Reviewed by Ren Zelen
“Elementary, my dear Watson!” are words Conan Doyle never wrote, and his character, Sherlock Holmes, never uttered. This makes it ideally appropriate for them to be associated with the title of the latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation from US television network CBS. The words were actually spoken by the movie version of Sherlock popularized by Basil Rathbone in the 1940s whose screen adventures were also, only tenuously connected to the Conan Doyle stories. These movies are in fact, more obviously the forerunner to this TV Show. It may have been imagined that these movies would be more familiar to an American audience and that they would find less pleasure in the sport of spotting references to the original stories.
‘Elementary’'s executive producers Robert Doherty and Carl Beverly claim a thorough knowledge of the original material, but this knowledge proves to be scarcely of any importance here. Jonny Lee Miller has created an intriguing, engaging and jittery detective, but this character has an entirely different backstory and all that links him to the original Sherlock Holmes is a British accent, an over-developed sense of observation and logic, a degree of social insensitivity and a slightly archaic way of expressing himself. The writers have created the 'mystery' of his character by the clichéd device of some traumatic or tragic event in his past that caused him to go off the rails into alcoholism. Conan Doyle's Sherlock developed an addiction to cocaine because he felt it would energise his abilities. For someone with such arrogance regarding his skills, this Sherlock’s choice of alcohol is odd, as it dulls reactions and stupefies the faculties – perhaps it was because he had a father (non-existent in the original stories) who in the 21st century, insisted on calling his sons Sherlock and Mycroft, an immediate invitation to ridicule? Who wouldn’t turn to drink under those conditions?
I don't have any particular objection to Watson being a woman in this 'updated' version, though Lucy Liu is rather dry, lacking the warmth of the original and less sympathetic than Holmes himself - the opposite situation to the usual Holmes/Watson dynamic (I'm not convinced this was a deliberate intention on the part of the show's writers). Admittedly, so far, she does not have the most interesting of roles and may be doing the best that she can with the material - being a backdrop against which Sherlock can air his eccentricities.
In terms of other Conan Doyle stalwarts, we’ve lost Holmes’s landlady Mrs Hudson, as well as Inspector Lestrade, who is replaced with a lesser-known detective, Captain Gregson, who in this adaptation apparently worked with Holmes while in London (sent by the NYPD to observe Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Bureau). It was nice to see Aidan Quinn again - hopefully he’ll have the chance to make more of his role as ‘Elementary’s first series has just been extended to a run of 22 episodes.
The ‘Holmsian’ character is not sacrosanct - it has weathered many adaptations, modernizations and even comedic interpretations (Downey Jr, come on down!) and if purists are in need of escape into the comforting warmth of the classic Conan Doyle character, there is still the sublime Jeremy Brett, who sadly, only managed to completed 41 of the 60 Conan Doyle stories before his sudden death. There are still 19 left… (hint) .
Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2012 All rights reserved.