Friday, September 28, 2012

Elementary.... Sherlock Holmes in 21st Century New York

When it was announced that CBS would be doing their own modern take on Sherlock Holmes (after the BBC wouldn't allow them to remake Sherlock) fans of Holmes were startled and alarmed. Especially when it was announced that Watson would be played by Lucy Liu. It certainly goes against tradition.
So was it worth all the kerfuffle?
In some respects no. In last night's pilot of Elementary, Lucy Liu proved herself very adept at being the every man foil to an unhinged detective. As the element people were most worried about, she was a pleasant surprise. From a design point of view, she also had a very good "look." I also don't mind the New York setting. It can work.
I suppose my main criticism of the show thus far (and I realize most network shows need to settle in over the first few episodes) is that it's sort of bland. Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes is an arrogant detective and recovering drug addict. Yes, he may have the capacity to be an interesting character, but he's not yet. Nothing is really screaming "Holmes" about him either. He keeps bees, that was the one token quirk they threw the audience last night. The possibility of Holmes' father is new to the pastiche genre and may have some possibility, but I'm still not convinced by the writing or Miller's portrayal of the character. He doesn't have the mystique or the charisma yet.
The NYPD is also really boring. So far we've seen Captain Gregson who worked with Holmes while he was abroad attached to Scotland Yard. Their history and relationship doesn't really read at this point. Detective Abreu seems like someone Holmes might rub the wrong way. In their first scene, Holmes disproves the Detective's assumptions about a crime scene. Yet, later in the episode he does Holmes' bidding with little trouble. Right now the police are just placeholders, filling a function, not real people with internal lives and the possibility for conflict.
I wish they hadn't advertised this as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. If they had changed everyone's names, I would have no trouble enjoying it as a new "consulting detective" show on CBS. We could have had a show that pays homage to Holmes in its inspiration instead of a "Sherlock Holmes" show that never quite delivers.
There is a good possibility that the show will find its footing and be quite decent. But nothing so far says it's Sherlock Holmes to me. Sherlock Holmes wouldn't have kinky ladder sex with a prostitute. I also don't believe that he would ever have a "temper tantrum" to the extreme he does in this pilot. His mind is always in control. He may do bizarre things, but it's for a purpose, a master plan. So far, I'm not certain Miller's Holmes is capable of the "long-game," if you will. How will he cope when a Moriarty is eventually introduced?
Some fans are rejoicing the fact that Miller is an attractive and competent actor that they can enjoy in the role for twenty or so episodes per season. Yes it's hard to wait a year and half for each set of three episodes from Sherlock, but they are more than episodes, aren't they? They're really mini-films. "A Study in Pink" held up side by side with this first episode creates a sad comparison. Really, there is no comparison. Elementary is.... HolmesLite. We'll be getting a decent, Sherlock Holmes-ish series in great quantity, but nowhere near the quality and detail of Sherlock.
So will I watch it? Probably. At least unless they do something that's unforgivable to me. It's just an entirely different beast from Sherlock.


  1. I wasn’t sure if I would like Elementary or not. I just watched the episode on my Hopper DVR late last night, and I’m impressed. First off, I like that Holmes has problems. It adds depth to his character, and it might even provide something relatable to certain audiences. A friend that works with me at DISH, who is a big (original) Watson fan, said she likes the twist in that of Lucy Liu. We may be witnessing a reshaping to the Sherlock Holmes franchise, whether we like it or not. My Hopper auto-records PrimeTime, so this won’t be a show I forget to set the timer for. Elementary should provide a solid 1st season, leaving us all waiting for it to return.

  2. I agree with your thoughts on Miller's portrayal of Holmes. Nothing unique there.

    Same with Liu's performance. She is the best thing about the show so far..


  3. Anon: I'm glad you enjoyed it. I by no means hope that the series does badly, I hope that it gets over its rough beginning and smooths out.
    Holmes is certainly one of the most flawed characters in literature. I don't think we can say RDj's Holmes or even Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes are shining examples of good citizenship. I'm just not certain about the particular direction they're starting off with in this series.

    Nice to hear from you again Buddy. Glad you also liked Liu's performance. We'll just have to hope for the writing and Miller to stand out more in the future.