"Elementary," the latest Sherlock Holmes reinvention, has a lot of modern-day competition. There are the popular action films starring Robert Downey Jr., the beloved Emmy-nominated "Sherlock" series on BBC, and all of the Sherlock-inspired TV shows like "The Mentalist," "Psych," and "Perception." It will be impossible for most viewers to avoid making comparisons as they watch "Elementary," but the New York version makes a solid attempt to distinguish itself from the pack.
The new Sherlock"Elementary" goes for shock value at the start of the premiere, giving us a tattooed Sherlock Holmes who's busted himself out of rehab and immediately hooked up with an inked-up mystery woman. Despite this edgy beginning, it appears as if this deductive genius will be more of a troubled soul than a man teetering on the cusp of madness. It doesn't take long for his designated "sober companion" Watson to deduce that a lot of his boorish behavior is compensation for being emotionally scarred by a woman in his past.
The Sherlock in "Elementary" still has the quick, sharp mind and an ability to read people's lives in the small details he observes. He's also blunt, socially awkward, and in this incarnation, a bit impetuous. While the BBC version gives us a near-sociopath who seems to be doing detective work merely to entertain his extraordinary mind, this CBS Sherlock looks to be more passionate about achieving justice.
The new WatsonThe new Watson is a former surgeon who left her profession after causing the a patient's death, so she has her own dark past and defense mechanisms. Unlike most incarnations of the character, however, Dr. Joan Watson does not seem all that impressed by Sherlock. In the "Elementary" premiere, the work does begin to intrigue her, and it's looking like she'll be an equal partner rather than a sidekick or foil for Holmes.
Purists will complain about having a female Watson, but it's a solid way for the series to distinguish itself and alter the vibe of such familiar characters. Gone is the bromance element, and while the "Elementary" producers assure us there is no Sherlock/Watson romance brewing, there was no ambiguity about the detective's sexual orientation in the premiere.
The positives and the pitfallsJonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are two very capable actors, and it's easy to see them growing into these characters and creating a very intriguing, likable duo. The one false step with Watson's character in the premiere was when she donned a baseball cap over her perfectly waved hair and yelled at a game on the TV. The cool Liu with her penetrating gaze and slightly haughty demeanor worked nicely for the scene at the opera, and we can easily believe she has the steadiness and intellect to be a surgeon. But loud sports fan? Not so much.
With its one-hour format, "Elementary" will no doubt be set up in a procedural format, and Sherlock and Holmes will have more of a buddy cop relationship. This works well for prime-time TV and is another element that will set it apart from other versions. The danger of this is that "Elementary" risks diminishing the genius of Sherlock. Watson is already displaying similar observation skills and deductive reasoning in the premiere -- if she starts solving crimes before her partner does, fans are going to rebel. It's fine to reinvent a character, but some traditions need to be upheld, and "Elementary" won't succeed with a less-than-superior Sherlock.
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