CBS’s new series, Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, as Holmes and Watson respectively, debuted on September 27th. There have been various accusations flying around the web that this series would be a rip-off of BBC’s modern adaption of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes mysteries. At one point, one of the BBC producers even threatened to sue CBS.
Is it? Yes and no. The short of it: I don’t think the BBC need worry about this adaptation. After seeing the pilot episode, it is very much in the vein of a tried and true big network crime procedural. Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is a softer, gentler one. Perhaps not as whip-smart or abrasive, his Sherlock is also less controversial and polarizing. Lucy Liu is serviceable as his foil, Joan Watson, who in this adaption is his trusty live-in “sober companion” to help him toward his transition to, what? Sobriety? Normalcy? Yeah, I don’t know. I deduce she’ll be living with him for longer than her contracted six weeks.
I don’t have any issues with this series. Or maybe I should say I have only major ones. None of which has anything to do with whether this series copies BBC’s Sherlock or that it’s a decent crime drama. It’s apparent both Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are putting in solid work.
However, I do have a major bone to pick with CBS and its team of Elementary writers. There are 2 things that are wrong with this series: 1) The writing has insane amounts of logical gaps, and 2) if you’re going to make a series like Sherlock, for f@#k’s sake, GO BIG OR GO HOME.
In the real world, if a father hires a “live-in companion” for his rebellious, drug-addicted rehabbed son who just so happens to be a single, attractive and brilliant doctor – like, come on, do I need to spell it out here? This is New York. There are things called out-patient clinics and other weird and far out things like, “family” who might step just as easily into the shoes of a “sobriety companion.” Another thing, you can get any manner of drugs and feed any vices in New York just as easily, or even more so, as you could in London. If you make Watson a woman, you can’t just ignore issues of sexual politics and maneuverings. Male-female relationships are different than male friendships. Sherlock cannot be meekly and politely indifferent toward Watson. If he’s so observant, why doesn’t he seem to have any particular special curiosity about her? She lives with him! He’s allowing her to tag along to see murders that reflect the evil nature of humanity. But hey, it’s ok, it’s practically like going to an art gallery or out for a coffee? That’s bizarre. I get the sense both JLM and LL are caged in their stultifyingly grim characters. As for the mystery part, well, it is ho-hum. You’ve seen CSI and Law and Order. Figure it out.
As for major networks like CBS, I contend the “safe” route isn’t always the best. I get the sense this series is going to be solid but dull. Elementary isn’t going to be particularly offensive, but nor will it be particularly great. If you are going to do it, do it right. Take risks. Dare for your shows and your actors and your writers to be and do more. I can tell when the series uses music by Passion Pit and Elvis Costello; you’re looking at me for your audience share. Well, if you want me, work for it. Then, come and get me. I’ll be waiting for this series to step it up. Smart people like smart shows. We will all be better off when you take the safety off.
Am I wrong about Elementary? Have I missed out? Convince me I’m wrong! Tell me in your comments.