‘Elementary’ Pilot Recap: “Sometimes I Hate It When I’m Right”

The new CBS mystery procedural series ‘Elementary’ has the ingenious concept of updating Sherlock Holmes to the modern day. What a novel idea! Why has no one else thought of this before? Oh, wait…

Of course, the British series ‘Sherlock’ with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson already does exactly that to great acclaim and success both in its native England and even here in the United States. Frankly, if you want to get picky about it, Fox’s long-running and enormously popular ‘House’ was basically a modern Sherlock Holmes with a medical twist. (House even lives at the street address 221B.) Ah, but neither of those shows made Watson a woman, now did they? Talk about innovation!

In this version, Jonny Lee Miller (from ‘Trainspotting’) plays Sherlock Holmes as a recovering drug addict whose wealthy father has hired Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) to be his “sober companion” and keep him clean. Holmes is a big quirk-fest. He has lots of tattoos, he likes to watch several TVs simultaneously, he does beekeeping on the roof of his apartment building, and he’s of course hyper-observant about every microscopic detail of everything around him. He’s also kind of a prick.

Before moving to New York, Holmes was a consultant for Scotland Yard. Via a relationship with a police captain (Aidan Quinn, transitioning smoothly from essentially the same role in last year’s failed ‘Prime Suspect’), he now does the same for the NYPD. For his first case, he drags Watson along to investigate the murder of a wealthy socialite whose husband has a solid alibi. Of course, through his powers of deduction, Holmes figures out that the husband was behind the murder after all, even if he didn’t do the deed himself.

The solution to his mystery is a little convoluted but fairly clever. It seems that the husband was a psychiatrist who’d treated a serial killer with a predilection for redheads with a very specific look. The husband pressured his wife to have plastic surgery so that she’d fit the profile, then arranged to put the killer (who’d been working as a flower delivery man) in her orbit so that he’d become obsessed by her and eventually kill her. It probably didn’t hurt that the doctor happened to have swapped out the killer’s Xanax for rage-inducing steroids.

Even though Miller is actually British, his accent sounds affected. Maybe I’m just used to him doing American accents in shows like ‘Eli Stone’, or maybe he’s doing a particular dialect here that isn’t his own. I can’t speak to that; it just sounds weird to me. He has all the eccentricity of Holmes down, but the act seems forced. Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be a charming asshole. Miller hasn’t quite gotten the charm down yet. Surprisingly, Lucy Liu makes an appealing, very low-key Watson. She’ll put up with his antics, but hints at deeper layers in her performance.

Based on the ‘Pilot’ episode, the show is adequately entertaining for a procedural. I can’t cite anything specifically wrong with it, but it’s not nearly as witty or fun as ‘Sherlock’. Aside from the famous character names, the series also fails to bring anything new to the genre. (Aren’t all detective shows just variations on the Holmes/Watson formula anyway?) Its case-of-the-week structure will undoubtedly get old quickly.

I’m undecided as to whether this is worth watching again.

1 comment

  1. Alex

    I’ve noticed a lot of people actually really like this show. My opinion is that while Elementary is, or at least seems like, a good procedural drama, it is NOT a good interpretation of Conan Doyle’s stories. I feel I would like the show if it was not “Sherlock Holmes”.

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