Last week CBS unveiled the new additions to its fall lineup, a mixture of dramas and comedies that will more likely than not fail directly out of the gate. That’s not me being a pessimist or evil wisher, it is just me being honest. TV shows, in this day-and-age, have a relatively short lifespan. And if the audience isn’t there from the start, and the show isn’t making money, then cancellation is pretty much a guarantee.
Which may very well be the motivation behind the creation of CBS’ new series Elementary.
As a re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Elementary brings the consulting detective into modern day NYC. He’s still British—thank goodness for that, we need the sexy accent—but his Watson is a woman and he’s just gotten out of drug rehab. Of course, an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is nothing new. There have been countless versions of the character both on TV and film—according to some reports there have been over 200 adaptations with up to 75 different actors playing the infamous consulting detective. But the recent surge of interest in the sleuth—thanks mostly to the one-two punch from Guy Ritchie’s action-packed Sherlock Holmes films led by Robert Downey Jr, and the very much beloved and fandom-protected BBC Sherlock, starring the power team of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman—could have served as the catalyst for CBS’ desire to jump on to the Sherlock Holmes wagon. Its fairly evident, as is indicated by the monetary success and fan adoration for both franchises, that Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has an audience, which can only mean big money for CBS should Elementary succeed.
On a side note, I want to point out that in recent months, as series 2 of Sherlock debuted across the globe, a “We believe in Sherlock” movement was born. With fans showing their faith in the BBC show and in Sherlock by posting up signs, posters and posing in all parts of the world. You can read more about the movement, and how you can take part in it, here.
Back to Elementary, if you haven’t had a chance to watch the short 3 minute teaser trailer/behind-the-scenes on Elementary, I suggest you do so below. For Sherlock fans fearing the series would be a rip off of their beloved BBC show, you needn’t worry. This Sherlock Holmes incarnation sounds nothing like your Sherlock.
FYI, so we don’t get confused I’ll be referring to BBC/Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, as simply Sherlock. Elementary/Miller’s Sherlock Holmes will be referred to as Holmes.
MILLER CONJURES UP A NEW VERSION OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
While I’ll admit the casting choice seemed suspicious to me at the start, especially considering that Miller and Cumberbatch shared roles in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, CBS must be commended for choosing Jonny Lee Miller to lead the cast. Not only is he British and good looking but he does his best to give us a different Holmes—more neurotic, sorry he’s actually right (this is new, since Sherlock Holmes loves to be right) and perhaps even more socially awkward. Granted the glimpses’ we get of his Holmes are few but what we do see is so un-Cumberbatch/un-Downey like, that you find yourself, not only breathing a sigh of relief but also realizing that multiple franchises based on the same character can indeed co-exist…so long as the various versions are different enough.
In fact, while, Miller’s interpretation doesn’t take much from either Cumberbatch or Downey’s Sherlock Holmes, it does conjure up images of another Sherlock Holmes influenced character, that of Gregory House. House, played wonderfully by Hugh Laurie in the Fox series, exhibited all of Holmes’ idiosyncrasies, his medical deductions were always spectacular, and the man truly did not care what others thought—his desire, like Holmes, was always to solve the puzzle. He even had his own version of Watson, his trusted, loyal friend Wilson. But where Miller’s Holmes reminds me most of House is in his physicality. From the five o’clock shadow, to the clothes he wears: the jeans, t-shirt (I’m not lucky, I’m just good) and his use of plaid— it’s very much a House look.
On another side note, the first shots of Miller as Holmes sent fans into a tizzy when they saw he had a scarf, interestingly enough tied in the same fashion as Sherlock, and a black coat—though his is much shorter than the one Cumberbatch wears.
Similar to Laurie’s House, Miller’s Holmes will be a drug addict. His addiction will be the reason for his meeting with Watson, as she’s hired to be his live-in sponsor. TV/film audiences know that Sherlock Holmes liked to use cocaine on occasion to stimulate him when he got bored, but his drug use was a vice mentioned sporadically in the stories, not exactly a focal point. It just so happens that the drug use is regularly used as a tool to increase the drama in live-action adaptations.
Along those same lines, I’m curious if CBS will make Miller’s Holmes a sexual one. House, for instance was very sexual, hooking up with Hookers all the time. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock considers himself married to his work, having no time for trivial, boring things like love and sex. And Downey’s action heroic Holmes is definitely sexualized, with his attraction to and desire for Irene Adler evident throughout. If you go back to the stories, Sherlock is so preoccupied with solving crimes and figuring things out that he really has no time to consider human relationships, or human feelings for that matter. He is logical. Feelings get in the way. Or as Sherlock says in the BBC adaptation, “Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.” His joy comes from solving cases not from getting into anyone’s pants.
So what does this mean for Miller’s Holmes? Will he be “married” to his work?
With Elementary flipping the gender script and making John a Joan, it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with any possible sexual tension lingering in the air. One of the scenes we do get a chance to see in the teaser is of a shirtless Miller standing before his lady Watson. He’s just standing there in all his chesty glory and she’s there, seemingly uninterested. I’m curious to see how the writers will develop the relationship between these two. Will they be able to play it in such a way where you believe they are just friends. Or will Billy Crystal’s theory in When Harry Met Sally be proven true once more, where men and women can never be friends because the sex always gets in the way.
If CBS decides to give the show a romantic undertone, with Holmes and Watson wanting each other, is that the point where it goes from being a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, to just another detective drama? And is that question in itself really all that fair? If you look at it, really consider it, aren’t all detective/police shows, in some way shape or form an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes? When you think about it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle essentially created the Detective/Forensic drama. To quote Rupert Grave’s Lestrade in Sherlock, “He’s CSI Baker Street.”
What will make or break this show, I believe, aside from the writing of course, will be the chemistry between the two leads. Every Holmes incarnation is made or broken by the relationship between the detective and his Watson. Fortunately, the BBC’s Sherlock has a superb pairing with Cumberbatch and Freeman. Downey Jr and Jude Law play off each other nicely, both on and off screen. How will Miller and Liu compare? Again, we can’t really tell given the brevity of the CBS teaser, but if the small instances of Miller and Liu’s interactions are any indication, the series may have a problem. While I like both of them separately, I didn’t see any real sparks between them. Particularly in that scene where he’s apologizing for her car and everything else—the apology rather hallow and her reaction insipid. (But then again, maybe that’s the point, with Holmes not really meaning his apology and Watson not buying it.)Is it lack of chemistry or am I really being unfair given the nano-second long clips and lack of story knowledge? Its likely the latter.
Whatever the case may be, I wish the show luck. CBS, at least from what we’ve seen and read regarding the show’s synopsis, has done its part and taken its Holmes in a completely different direction from the BBC’s adaptation. Kudos for that. It should also be noted that the length of a television season here in the states may further distance the CBS series from its BBC counterpart, since CBS will likely have to come up with additional story lines, a part from ACD’s original 56 short stories, to have enough for a 22-episode season.
So from that brief 3 minute look, I deduce that Elementary has the potential to be a good detective drama. Will it be the greatest Sherlock Holmes adaptation ever made? Who knows. It could easily slip into the same mold as other detective dramas on the network, especially if they choose to make Holmes and Watson romantic partners. But by attaching the name Sherlock Holmes to the show, CBS is guaranteed to sell it to audiences. Its a name that carries weight, history, and a wagon load of adoring fans. And there’s nothing elementary about that.