There is not a single person in existence that does not know who Sherlock Holmes is. Not only does everyone recognize his name, but everyone understands his most basic characteristics; that he is a hyper aware detective with a long suffering partner named Watson. A charter created in literature in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has permeated our popular culture through books, film, and TV for centuries, so much that he is a clear reference point for countless other characters and projects even when it is not an outright “Sherlock Holmes” production.
And now there is Elementary, TV’s latest Holmes incarnation in the modern world. (House was the first, if slightly less literal, take on Holmes.) In the series Johnny Lee Miller takes on the task of recreating Holmes while Lucy Liu becomes the first female Watson. And those are literally their names. Which brings me to my first point of contention; does the Sherlock Holmes that we recognize in culture today, not exist in this Elementary universe? He is a consulting detective with a drug problem named Sherlock Holmes being followed around by someone named Watson, yet no one says, “Hey that’s just like guy from all those books and movies! What a coincidence!” Therefore, I must infer that they are living in some sort alternate universe where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was just another foppish failing writer. The ramifications of that small concession, the books and movies and television shows that do not exist to these people, is astounding. Trying to figure it all out gives me a headache much like when I try to understand the logistics of Back to the Future. (Didn’t Marty’s dad ever think it was strange his son looked just like the kid his wife had a crush on in high school?)
Anyway, that small point aside, Elementary was quite enjoyable. It’s a basic crime drama/buddy cop/socially awkward anti-hero narrative, but still manages to not feel stale. There is a strong similarity to The Mentalist as well. Although, isn’t Patrick Jane just another interpretation of the original Holmes? Even though that character wouldn’t even exist in the Elementary world. The headache is starting again. Also, the crime in the pilot, while providing excellent cause for keen observation, seemed a bit far-fetched and just a tad contrived. Luckily, the cast is well equipped to tackle what could easily have been major pitfalls in lesser hands.
There is a lot of pressure on Miller to interpret a character that is so easily identifiable, but he brings a sort of snarky charm to it. Liu is strong as always, but has more room to make Watson her own as the first female to take on the role. Side Note: they obviously made Watson a woman in an attempt to create a “will they or won’t they” romantic relationship, but no matter how successful that is (and I think it will be) it will never match the sexual tension of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. End of Side Note. Aiden Quinn was also a lovely surprise as the gruff but lovable police captain.
Elementary isn’t drawing inspiration from anything that every other successful crime drama hasn’t drawn from. They may be doing so with less subtly, but the end result is just as entertaining.
Elementary airs Thursdays at 8/9c. on CBS.
– Devin Mainville