse. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

BBC1’s Sherlock

This past week I had the opportunity to view the first season of BBC1’s new series “Sherlock”, which, in short, features everyone’s favorite consulting detective and his faithful sidekick in the 21st century. As a Victorianist, I was intrigued about how this would work, but on a completely non-academic note, delicious Britishness is always welcome to a starved American anglophile.

Having only watched each episode once (so far), my comments are pretty generalized, sprinkled with some rather interesting observations made during the shows with the friend who introduced me to the series. For me, at least, the plots of the cases, though certainly interesting, were secondary to the unfolding relationship between Sherlock and John; the writers make no secret of the fact that they’re teasing out an oft-overlooked romantic and/or homoerotic element of this friendship, and it is, I think, done tastefully (deliciously so). One can certainly ignore the hints, but they’re there if you choose to observe them (i.e. the suggestive addressing each other by their first names–something that never occurs in the original stories, primarily because Victorian gentlemen typically addressed one another by their surrnames).

I definitely want to watch each episode again before I can really draw my conclusions, but I felt the need to put my initial reaction in writing. Generally speaking, what intrigued me most was how the series calls into question the way that we categorise the relationship between John and Sherlock: are they lovers, or is it a “romantic friendship”? (Tangentially, it’s delicious that the series is addressing something so taboo for the Victorians). I think the initial response would be to read the homoerotic subtext, and while one could certainly do so, this would imply that there can’t be romance between two men, not to mention our difficulty in separating the dominant/submissive roles in a relationship from gender–the notion that dominance is characteristic of the male in a relationship, and submissiveness characteristic of the female. Sherlock is undoubtedly the dominant one in the relationship, and even I found myself slipping and referring to him as “masculine” and John as “feminine” because it’s just a knee-jerk reaction; without meaning to, I automatically tried to analyze their relationship and make sense of it within a heteronormative framework. In general, we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the possibility that dominant and submissive roles can exist independently of gender roles.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the contemporary setting works quite well, mostly I think because there’s no time-travel involved; it’s as if the characters were created to exist in the 21st century, which still takes considerable imagination and creativity to pull off. Admittedly though, since I grew up on the original stories, there were several jarring moments: seeing the London streets full of cars, Sherlock comunicating via text rather than employing the irregulars–though he does use them in the third episode because, despite the advancements we’ve made in technology, the boys are still the most efficient and unobtrusive way to have ears and eyes all over the city.

In short, it’s an innovative way to make the stories accessible to a 21st century audiance, and it’s an interesting coincidence that Doyle’s Dr. Watson is a military man who’s served in, of all places, Afghanistan. Highlighting that element of the original character is something that would certainly resonate with the viewing audience.

I’m certainly going to need to watch each of the three episodes again before writing up a more detailed reaction, but my appetite has certainly been whet, and I’ll be curious to see how the American audience will respond when it airs here in October.