Elementary, My Dear Sherlock

sherlockelementaryYou’ll never guess what this one is about.

BBC began a delightful experiment in late 2010. They took the works of the great Arthur Conan Doyle and reinterpreted them, bringing his greatest character forward through the many decades  to 2010. Yes, I speak of the Great Detective himself, the immortal Sherlock Holmes. First introduced to the world on November 20, 1886 in the story A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes  and his friend through many adventures Dr. John Watson began a long and illustrious career, solving crimes beyond the ken of the inimitable Scotland Yard. As the decades passed, Sherlock Holmes became the standard of criminal deduction. The Great Detective saw all, observed all, and deduced an astounding amount. He has earned an ever elusive status of being his own adjective. (Come on. I can’t be the only one that describes a particularly incisive example of deductive reasoning as Sherlockian. (In fact, I know I’m not, I just can’t prove it right now because I read too much and can’t narrow down a source.))

The experiment bore tremendous fruit. It was so successful, CBS decided to throw their hat into the ring and create their own version of the same concept, because anything worth doing is worth doing twice. And here I am, a blogger on a site dedicated to genre related stuff that has already mentioned this subject once many moons ago. So what am I to do? I am nearly duty bound to express an opinion. So let’s get on with it,shall we?

Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, with Lucy Liu playing opposite him as Dr. Joan Watson. The premise is straightforward. Sherlock Holmes, in recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction, leaves London to take up his consulting detective business in New York. He has a contact in the NYPD, a captain who worked with Scotland Yard with the Great Detective before his fall. Sherlock sets about re-establishing his credentials on these shores, with Watson, his sobriety partner, following in his wake attempting to solve her own puzzle, the man named Holmes. Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes is energetic, eccentric, erratic, and brilliant.  Estranged from his father, living in , as he approximately puts it, “the most dilapidated of his (father’s)  five properties in New York,” Holmes spends his days raising bees, sharpening his prodigious skills, and waiting for the police scanner or a phone call to reveal his next great case. We are shown hints of a tragic past, tantalized with mention of an apparently deceased (yeah, sure.) woman named Irene Adler, and left wondering what is to come as Holmes works his deductive magic on crimes unsolved, or sometimes even unnoticed,  by the NYPD.

In Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title role opposite Martin Freeman’s John Watson, a doctor and veteran of the war in Afghanistan. The series begins at their introduction, with Watson looking for a flatmate in London while he recuperates from his traumatic experiences. When he looks up an old friend from school, he is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, and swept into his world as much by curiosity as financial necessity. We meet Mycroft Holmes, who occupies a minor post in the English government, watch Holmes trade banter with Inspector Lestrade, and learn that Scotland Yard, while appreciating Sherlock’s undeniable talents, holds him somewhat at arm’s length because of his nature. Holmes, as one detective observes, gets off on crimes. The weirder they are, the better he likes them. There is even the fear that one day waiting for the crimes to happen won’t be enough. One day they fear they’ll find a body on the ground and discover it was Sherlock Holmes that put it there. Cumberbatch’s Holmes is also energetic, but where Johnny Lee Miller is eccentric, Cumberbatch gives us obsessive. Instead of an erratic Lee Miller, we see an intense Benedict. They converge again at brilliant.

Elementary works very hard to make the show work. Sherlock Holmes is everything he is supposed to be, something of an outsider, but undeniably brilliant. He works through his cases with the panache one expects of the Great Detective, seeing each case as a collection of pieces waiting to be assembled. Miller captures his arrogance well, and handles his separation from we mere mortals competently. My biggest problem comes from the nature of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Lucy Liu is not to blame here. She is handling the character she has been handed very well, in my opinion. She is convincing as a former surgeon turned sobriety companion. She is believable as an intelligent woman doing a difficult job with a difficult client. Because of the nature of her relationship with Holmes, she is required to pry into his background. She can’t be believable if she doesn’t. But that isn’t the purpose of Watson. Watson is meant to be Holmes’  interface with the rest of us.

Sherlock, on the other hand, gives us a much more traditional take on Holmes and Watson. Martin Freeman’s Watson, by contrast, spends his time explaining  Holmes to the rest of the world, while giving Holmes insight on those niceties that escape the Great Detective. Not the motivations. Those Holmes grasps fully. It is the social mores that escape him, the direct interface between the genius of Holmes and the comparative mediocrity f the rest of the word.  In fact, Sherlock take pains to keep as much of the traditions of Sherlock Holmes as possible, given the temporal shift. If  faithfulness to source material is our sole guide, Sherlock is a clear winner.

At the end of the day, for me, it comes down to this. I enjoy Elementary. It is entertaining, stimulating and fun. On the other hand, the news that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are currently too busy to film the next season of  Sherlock sends shock waves through me. I am slavering to see what comes next, and their careers and other projects be damned.

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Sherlock and Watson, more than friends?

This fall we get a third adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic Sherlock Holmes. To go along with Benedict Cumberbatch’s tone perfect modern day Sherlock and Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr.’s over the top movies comes Elementary, staring  Jonny Lee Miller as the famous sleuth and Lucy Liu as his faithful companion, Watson. It will take place in a modern day New York, with Miller’s Sherlock favoring the bottle over the needle.  The modern day setting, already done to perfection in the BBC’s Sherlock, the switch to alcoholism and a relocation across the water may all end up being interesting changes.

But what interests me most is the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson.  It is great to see a woman of color given this classic role. My only real concern was how the relationship between Holmes and Watson would be affected by the change.  In some ways a female Watson can bring new and exciting dynamics into the strange, symbiotic partnership. Further, it can and hopefully will explore a platonic relationship between two members of the opposite sex. Too often we see these kinds of pairings drawn to exploring some kind of romantic interest between such characters.  Yet, Sherlock Holmes is the antithesis of this.  He is an almost asexual character, and is thus all the more interesting as an exploration of a true partnership between a man and a woman that has no basis in attraction or sexuality, and all to do with capability, trust, and teamwork.

I don’t see how the series can match up against the current BBC version (and nothing will top the Granada series with Jeremy Brett for strict adaptations). But the BBC version only has a few episodes per year, extended mini-movies though they may be, so there is a place for another Sherlock. I’m not convinced this is it, but I might give it a chance just to see a unique, complex, non-romantic relationship between a man and a woman on television.  And thus, I am happy to hear Lucy Liu explain to Access Hollywood that she does not see a romantic future for Holmes and Watson on Elementary.

Access Hollywood chatted with the stars of the drama at Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego on Thursday, where they talked about the possible sparks between their characters.

“There’s definitely going to be a chemistry between them,” Lucy explained. “But, I don’t know if they’ll ever really connect in that way.”

Since the co-stars have only shot one episode of the show, the actress admitted their future is uncertain.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen right away,” she said of any potential romance.

Let’s hope it doesn’t happen at all.

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