Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's Elementary, my dear readers.

Let's just get this out of the way: yes, clearly CBS made Elementary because of the success of BBC's Sherlock. I know a lot of you out there are not going to be able to get over that. But if you can stomach another modern show featuring Sherlock Holmes, I think you'll find something to enjoy.

Elementary isn't going to go down in the history books as anything particularly ground-breaking, but for a crime procedural it was pretty good. At least they cast a Brit in the role of Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller) and the explanation for his appearance in New York City is moderately interesting. Apparently Sherlock got into a little trouble with drugs back in merry old England, and his father has shipped him across the pond to allow for a new start in a new city. Daddy dear has also saddled Sherlock with a "sobriety companion" named Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu.

There are some nods to the source material; Joan Watson is a former surgeon who lends some expertise and humanity to Sherlock. They still work as "consultants" for the police, this time the NYPD led by Aidan Quinn who apparently worked with Sherlock on a case 10 years earlier.

And as for Sherlock himself? He's still the super observant detective extraordinaire he has always been. The show creators and Johnny Lee Miller made some smart choices along the way and I don't see anything in the performance that evokes Benedict Cumberbatch or even Robert Downey, Jr.  This Sherlock makes more of an attempt to get along with people and is clearly more understanding of social norms. But don't worry, he's not all touchy feely. At one point in the pilot he verbally harangues a rape victim and manages to yell in Watson's face on more than one occasion (when she keeps asking him to explain his deductions). I'm not a Conan Doyle expert so I can't speak as to how faithful the character is to the book Sherlock, but as a layperson the character was clearly recognizable as Sherlock Holmes.

The program itself is your standard CBS procedural, though admittedly the characters are more interesting than you'll find on similar shows. I've only seen the first episode, but I don't expect the murder mysteries to be the big draw here; the relationship between Holmes and Watson is the real reason to watch. And yes, Watson is now a woman. I assume the gender-swap was to allow for some heteronormative sexual tension, but there was blessed little of it in the pilot. Lucy Liu plays a very restrained Watson, but the character is clearly carrying some pretty heavy stuff and I think Sherlock will end up helping her as much as she is supposed to help him.

I'm sure a lot of people (at least in the geek fandom) are going to boycott Elementary because of Sherlock, but for my money I definitely have room in my heart and tv schedule for another Sherlock Holmes-inspired drama. This is a solid show with a great cast and an interesting concept and I'll keep watching.

Elementary airs Thursday evenings at 10:00 on CBS. The pilot is available online at CBS' website here.


BDC said...

I always like it when my favorite ex-Mr. Angelina Jolie gets work!

I liked the pilot and, having recently started reading the source material, my only concern is whether the character of Watson will suffer without the military background that seemed to shape him in the books. After Grey's Anatomy, I don't think any of us still think of civilian surgeons has rigidly disciplined in their personal lives.

PC said...

You know I had a hard time with this. I am spoiled by the BBC version but it just felt like another CSI/L&O crime procedural. And the first case felt a little weak.