I’m profoundly irritated at the amount of vitriol the creators of Elementary have had to deal with in the months before the premiere episode—from fans of Sherlock Holmes, BBC Sherlock show runners, to any causal television watcher who caught a preview and saw that John was now Joan and decided to piggy back on the other complainers. I think it’s obvious that these accusations and needlessly hateful comments are embarrassingly unnecessary—and this is coming from a fan of the BBC version and who’s eagerly awaiting the start of season three’s shooting. Steven Moffat is not the pioneer of Sherlockian storytelling and won’t be the last to try. As a fan of the Holmes world, I very much wish to see as many takes on the character as possible.
Here’s the thing, Sherlock Holmes is a character who’s been reincarnated a lot. From Jeremy Brett (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes TV series), Basil Rathbone (in miscellaneous Holmes films from 1939 to 1946), Robert Downey Jr. in the recent Guy Ritchie films, Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC’s Sherlock, and even little Buster Keaton was inspired by the legendary sleuth in 1924’s Sherlock Jr. And now, Jonny Lee Miller gets to take his shot at the highly regarded, and to this reviewer, highly loved character.
The episode begins with Joan Watson rushing to meet with Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock has very recently checked himself out of rehab after coming off of a recent bout of drug addiction. His father, not able to trust that his son will keep his sober stability, hires Dr. Joan Watson to be his sober companion for six weeks, going wherever he does. She has recently lost her medical license as a surgeon and is forced to deal with inner demons and the complications of losing a part of her life that made her feel full and accomplished. He has lost the drugs that gave him an out. What a perfect, dysfunctional duo—two broken people needing to rebuild their lives. Show creator Robert Doherty has smartly allowed his characters to begin the series at a low point, allowing the possibility of growth throughout the following season. Undoubtedly, it won’t be an easy go of it, with pitfalls and setbacks inevitable, but that’s what will make it interesting to watch because recovery, whether it be of your health or your pride, is never an easy climb.
The viewer, along with Watson, is introduced to Sherlock’s character by looking through a window. Sherlock in every incarnation is a solitary, enigmatic character. Miller’s version, like versions before it, is elusive, offbeat and a hyper-aware individual. Miller brings roguish style, a sweeter sensibility. Versions such as Cumberbatch and Rathbone are cold, detached and authoritative, while Downey and Miller’s interpretations are almost somberly playful, managing to stay grounded while giving off an aloof sensibility. This is why the character is so great, each and every version is always viewed from afar, yet there’s always a great amount of depth to explore.
Watson immediately asserts herself as a figure in Sherlock’s life, bringing her commanding presence, not putting up with his attitude. Lucy Liu is a perfect Watson. She has a strong, intimidating screen presence, and she doesn’t allow his arrogance to pass unnoticed. To all of those who were damning the casting of a woman in the titular character Watson, this episode should alleviate those absurd and uninformed concerns. She steals scenes; she’s charming, strong and strikes great Platonic chemistry with Miller’s Sherlock. This casting is something to celebrate, not scoff. Watson being female doesn’t detract from the positive and interesting attributes of the character, it only enhances them. Here’s a different take on a loved character and it is done well.
The duo, soon after meeting, is called to a crime scene in order for Holmes to put his detective skills to use. The case is this: a doctor comes home and finds that his wife is not there, presumed murdered or kidnapped. Upon arrival, Sherlock can tell that something is missing from the data they’ve gathered. The young woman who has gone missing had a visitor the previous night, someone that she had known. Sherlock discovers this bit of information by discovering a piece of glass that implies that there were two glasses, which means two people. He got this information by lying down, looking under a cabinet, and dragging out a rather large portion of one the extra glasses. It shouldn’t be this simple. Here’s the major issue. In real life, a crime unit would have scoured the place and would have found the piece of evidence on their own. The basis of Sherlock Holmes’ existence is that he notices and observes what others cannot. The show runners should not be sacrificing the police department’s intelligence in order to shine a light on Sherlock’s assumed brilliance.
This new discovery leads to his second, that the woman in question has had some sort of facial plastic surgery done, and it leads to a search of the house where Sherlock comes to another discovery, when realizing the room is at an angle—really, the police seem almost comically incompetent—and at the end of the slope is a door to a panic room. Once they open it they find the body of the woman who had allegedly gone missing. Holmes announces that sometimes he wishes he wasn’t right.
Watson and Holmes search the streets of New York City in hopes of discovering clues to the murder. One of the perks of the setting is that it gives off the same air of bustle as England. Both work as backdrops to tell the story of Holmes, both settings are as much of a character as the humans that inhabit them. New York City instills the show with a sense of mystery and a backdrop that allows for beautiful shots. In particular, one in which Holmes sits atop his roof watching his bees, where Watson finds him as he’s writing a novel in his head. An interesting and colorful city for two well-conceived, interesting characters.
For the duration of the search something begins to feel off about the case and he begins taking a deeper look into the doctor until a heated conversation outside of his office. It’s here that essentially, the doctor confesses without a hint of guilt, and goes on his merry way. I’ll repeat, the show needs, needs, needs to write better villains and cases for the duo to confront so that each case isn’t just an expository tool in which Watson and Holmes develop their friendship.
Enraged by the doctor’s admission, Sherlock, in a fit of blinded rage, takes Watson’s car and crashes it into his. He is promptly taken in by the police until bailed out by Watson who is unhappy with him. He, still angry about the entire, albeit straight-forward, fiasco, lashes out at her, dissecting her fears and past regrets until she, not putting up with it for any longer, storms out to go the opera which she had originally wished he would attend with her.
Here is where the show takes a different, but good, route. He goes and finds her at the opera and he apologizes. He may be calculating but he is not turned off from human emotion entirely and he recognizes his wrongdoings. This Holmes isn’t always in control of his emotions and the distancing genius routine is more of a façade than anything else. Here is a man who’s battled substance abuse, is having his stings controlled by a demanding father, has had his heart broken and has recently moved from his home. This Sherlock is vulnerable and introduced to us as such. We come to this knowledge by the end of the episode rather than having to peel back the layers one by one. Miller plays the emotion on his face and it works so well with the way he’s been written and the way Watson has been written to be more of his equal. Vulnerability works when it is not simply used to create angst for a character and make him or her pitiful.
I’ll be honest, the procedural portion of the premiere episode makes little difference to the grand scheme of things. The doctor is found out and caught, and Sherlock and Watson go on to fight another crime another day. What this show capitalized on is the burgeoning friendship between the two. For the naysayers who believe it’s going to turn to nothing but sexual tension and longing stares full of lust, the show runners have gone out of their way to prove the opposite and nothing in this episode would hint otherwise. They seem like buddies, like two people who might come to be very close friends due to some shared hardships and likelihoods. Their introduction, their genders and their basic demeanors may differ from other interpretations but the one thing that always is a constant is the bond between that two that grows, and it’s that bond that no matter the medium causes audiences to take notice.
A great part of this episode is largely the little things. The little moments of characterization that can allow viewers to forget about the lazy writing in regards to the case work. If the characters are detailed enough, lovable enough, we can possible ignore any other shortcomings. The details, such as Watson and her love of baseball (in canon literature Watson used to be rugby player and highly athletic), Sherlock waiting for Watson and help her with her coat (because in the stories, he was detached, apathetic, but never forcibly rude).
My interest in this show has been piqued by this first episode. The chemistry between the two leads is tangible and compelling, and there’s a truly fun dynamic between them. However, in order to sustain my interest, and the interest of any weekly viewer, the writers of the show need to create more interesting cases for Sherlock to solve. There’s such a plethora of original source material by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that it’s a shame they’ve decided not to use any of it. If they’re going to stand by the idea of not using cases that already exist in literature, they must justify why. What is so interesting about the cases of Elementary that made the stories unnecessary? I don’t need another crime procedural, there are plenty already. I need a television series, another one, yes, that tells the story of Holmes and Watson and the misadventures that they go on together. That was the reason I rapidly turned the pages, the reason I sat in the theater for the past two Ritchie/Downey films, the reason that I sit restlessly for a way to watch the Moffat-penned Sherlock. If I wanted a simple procedure, basic friendship between two characters that shared similar identities to the famous duo, I could have watched House. This show has great potential with great characters and actors that make me want to keep my eyes on them, what it needs now is to convince me. They need to convince me and the audience at home, that I’m watching the pair of the Holmes universe, not just two ordinary detectives. Because, as Sherlock I’m sure would tell you, that’s just boring.