03 October 2012

Doyle Delights: Less delight, more dull--CBS's Elementary falls short

Last Thursday night, the 27th of September I spent one hour being bored.  Bored. Bored. Bored. But, I had to watch.  It was Sherlock Holmes! One of the most delightful British delights. Yes, I watched the latest reincarnation of the world's most famous detective.

And, boy is he famous! In an earlier blog, I wrote about the resurgence of Holmes via the Downey Jr./Law Warner Brothers movies and the Cumberbatch/Freeman BBC series.  American television has now decided to throw their deductions in the ring with CBS's Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as the great detective and Lucy Liu, as a female "Joan" Watson.  Good news:  Elementary is not BBC's Sherlock.  Bad News:  Elementary is not that great of a television show.

At its core, Elementary is an American police procedural made for an American audience.  So, my beef is why call the character Sherlock Holmes at all?  The only things Sherlockian about the show is Miller's British accent, a brief mention of beekeeping, and a police captain called Tobias Gregson.  Bringing this Holmes to New York City and "modernizing" him in this way has stripped the character of Sherlock Holmes to an unrecognizable, unimaginable, and uninteresting detective.  Canonical (and well adapted on-screen Holmes') are far different from this warm, humanistic Holmes.  Elements of this Holmes simply seemed off.  Holmes does eventually become a warmer person (over 50+ stories and 4 novels) but it is does not happen until later, and its moments are fleeting.  Holmes would have never said that he hates it when he's right, on the contrary, he loves it!  He does not "spare feelings", he is brutally honest.  I certainly don't consider myself to be a Sherlockian canon purist, but this one strays a bit too far for me.  

Having a Sherlock Holmes, there must be a Watson.  John or, in this case, Joan...it didn't really matter to me. A female Watson works, it's fine; however, once again when an adaptation goes too far from the original source then something isn't right.  Joan Watson is certainly not Dr. John Watson in more than their difference in gender.  One: she is no longer a doctor.  Watson needs to be a doctor, in some capacity.  I just didn't buy the "sober companion".  She has no military background.  Watson needs a military experience, Watson needs to be ready for their adventures, if there are any "adventures" in Elementary.  These two main pieces of Watson's character have been taken away, not to the detriment of the show, but to the detriment of the character.  As with Holmes, when one takes away the essential elements of a character there is no reason to call them those names.

Luckily Elementary's Sherlock Holmes has a British accent.  Then his name might best be Greg House.  Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes is by far the least traditional Holmes I've ever seen on screen.  Un-kept with a five-o-clock shadow certainly doesn't fit my image of the gentleman that is Sherlock Holmes.  It is just the pilot, but Miller didn't quite seem comfortable with fast-paced dialogue and seemed to make odd, erratic movements appear unatural.  There are some actors that can pull off fast-paced dialogue (i.e. David Tennant's and Matt Smith's  Doctors 10 and 11, or even Rathbone's, Brett's, Downey Jrs., and Cumberbatch's Holmes').  Unfortunately, it felt as if Miller was trying too hard.  Liu is the type of actress that could play a Holmes-type character.  I felt she was too limited in the "sidekick" role, and as it turned out made her own interesting deductions.  She is definitely more than a conductor of light and that may prove to be a problem as well.  In the end, Miller and Liu's performance did not convince me of an immediate friendship that Holmes and Watson shared.  It is likely one that will grow over time.

If Elementary brings new readers or brings people back to the canon, then I couldn't be any happier.  But, will the differences be too much?  Will readers wonder why Holmes is in London?  Why Watson is a male and ex-military? Why isn't Gregson in more stories?  Time will only tell.     


  1. I liked the pilot episode better. The second one is was a big disappointment.

    Lucy Liu is still the best thing about this show.


    1. The pilot was a big enough disappoint for me. So, will you hang in there for a third?

      My local PBS airs the Granada series at the same time slot as Elementary. No contest of what to watch. The last episode aired was 'The Dying Detective' and I loved it. There was much added to the Granada version, but it worked!

  2. I see your point about Sherlock, but I’m not a fan of the character itself, so the grotesque mismanagement of the character’s beloved characteristics doesn’t bother me. I’m guessing CBS is counting on a lot of other people who don’t read or watch BBC, like me. I tend to watch TV on my lunch breaks at DISH, using the Dish Online website. I was glad when I saw that the “Elementary” pilot was on there, because I heard about it and wanted to see it, only I don’t have time at home. Now that I watch TV, my lunch is a great time to relax and get away from the pressure.