bill bodkin reviews cbs’ version of the famous sleuth…
Plot: A former doctor and substance abuser Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) has been hired to be the “sober buddy” of recovering addict Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller). Watson soon becomes drawn into the world of Holmes, who is a special adviser to the NYPD.
If Elementary had debuted ten years ago, it would’ve been hailed as an absolutely brilliant and unique take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos.
The reason I say this is because the Holmes story has been, almost ad nauseum at this point. We’ve seen Robert Downey Jr. portray the classic Holmes on the big screen and Benedict Cumberbatch portray a modern day Holmes for the BBC. Meanwhile the Holmes model of the socially awkward yet absolute genius, partnered with the salt of the earth partner who’s lovingly yet begrudgingly along for the ride is the current formula that shows like The Mentalist, Castle, The Finder, Bones, and Perception currently employ.
So, Elementary, which is CBS’ modern day take on the classic detective, has an uphill battle with trying to separate itself from the pack. And in some respects it does. While Downey Jr. gave a sozzled savant-like take on Holmes and Cumberbatch gave more of a razor sharp yet deeply flawed and near sociopathic take on Holmes; Johnny Lee Miller puts his own stamp on Holmes. Miller’s Holmes reads like a more erudite and smarmy version of his character from Hackers. Hyper-caffeinated almost ADD-addled, Miller retains the brilliance of Holmes, but beneath the facade of his motormouthed arrogance, is a world of pain. The addict aspect of this version of Holmes is a great justification for the character’s unhinged and unpredictable nature.
Conversely, Lucy Liu, is excellent as Watson. Liu’s quiet yet steely reserve is the perfect antithesis for Miller’s hyperactive Holmes. Her character walks the line between the voice of reason and being Holmes’ straight woman. She sets up the jokes like a point guard sets up an open look three pointer for a shooting guard. Her chemistry with Miller works like any good Holmes/Watson relationship should — it’s loving yet frustrating, trusting and bewildered. Their partnership is very much akin to the Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman duo from BBC, except much less comedic.
However, once you get passed the leads of Elementary, you’re basically left with a crime of the week procedural. The supporting police cast, headed by Aidan Quinn, is pretty lousy. Quinn, who’s usually solid, is pretty awful, sleepwalking his way through the Lestrade-esque role. His presence on the series grinds everything to a screeching halt.
And it’s this aspect of the show that I believe will hold Elementary from being a special show. I think the formula of the crime of the week being solved with Sherlock’s master skills of deduction is going to get repetitive. Hopefully the writers will develop some strong story arcs involving characters of Holmesian lore — Professor Morirarity and Irene Adler.
In the end, Elementary is going to be a solid, middle of the road crime drama that’ll have weeks where it’s excellent and weeks where it’s mediocre at best.