It’s elementary, my dear Joan
CBS takes on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in their new series
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 16:09
Sherlock Holmes seems to be getting around quite a bit lately—multiple blockbuster movies starring Robert Downey Jr., a wildly popular modern BBC adaptation “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch and now “Elementary,” one of the latest additions to network television’s fall lineup. “Elementary,” which stars Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller, is another modern adaptation, this time set in New York, where Holmes (Miller) plays a recovering alcoholic recently let out of rehab, partnered with the very sober Joan Watson (Liu). Set to premiere Thursday, Sept. 27, the pilot episode certainly piqued viewer interest.
Fans of the BBC show were up in arms over a similar modern American version produced so shortly after the British version gained a large following. Even Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes in the British adaptation, expressed concerns over the casting, telling TVLine in an interview, “If I were the [producer], I’d be frightened of the dynamic of male friendship that you’d lose, because that is obviously the bedrock of the books as well.”
It appears that a surprisingly large number of people are afraid that a female Watson would ruin the pure, holy friendship that exists between the two lead characters—as apparently it is impossible to have a close platonic relationship between male and female professionals (I’m looking at you, Mulder and Scully). But fear not, fans of “Sherlock,” two modern remakes of Doyle’s works can exist at the same time without the Internet exploding. They can also both be good—very good, in fact—and it is even possible to enjoy both without feeling guilty about sharing your allegiance with both adaptations.
“Elementary” airs on CBS, and CBS knows what it does well—crime shows. They certainly stick to their guns here, perhaps even a bit too much in places, as the visuals, though beautiful, can feel like you’ve seen them before in “CSI” or “Cold Case.” The dialogue is sharp and the plot is well-wrapped, but this is not where “Elementary” shines brightest; that privilege falls with the cast and the characters they play.
Yes, Watson is a woman. Not just a woman, but a woman of color, and this does freshen up the dynamic in ways that more people would do well to pay attention to, rather than wasting all of their focus on the threat of “sexual tension.”
In one scene, Holmes apologizes to Watson, both genuinely and directly. Typically, audiences are expected to accept and even fawn over the rude actions of the dysfunctional Holmes with the understanding that he is a “misunderstood genius,” as though this gives him full rights to treat those around him like the “idiots” they are. But this is not the 19th century anymore, and while audiences may accept these actions out of habit, such rudeness in the real world would not elicit such complacent reactions. The privilege that always allowed Holmes to get away with this, though still existent, is acknowledged here. Watson is no pushover, and when she calls Holmes out, he listens.
Finally, this is a modern adaptation that addresses how a man like Holmes would have to function in a world that would not part for him like the Red Sea, and the end result is a character that is, as you may expect, a different type of Holmes.
In addition to Liu, other cast members of color include Manny Perez and Jon Michael Hill, making “Elementary” a much more accurate depiction of New York than other recent shows like “Smash” and “Girls.” This fresh casting could prove interesting in the coming months as the show develops, but for now, it marks a solid first foray into the new fall season that shows more promise than many of its peers.