Modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes aren’t exactly a new idea – during the WWII period, Holmes and Watson were seen battling the Nazis and of course, there’s House M.D. and Moffat-Gatiss’s very own Sherlock.
Elementary does try to differentiate itself from the rest, by having Lucy Liu play Joan Watson. Watson’s backstory is completely revamped as well, she’s no longer an ex-army doctor looking for a flatmate. Watson is now Holmes’s erm, post-rehab / sober companion. Elementary further steers itself away from the original books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as Scotland Yard becomes nothing but a distant memory of Holmes’s past and the duo now solve crimes in contemporary New York City. There’s also no instance of a Greek interpreter or a mysterious hound lurking in Baskerville* (…yet?).
Miller-Liu’s partnership is frosty at first, but by the third episode, they seem to have found their footing. Set against cardboard detective figures (Lestrade, where art thou?), the Holmes-Watson dynamic is fresh and exciting. Miller plays a tattooed Holmes who texts in abbreviations and has an uncanny knack in getting out of handcuffs (I mean this in the most non-sexual way possible, honest). His bursts of energy set against Liu’s stern-faced Watson are quite endearing. Liu’s take on Watson is interesting, she shows some restraint when interacting with Holmes’s antics – he is, after all, still her client per se, but she also subtly reveals a more approachable side from time to time. The pair, as a whole, are highly captivating and are a delight to watch.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all Elementary has riding for them. The stale cases – evil twin murderer, child abduction, a secret scandal in a multi-million dollar corporation – seem akin to Hollywood FBI cases, ones that could be found on Criminal Minds or The Mentalist. I highly doubt we need another conventional crime show or CSI: Sherlock.
It is interesting to note that one does not need to have read the books or seen any of the films or television series to already know what Sherlock Holmes is more or less about. The great detective has been ingrained in the global collective memory for many centuries and his influence can undeniably be seen in many instances of pop culture today. The reason why Sherlock Holmes stories still excite 21st century audiences lies in none other than the remarkably gifted mind of Holmes. But more importantly, it’s the compelling cases he solves with such quick skill and intelligence that wows the viewer. Without the backdrop of gripping mysteries, Holmes’ display of intellect and wit is only evident with his interaction with Watson and his brillance, thus, being greatly reduced.
My rating: **1/2
*Side note: Hounds of Baskerville is my favourite Sherlock Holmes mystery by far. I’m currently reading The Valley of Fear, my heart aches – I don’t want it to end!