Hugh Reviews Better Than Sex by Hunter S Thompson

In 1972, two years after his ‘Freak Power’ campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County was derailed by a rare moment of non-partisan hand-holding by the Democrats and the GOP, Hunter S Thompson penned what is probably his best work, Fear & Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. The work was originally serialised in Rolling Stone, a magazine whose relationship with Thompson had been launched by his aforementioned run at the sheriff’s office. The primary mobilising impetus for the epic undertaking that was a year on the campaign trail with Senator George McGovern was Thompson’s burning rancour for Richard Nixon, whom he considered to be evil in a fashion so fundamental as to be best understood in religious terms. Twenty years later, a slightly lesser malignance toward George Bush Senior and his Predecessor Ronald Reagan spurred Thompson into action again. This mini-Nixon, however, was not hateful enough to actually get the good Doctor out of his home and onto the trail; he covered the campaign via mojo-wire from his Woody Creek HQ based upon observation of cable TV and the feverish delirium that was the inside of his own head.

Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie Trapped Like a Rat in Mr Bill’s Neighbourhood is a fragmented collage of press-clippings and deranged personal correspondence penned by the gonzo journalist and sequenced by a pack of rabid starfish. (Each starfish had an item pinned to it; the pages appear in the order in which the starfish died). Thompson is perhaps most famous as the father of gonzo journalism, where the writer becomes so involved in the subject matter as to become the central figure in the story, and this book is a shining example of that process. Better Than Sex probably ends up this way because Bill Clinton was such a wet blanket. Hunter thoroughly disliked Clinton, as he had no sense of humour and was an overly political animal. The only reason Thompson got on board and lent his support to the Clinton campaign was that he couldn’t stomach another four years of Bush. Thompson had to become the central figure in this work or it would have been eye-achingly boring.

            Now, I am a huge fan of the Doctor’s work, largely as a result of his inimitable style. I would probably read his shopping lists were they made available to me. He is one of a small number of writers whose word-sequencing wizardry makes any topic enjoyable. That said, his coverage of the ’72 campaign was also full of information and wove a fascinating story. When I finished it I felt genuinely edified to have read it. Better Than Sex, not so much. It’s fun, but it’s also the first of Thompson’s works that I’ve found easy to put down, even in the middle of a chapter. It gets so lost in the Hunter S Thompson-ness of itself that it forgets to take you on a journey and point out the sights along the way. This is quite possibly due to the fact that unlike the ’72 effort it was never a cohesive series of articles, just a selection of loosely themed ravings.  I’d definitely recommend it to a Thompson fan if running low on other material, but if you’re not as addicted to his work as I am, stick to the classics.

The verdict: It’s still Hunter S Thompson, but it lacks the meat of some of his other work. 3 ludicrously obscene faxes to Ed Turner out of 5.


Hugh Reviews Sherlock

Many people entertain the notion that popular opinion is somehow a reasonable indication of merit, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (cough, GWB, cough). If you are one of these people, allow me to direct your attention to IMDb, specifically the ratings shows receive. The only thing revealed in the light of these star counts in that the majority of users of this service are deaf, blind halfwits in the direct employ of film and TV studios. Case in point: Sherlock, voted 9.1/10 by just shy of 73,000 sycophantic doorstops who’ve obviously never seen a genuinely good TV show in their lives. (Apology to actual doorstops, which provide a noble, selfless service every day of our lives, for this unflattering comparison.)

Sherlock is yet another entry in the ledger of fan-boy resurrections of classic literature. The book-keepers of this ledger are being forced to write in increasingly small print in order to fit the swelling number of entries on the pages and it seems to be causing some legibility issues, to stress the metaphor to the point of tears and then beat it over the head with a frying-pan while it’s blowing its nose in grief. Some of these adaptations have been nothing short of brilliant (e.g League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic, obviously)) and some have been poison-yourself-in-rage terrible (e.g League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the movie)). The trend goes back decades (I dimly remember a futuristic Sherlock Holmes cartoon from my childhood where Holmes is somehow transported into the future during his dive from the Reichenbach Falls) but has recently come close to representing a genre in itself. Sherlock is neither a particularly good, nor a particularly bad member of this family but, really, do not let its IMDb rating fool, it is not particularly good.

There have thus far been two seasons, each comprising three feature-length episodes. As a format, I actually quite like it, it allows a detailed story to be told in one sitting, relying on an emotional investment in the characters to bring repeat viewership rather than stringing you along with cheap cliff-hangers like a stripper wearing five sets of underwear. Okay, someone take the metaphor pot away from me, now, this is becoming gratuitous. I’ve recently heard some of Steven Moffat’s other projects coming under fire for trying to be a bit too clever all the time, which surprises me not one bit because it’s a significant problem in Sherlock. I suspect it wouldn’t be so much of an issue if he were a little better at it. In a sense a good Holmes story relies on being smugly clever but it really needs to be done well and Moffat tends to lose the thread to some degree or another leaving the whole thing to come off as about as clever as an insufferable teenager correcting your plurals by adding apostrophes.

Probably the worst thing about the series is the way the mysteries, and subsequent parlour scenes, are put together. There just aren’t enough breadcrumbs scattered through the plots, resulting in unsatisfyingly arbitrary endings. Not the stuff good mystery stories are made of. The series owes more to modern forensic investigation series (all of which should be gathered up in an pile in downtown Los Angeles and used as execution pyre for their creators) than to the classic mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and the like. Also, some of the plots (particularly in the 2nd season) are just dumb. D.U.M.B. (That’s an in-joke for those who’ve seen it. If you haven’t, don’t bother, the joke is not worth the 90 minutes you’ll never get back). Aside from the downhill slope that was the storytelling throughout the series, the greatest disappointment was Moriarty who was reduced to a melodramatic crime-addict with a serious speech impediment. He completely failed as a foil to Holmes, who desperately needs one given the bullish presence of his character.

Holmes himself was very well played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (of whom I am a great fan) was an equally enjoyable Watson. In fact, most of the major supporting characters were really good. With the exception of Moriarty, the ensemble was easily the best thing about Sherlock. The other strong point was the camera work and editing, particularly the panning, freeze-frames, and animations used to illustrate Holmes’ process. There was nothing at all new in the method but it was well executed. If everything else had been as good it would probably deserve its 9.1. Or at least a solid 8.

In the end Sherlock failed the most disappointing of all fails: the great idea, poorly executed. The first season was totally watchable and it did leave me wanting more, but the second season was rubbish and the final episode, which showed enormous promise with its basic premise, was the biggest disappointment of all. 2 deerstalker hats out of 5.