Review: New drama is anything but ‘Elementary’
I have a confession, as a huge fan of BBC’s ‘Sherlock,’ I was predisposed to hate everything about this show. I went in expecting to be underwhelmed and annoyed at every turn. I mean, come on, a female Watson? What’s next? A female doctor on ‘Doctor Who?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some misogynistic anti-feminist or anything, but I am a literary purist. If all of a sudden someone wanted to adapt The Lord of the Rings for TV and decided Merry was now going to be Mary, I don’t think I’d be the only person thinking being paralyzed and eaten by Shelob would be less painful.
But it wasn’t just my snobbish literary tastes that had me guffawing at the mere premise of the show. No, there’s a reason the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” exists. So when I first heard that the folks over at CBS were developing a new show based on the character of Sherlock Holmes and that they had decided to make John Watson a miss Joan Watson, I scoffed and pulled out my copy of The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes and muttered under my breath to absolutely no one about American television and destroying the classics.
But that wasn’t all that had me up in arms about the show. Shortly after the news of ‘Elementary’ broke came the alleged remarks made by ‘Sherlock’ star Benedict Cumberbatch about how he did not “feel threatened by [‘Elementary’],” which, of course, was very quickly followed by a clarification in which Cumberbatch said he was misquoted (obvi, Cumbersnatch is perfect, everyone knows that).
But whether or not Cumberbatch called ‘Elementary’ star Jonny Lee Miller a home-schooled jungle freak that’s a less hot version of himself, I don’t care. I do not care one bit if Miller has ever felt personally victimized by Benny, because now that I’ve seen the pilot of ‘Elementary,’ I realize all my hemming and hawing was for naught.
“Elementary’ more closely resembles ‘The Mentalist’ than it does ‘Sherlock.’ The show is not a literal adaptation the way Steven Moffat’s ‘Sherlock’ is; it more closely resembles a police procedural than anything. And I think that was a smart move on the part of the producers, for if you’re going to create another adaptation while there’s still another version – and a very widely praised adaptation at that – currently airing, then you’ve got to do something to set your version apart.
And I quite like Jonny Lee Miller’s depiction of our favorite literary detective. But then again, sometimes I think that almost any Brit could mumble a bunch of words and I’d fall over, so what do I really know? If I have any problem with the acting on the show it would be with Miss Joan Watson herself, played by Lucy Liu. And I’m not saying Liu isn’t any good, in fact, I think she plays Watson as calm and understated and she seems to have the exasperated demeanor down. I just think it will take quite some time for me to adjust to the idea of a female Watson, especially when you consider that Holmes and Watson are one of the original bromances of popular culture. And you guys know how much I love bromances.
But, in all truth, ‘Elementary’ and ‘Sherlock’ are actually very different, and if the pilot is any indication, I think there is a lot of opportunity for ‘Elementary’ to grow as its own show. By choosing to not make the show a literal adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, the possibilities are endless and the potential to explore outside those confines gives the show at least a fighting chance. There is no obligation to stick to known character backstories (and if you watch the pilot, you’ll see that they start right out the gate developing new ones for these versions of Holmes and Watson), and there’s no requirement that the writers introduce Moriarty or Mycroft or any other prominent characters in any specific amount of time.
Whether or not I watch ‘Elementary’ every week has yet to be seen. I’ve got a packed Thursday evening TV schedule and I’ve never been a big procedural fan. I crave the character drama that comes with serialized shows, but my love for Sherlock Holmes might mean I’ll check in every once in awhile. And if you’re Thursday nights aren’t as packed as mine, I suggest you do the same.
Note: Photo courtesy of CBS.