Does Elementary Cut The Mustard?
Posted on Thursday September 27, 2012, 16:46 by Stephen Carty in Small Screen
If, like me, you can’t get enough of the BBC’s addictive-as-heroin Sherlock (seriously third season, hurry up), then you probably aren’t holding out much hope for CBS’s American interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle's source material. Putting aside the brilliance of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ version for a moment, there’s also the little matter of Guy Ritchie’s big-screen interpretation, meaning that Elementary faced the potential problem of Arthur Conan Doyle fatigue. Take into account the poor track record of Americanisations of British shows, and things weren’t looking too good.
But all in all though, the pilot isn’t too bad. Undeniably, it plays like a fairly standard cop procedural and you get the feeling that future episodes will quickly move into the tried-and-tested case-of-the-week format, but it’s nowhere near the disaster many of us feared. While showrunner Rob Doherty’s script doesn’t offer up too many surprises (anyone who watches any of the 217 variations of CSI will have little trouble guessing the culprit), there’s enough here to keep me curious (for now) and interested in seeing the second episode.
Perhaps surprisingly, the main reason for this is Jonny Lee Miller. The surprise was not because I don’t rate him as an actor (I do), but because of how popular the other current interpretations are. While he’s not as compelling as Benedict Cumberbatch or as bankable as Robert Downey Jr., Miller somehow makes the role his own. Far less antisocial, alien and borderline sociopathic than Cumberbatch’s, Miller’s version is less of a limitlessly-intelligent super-deducer, yet this actually works in the show’s favour...
Okay, so this . makes him less special too, but it’s nice that this Holmes’ deductive reasoning is less far-fetched than the heightened detective work we see on Sherlock. Now, before you burn the internet down in protest, let me clarify that I love Moffat’s occasionally outlandish explanations (“Your phone is scratched – it must have been given to you by an alcoholic!”), but more believable explanations are a welcome change of pace. That said, when we meet Miller’s version (teensy-weensy spoiler ahead) he’s memorising TV dialogue. Sherlock Holmes? Really? Memorising TV dialogue? Given that there are several televisions on at once, he’s clearly trying to practice memory multi-tasking (or something), but doesn’t Sherlock ignore anything which is unrelated to the case at hand and, therefore, unimportant?
So what else is new? Well, most obviously, the sleuthing has been moved to New York. Here, Holmes (played by Miller, still best known as Sick Boy from Trainspotting) is a recovering drug addict who now lives in Manhattan after some problems in London. While deciding to return to work as a consulting detective for the NYPD (who accept him rather easily, I might add), he’s given a “sober companion” in the form of - yup you guessed it - his trusty partner-in-crime-detection Watson. Oh, but here’s the thing, this Watson is a woman
Unfortunately though, while the Watson-as-a-woman variation could’ve put a fresh spin on the enduring Holmes legend, here it feels very much like a gimmicky, box-ticking attempt at appealing more to a female demographic. Of course, it doesn’t help that Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson isn’t particularly interesting or likeable (fair play she’s hiding a traumatic past, but crack a smile!), replacing the usual bromance buddy with a spiky babysitter. With no visible signs of chemistry between the two, it’s a relief then that the producers have apparently promised that Elementary will not, under any circumstances, attempt a will-they-won’t-they romance between them. Let’s see if that’s still the case when ratings dwindle.
But what about you readers? Are you looking forward to CBS’ Americanisation of Conan Doyle’s classic? Or is moving the action to New York an elementary mistake? Regardless, the game’s afoot...
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Posted on Friday September 28, 2012, 15:30
I agree, it was ok. Nothing brilliant but for now Miller's interpretation is keeping me interested. And, as a huge Benny & Joon fan, it's nice to see Aidan Quinn too.
Charles B. Potatoes
Posted on Friday September 28, 2012, 16:06
If it's a British show it's 'series' dammit. Not season.
Posted on Friday September 28, 2012, 17:13
Oh. God. No. Sherlock Holmes is British. Bri. Tish. The US has so many wonderful shows and so much culture to draw on. So fuck. Off.
Posted on Friday September 28, 2012, 18:16
The reference to "this must have been given to you by an alcoholic"! is from study in Scarlett talking about Watson's pocket watch and referring to his late alcoholic brother, so again Moffat using Doyle's writing to make a superior script and little gems for the Conan fodder fan to hoover up.
Posted on Friday September 28, 2012, 19:26
Joan Watson? Might as well be Samantha Gamgee. Pants. BC and the Moffinator rule.
Posted on Saturday September 29, 2012, 14:31
Thought it was great. Caught my attention in the crucial first 10 minutes and had me looking forward to episode 2 after 20 mins. It will of course now be cancelled at episode 13.
Posted on Sunday September 30, 2012, 15:03
Posted on Monday October 1, 2012, 11:52
I gotta disagree on Lucy Liu not selling it. I liked her professional demeanour and her "take no crap" attitude. Sure it was sedate and easy to warm to but then you had the coda where they watched Baseball together and suddenly you saw her in her comfort zone. She was calm, she was having fun, she was teasing Holmes. It was her at her best in the episode. But throughout she was feeling her way around the strong presence of Holmes, he was out there, brash, consistently rude and passive aggressive. It felt like she was just carving what she as supposed to be to this man rather than herself. I thought acting wise she did a really nice job, she didn't oversell it which is something I worried about with Lucy Liu, but the more I think about it the more I liked her performance.
Also, Jonny Lee Miller was aces. Everything else I could probably do without.
Personally, I don't think it was as good as the critics are declaring, but they say it has earned it's potential, it wasn't terrible, it was almost good. But what really defined this and what really makes Sherlock a bit better for me was the unabashed fanboyism that was present in the British version. It was fun, it was playful, it was cramming as much in as it could. But it was a completely different format and approach. All the same I will probably always prefer Sherlock but Elementary does have potential. I'm curious to see if it develops or continues to disregard the mythology concerning Sherlock Holmes through the series. Either way it'll be interesting, if not as fun, to watch.
Posted on Friday October 5, 2012, 14:10
I am an example of someone with Holmes fatigue. I've already accepted Downey Jr/Law and Cumberbatch/Freeman... a third duo is too much. Especially as it involves Lucy Liu, an actress that has rubbed me the wrong way since 'Ally McBeal.' But even if anyone else had been Watson (who is actually my favourite character in the first two new versions), I'd still be over yet another new take on Holmes. Enough. Do like Spider-man, and wait 10 years before you retread into Baker St.
Posted on Friday October 5, 2012, 14:12
@DanTDavies Johnny Lee Miller IS English
Agree with most of the positive stuff above. I didn't have a problem with Lucy Liu - a female version of Watson was never gonna be easy.
I'm just very aware of the way US TV operates, in that we could be getting this every week for the next 6 months and I'm worried we'll be sick of it well before then... I'm guessing this is why Moffat is only willing to do his stuff as a three TV movie per series kind of thing...???
Posted on Saturday October 6, 2012, 20:44
agree with "kisswithatear", Lucy Lui was good, and I don't think she's meant to be a barrell of laughs. I didn't feel she was gimmicky. It adds something new to the chemistry between holmes and watson.
I just watched the pilot. I thought it was compelling and Jonny Lee Miller owned it, adding some grit and vulnerability to the role. Relocating to new york was not too jarring, given the Englishness of Miller.
Although still not as good as BBC Sherlock. Cumberpatch nails the character like no other. I prefer Miller to the farce of Downey Jr pointlessness...
this first episode will keep me watching