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29 September 2012 @ 12:38 am
TV Review: Elementary  
Sherlock Holmes goes all modern again!


I'll be honest: I'd grown a little sick of Sherlock Holmes in general by the time I'd heard of this second modernized incarnation of the Great Detective. And maybe because there was clearly the OTHER modern Sherlock Holmes that was already a huge hit, this latest one made some big changes in efforts to make themselves unique. For one, this Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a Brit who has been transplanted to New York. Following his release from a drug rehab clinic, he is assigned a sobriety partner by order of his father as a condition for him allowing Sherlock to stay in New York in live in one of his apartments. That sobriety partner is Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), former surgeon. I found it a little funny that Jonny Lee Miller won the role of Holmes, given that he starred with Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein. The two shared a role in that play and they're sharing the role of Holmes now. I tried very very hard to watch the pilot of Elementary without making comparisons to Sherlock and I mostly failed. That's not to say that Elementary came up the loser. If anything this pilot annoyed me significantly less than A Study in Pink. 

Miller's Holmes is very different from Cumberbatch's wannabe sociopath Sherlock. Sherlock is by nature abrasive, aggressive, arrogant, and treads the line between bluntness and straight out cruelty. He's a difficult man to like even as he's fascinating to watch. He's largely socially isolated and he seems fine with that since he deems most people to be idiots. What always stood out to me when I watched Cumberbatch play the character was that Sherlock was usually completely comfortable with himself in a way that only a person with true confidence could be. He was a strange man, but he liked himself just the way he was with minor bumps along the way. I didn't feel this was really the case with Miller's Holmes.

Elementary really puts front and center the idea of Holmes being a recovering addict. And Miller plays him like a person who despite his wonderful genius has a sliver of self-hatred stuck inside of himself. Unlike Sherlock who often claims his lack of feelings and use for sexual activity, Miller is fine acknowledging that he needs his body to have its fun in order for his brain to function. He also clearly has feelings and isn't all that shy about displaying them in one way or another. His Holmes is clearly the uber smart kid who in school probably got beaten up a lot because he just didn't know when to shut up about the exciting new deduction he'd just made. And those incidents left some sort of mark. He oscillates from being incisive to awkward during the investigation, moving like a man trying to find his footing again and relearn what it means to function and reacquaint himself with a job he used to love. It's a very different and perhaps not always consistent Sherlock Holmes, but Miller's acting really sold to me the sheer history of Holmes' addiction and fall that has yet to be really explored if ever. But it's there, hanging over his head like an interesting story.

I was initially less thrilled about the gender swap for Watson. Particularly since I was concerned that the show might want to try a Holmes/Watson romance of some sort. But I don't think I have to worry about that at this point. Even if the show wanted to, I have to say that I didn't think Liu and Miller generated that much chemistry. It's not really anyone's fault but just an unfortunate combo of different acting styles that doesn't seem to be meshing very well. Liu isn't necessarily a bad choice to play this character, but I sort of couldn't get a handle on her character. There were moments when you could see the resignation on her face about her life was now to be a lowly sobriety partner with little hope of every recapturing her earlier thrilling life as a surgeon. That I thought was a nice parallel to the sort of deadened existence John was leading post-war before he met Sherlock. I only wish I could just get a better feel for who she is and her motivations. Is being a sobriety partner really the only career choice left for a former surgeon? Perhaps the show will answer it. And in doing so pull better chemistry from its leads. Right now, it almost feels like Liu and Miller are doing different shows.

For the first time in a long time, I can say that an American show was significantly more low key than a British one. There were no quick cuts or catchy tunes overlaying scenes of Sherlock and John racing through the streets on a mad chase. This was a simple, straightforward mystery told with your average camera angles and minimal action moments. I kind of liked that but I can see how others might find it a little dull. In that way, Elementary is not as flashy as Sherlock and that might mean it could get largely ignored (which was the fate Miller's Creature had to contend with against Cumberbatch's more bravura Creature in Frankenstein. Oh repeat of the past!).

So, in short, based on the pilot I'll be giving this series a try.
 
 
 
The Writer They Call Tay: Merlin: Thumbs up!awanderingbard on September 29th, 2012 01:27 pm (UTC)
My thoughts were pretty much the same as yours. I did like both the leads interpretations, though, and I felt that Miller's Holmes was a bit closer to the original canon Holmes. Not an asshole, just genius who doesn't know when to shut up. But I felt overall, it didn't feel like a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, for some reason. Maybe because it wasn't adapting any particular storyline. There were a few canon nods with the bees and Watson perhaps having an addicted sibling, but I felt like you could have changed all the names and it would work just as well.

Mum really liked it. She hasn't seen Sherlock though, so she had nothing to compare it to. She liked Miller's Holmes. She said he spoke like his brain was moving faster than his mouth could.

But I'm going to keep watching too, and I'm pretty positive that the show has enough potential to pull this things together a bit more. Hopefully.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on September 29th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
I felt like you could have changed all the names and it would work just as well.

That's totally true. Maybe that's why the whole thing felt slightly off in that it could just be a story about a very good detective trying to get over his addiction.

But I'm going to keep watching too, and I'm pretty positive that the show has enough potential to pull this things together a bit more. Hopefully.

Fingers crossed!
aelfgyfu_mead: Sherlock and Johnaelfgyfu_mead on September 29th, 2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
If anything this pilot annoyed me significantly less than A Study in Pink.
That wouldn't be difficult!

Interesting review; I feel as though maybe I should give it a chance? The trouble is that my tv dance card is already overfull!

I really didn't like hearing that the first Watson to be a woman was also not in the army and a disgraced former doctor. I mean, Martin Freeman's John Watson is highly competent; I was also quite fond of the two interpretations on the Granada series, who were also both intelligent (if never as smart as Holmes), accomplished men. How did that angle work out with Liu's Watson? Is she a competent person who just had bad luck or made a mistake, or a screw-up?

I have to say that I didn't think Liu and Miller generated that much chemistry. It's not really anyone's fault but just an unfortunate combo of different acting styles that doesn't seem to be meshing very well.
That's funny: I heard an NPR story where someone said the creators were concerned that the two had too much chemistry and that they came off as potentially romantic, and they told them to tone it down! I wonder if what you see is the result of the actors following those instructions, or if the creators just saw something other viewers didn't? I have occasionally heard writers and producers enthuse about chemistry I didn't see at all.

So should I be looking to see the premiere, which I missed, or pick up the show next week? Or should I just give this one a pass, do you think?
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on September 29th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
How did that angle work out with Liu's Watson? Is she a competent person who just had bad luck or made a mistake, or a screw-up?

It's actually unclear at this point. They gave the reason for her no longer being a doctor but it hasn't been explained yet if she made a single mistake in an otherwise illustrious career or if she was overall just not cut out for the job.

One thing I will say about the Holmes and Watson dynamic in this adaptation is that they're both seemingly in the same boat in terms of their self-esteem and their feeling of purpose in their lives. I feel like in all the other adaptations, Holmes is pretty much set in where he is and it's his presence that helps Watson get over the ravages of war and regain his place in regular society.

In Sherlock John helps Sherlock be more human but he's not building Sherlock's confidence or helping him find his place in the world anything like that. In Elementary it seems like both Holmes and Watson are trying to figure out where they belong after suffering from a major setback. So in this sense, the two feel like they're on equal footing which I liked.

they told them to tone it down!

Really?! Well, if that was the case then the actors went way overboard.

So should I be looking to see the premiere, which I missed, or pick up the show next week? Or should I just give this one a pass, do you think?

I would give the show at least two episodes before making the decision. As we all remember with Sherlock it got better!

On a side note, Sherlock and John in your icon look like they're possibly watching TV. I'm amusing myself with the idea that they're watching Elementary and having mutual expressions of WTH? on their faces.
aelfgyfu_mead: Sherlock and Johnaelfgyfu_mead on September 29th, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
On a side note, Sherlock and John in your icon look like they're possibly watching TV. I'm amusing myself with the idea that they're watching Elementary and having mutual expressions of WTH? on their faces.
Hee hee! That's why I chose that one! I figure they're either watching tv or looking at the Internet, and the former was better here. (Right now, they're reading your comments and mine.)

Maybe I'll look for the show in my copious spare time. . . . I'll have to see. Thanks for your review!
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on September 29th, 2012 08:08 pm (UTC)
John: So I'm a small Asian woman now?
Sherlock: Well you are quite short.
The Writer They Call Tay: SHERLOCK: Watson giggleawanderingbard on September 29th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
LOL!

Sherlock: I would point out that I advised allowing an American company to purchase the rights to your blog.
John: I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the love affair you're having with the new microscope you bought with that money.

formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on September 30th, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC)
Haha!

John should get himself a job as creative consultant on Elementary so he can give suggestions for the character Holmes that would really piss Sherlock off.
The Writer They Call Tay: SHERLOCK: Watson's cute noseawanderingbard on September 29th, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
I really didn't like hearing that the first Watson to be a woman was also not in the army and a disgraced former doctor. I mean, Martin Freeman's John Watson is highly competent; I was also quite fond of the two interpretations on the Granada series, who were also both intelligent (if never as smart as Holmes), accomplished men. How did that angle work out with Liu's Watson? Is she a competent person who just had bad luck or made a mistake, or a screw-up?

Stepping in here to add that Liu!Watson does a very good job of keeping up with Miller!Holmes and in a couple of places either notices things at the same time as him or picks up on things he's missed. So she is at least portrayed as intelligent, whatever her backstory turns out to be.


Edited at 2012-09-29 10:51 pm (UTC)
aelfgyfu_meadaelfgyfu_mead on October 1st, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)
Thank you both for persuading me! CBS had the premiere up on its website, so we watched it, and it's going in the TiVo, at least for now. We haven't fully made up our minds, but it doesn't seem to be what I most feared. Joan Watson can certainly hold her own, although she's a good deal quieter and less showy than even Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on October 1st, 2012 01:51 am (UTC)
I'm glad you checked it out!

We haven't fully made up our minds, but it doesn't seem to be what I most feared.

Yup, pretty much my thoughts. It had the potential to make all sorts of missteps with the gender and race switching but ultimately there were no landmines stepped on.

although she's a good deal quieter and less showy than even Johnny Lee Miller's Holmes.

It may be the fate of all Watsons to be less showy than the Holmeses.
quickyfant: smilequickyfant on October 13th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
I really like this new show! :) I am not quite comfortable with the BBC version of Holmes...I like him a strange, brilliant and with severe social handicaps, but he should be doing what he does because he does want to help, so this Holmes is promising for me! :)