Is anyone else sick of the jerk genius?
You know the one. He’s unprofessional, lazy, selfish and rude, and even makes frequent sexist and racist remarks against the people around him, but that’s OK, because he’s a genius. He’s the best doctor/detective/scientist around, so everyone will put up with his jerkitude. Respect for others is the foolish pastime of the less intelligent.
We’re clearly meant to admire these (exclusively male) characters, or at least be amused by their social ineptitude. Their dismissive attitude to others, and especially their sexist jokes to others, are aspirations. They’re geniuses, observant and intelligent. They are just telling it like it is!
Which is one of the reasons I really love Sherlock Holmes in new CBS drama, Elementary. Yes, he’s a genius, and yes, he’s kind of a jerk at times. But he isn’t allowed to get away with it. His rudeness, his laziness… these are clearly character flaws, and his (female!) partner isn’t afraid to call him on his nonsense. And in return, he says things he shouldn’t, but he also respects her, he listens to her, and he even apologizes for things that he does. He isn’t a genius running rampant in the city, above the concerns of all the other silly humans. He’s an intelligent, observant, but flawed human, and he has to follow the same laws of decency as the rest of us.
Not only does Elementary modernize the story by partnering Sherlock with an Asian-American woman, it also allows them to actually be partners, with different strengths and weaknesses, different knowledge bases, and a complete unwillingness to take the other’s crap.