Saturday, October 27, 2012

ELEMENTARY--ONE MORE HOLMES?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Few will deny that the new BBC production of SHERLOCK, written by Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson in a contemporary London, is terrific.  The acting is superb, the plots labyrinthine, the dialogue sparkling and razor sharp. I'm a huge fan of the series, as I am of creators Gatiss and Moffat (Moffat also helms the current version of BBC's DOCTOR WHO.)

But now we upstart Americans have thrown another  Sherlock Holmes into the mix. When CBS announced plans to produce ELEMENTARY, a weekly series which not only moves Holmes to contemporary New York, but portrays Watson as a woman, there were cries of outrage from die-hard Holmes fans (and whispers of potential lawsuits from the producers of SHERLOCK.) But Conan Doyle's Holmes stories are in the public domain, and Holmes and Watson have been portrayed in many different incarnations over the years, both on film and in books.  (Laurie R. King, after all, had the temerity to marry Holmes to her wonderful Mary Russell.)

English actor Jonny Lee Miller plays Holmes as a recovering drug addict, sent to New York for his rehabilitation, and Lucy Liu is Joan Watson, the former surgeon hired by Holmes's father to be his "sober companion."

My verdict, four episodes into the season? It works, and it's huge fun. The plots are not Moffat's and Gatiss's dizzying puzzles, but they are more than clever enough for the hour format. Miller gives us his own version of Holmes's obsessive/compulsive brilliance, and he brings an unexpected vulnerability to the character. Miller, a fine actor, lost the role of James Bond to Daniel Craig, and that of Rick Grimes in THE WALKING DEAD to Andrew Lincoln. I think in ELEMENTARY, he got the plum.

Lucy Liu's Watson, serious and profoundly lonely, brings her own strengths to the partnership. And I think it will be the development of the friendship (NOT romance!) and respect between the partners that will keep this series top notch.

So, REDS and readers? Have you watched? Is it thumbs up or thumbs down for another Holmes?

(And the winner of Michelle Gagnon's DON'T TURN AROUND is Gayle! Gayle, you can email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com and give me your mailing address. I'll pass it along to Michelle.)

22 comments:

Gerald So said...

I haven't seen many other portrayals of Holmes, but I'm open to fresh takes in general. I enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, for example. But I think the final test for any show or movie is whether it can be enjoyed with little or no knowledge of previous portrayals and character history, and I do enjoy ELEMENTARY. I like its mix of present-day setting and traditional core mystery. Holmes and Watson's dynamic is new but promising.

Susan said...

My husband and I are huge fans of Holmes. Used to love the Jeremy Britt version, love Sherlock, but actually HATED the Robert Downey Jr. version. (Too much brawn, too little brain.) So we approached Elementary with some trepidation. I agree with your assessment: it is a lot of fun and sufficiently faithful to the original characters to keep this fan happy. I agree with your implication that a romance between this male Holmes and female Watson would be an instant death knell for the show, but also agree that it looks like the creators are wiser than that. The friendship is building nicely. It has become an automatic DVR selection for us -- in effect, the highest praise I can give!

Susan said...

My husband and I are huge fans of Holmes. Used to love the Jeremy Britt version, love Sherlock, but actually HATED the Robert Downey Jr. version. (Too much brawn, too little brain.) So we approached Elementary with some trepidation. I agree with your assessment: it is a lot of fun and sufficiently faithful to the original characters to keep this fan happy. I agree with your implication that a romance between this male Holmes and female Watson would be an instant death knell for the show, but also agree that it looks like the creators are wiser than that. The friendship is building nicely. It has become an automatic DVR selection for us -- in effect, the highest praise I can give!

Deb said...

Yes, Gerald, I agree that viewers that while the show remains faithful to the basics of the canon, viewers who had never read a Holmes story or seen another adaption would enjoy Elementary.

And, Susan, I also agree that the creators are wiser than to try to turn the relationship between Holmes and Watson into a romance.

(I think I need Holmes to figure out my captcha this morning....)

I forgot to mention the wonderful Aidan Quinn as the New York police captain. I think they're building a good ensemble cast, and as I really like the technical details, I think the sets and costumes are fab.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, I like this show! It's not...elegant or brilliant, but it's fun and I admit I love the idea of hte female Watson. I'm with you, Susan! DVR selection. (But I love Robert Downey..:-) )

Off to the Boston Book Festival! To teach a class called "How to Write Crime Fiction"--I have ONE HOUR! I am considering saying: "I have no idea, go home." xoxo

Anna Lee Huber said...

I, too, was a bit worried when I heard about ELEMENTARY. I am a big Holmes fan, and love the new movies and the BBC SHERLOCK series. However, I am happy to say I was worrying for nothing. I really like ELEMENTARY. I think it's just different enough to work, without going too far.

Christian Neuhaus said...

I've seen episodes 1 and 4. I've found them to be serviceable detective dramas with entertaining character moments, but it's tough to find something that sets it leagues apart from other shows centered on quirky loner geniuses. I liked the scene in ep4 where Holmes confided in Gregson, but couldn't help thinking of how Jeremy Brett as Holmes opened up to Lestrade with just a look, in Granada's Six Napoleons adaptation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3Ru54zlkUU 2:35 – 3:08).

I don't mind "It's like the original Sherlock Holmes EXCEPT" adaptations — I've taken liberties with the Great Detective myself, after all: http://ruinedmystery.com — but I wonder how many times you can say that and still claim to be telling Sherlock Holmes stories. Watson as a woman is OK but Watson as a paid caretaker rather than a lonely war vet who becomes Holmes's friend isn't easy to get fired up about for a fan of the original stories.

Diane Hale said...

Elementary . . . I admit, my first reaction was one Moffat fans will recognize--how will they ever come close to such an amazing Brit series and such fab actors.
Laying aside my initial urge to pooh pooh it, I watched. Totally different tone, but thoroughly enjoyable. Love the ensemble cast, found Elementary's Sherlock much more vulnerable than Moffat's (not a criticism, just an observation), and decided I was in for the run.
I find that the multiple Sherlock adaptions show the true genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He wrote amazing stories that have lingered in our collective psyches, as well as creating quite a cinema industry. Can only think of Jane Austen as a second for creating timeless characters.
Elementary, may you have a long, successful run.

djpaterson said...

If I had to choose, I would choose Sherlock.

But isn't life wonderful, because I don't have to choose - I can have both!

Elementary is enough fun to allow you gloss over a few plot holes. It's the current staple viewing for our family, and I hope it has a long and clear run.

Joan Emerson said...

I enjoy “Elementary” more than I thought I would when it was first announced, but it most definitely is not the quintessential Holmes incarnation for me . . . .

Deb said...

I do like the Robert Downey Sherlocks, but they are first and foremost Guy Ritchie movies and maybe you have to be a Guy Ritchie fan, which I am. However, I liked the first movie better than the second--more dialogue, fewer explosions.

But I adore Jude Law's Watson.

Reine said...

Hi Debs,

I love SHERLOCK and have become a Cumberbitch. I have missed the beginning episodes of ELEMENTARY, simply due to circumstances. But– I do love Lucy Liu and have determined, after reading your engaging post this morning, to make the effort to watch the latest version of the Holmes stories. I will see if I can download from iTunes. What is DVR?

I believe the characters of Holmes and Watson have become much more than those in the original stories. They are icons, and have developed their own lives.

xo

Jan Brogan said...

I am not a huge Sherlock Fan or a Lucy Lui fan, but I love the actor who plays Sherlock, so on your advice, Debs et al, I'll have to gve it a try.


I'm totally into Nashville and The Good Wife and The Mindy Project, and the PBS lineup on Sunday night and it's taking all my TV time!

Linda Rodriguez said...

On your recommendation, I'll have to find a way to watch ELEMENTARY online, Debs. I fell in love with SHERLOCK on your recommendation and with Deborah Harkness' A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, so I'll give this a whirl. (Online because I don't have TV.)

I was leery of the Downey/Law films, but I thought the first was okay as a comic-book steampunk version of Conan Doyle.

I must admit the idea of Watson as a paid minder/companion for Holmes bothers me a lot more than the idea of Watson as a woman. The real barrier to break would be to cast Holmes as a woman. I can hear the screams now.

Reine said...

Linda, hah! I would love to see Holmes as a woman. I hadn't picked up on the significance of the ELEMENTARY's Watson as caretaker and find myself wondering about that. Could still be a good story, though.

Anonymous said...

Deplorable.

How anyone can watch tripe like this CBS excuse for entertainment and call it 'Sherlock Holmes' is bewildering.

If you want to change a few elements in order to make it original, that's fine. But CBS has changed:

The country; the iconic address; Watson's gender, race and nationality, her professional status, her military history; the time period; Holmes's relationship with Watson (she's PAID to be there!) all of the plots from the canon. Not to mention Sherlock is now a slovenly, tattooed, addict instead of a precise occasional drug-user; he has a father instead of a brother; there's no Lestrade or Mrs Hudson...

I could go on, but I think the point is made.

I can only assume the people commenting here have never actually cracked the spine of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works.

As a Brit, I'm offended. If I were American I'd be embarrassed.

Why don't you find some of your own icons to demolish and leave ours alone?

messisue said...

Sorry, I am not all that impressed with Elementary. It seems to be a lightly disguised and reworked Monk and The Mentalist. I tried three episodes but just didn't find it entertaining or new.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Dear Anonymous, there is no need to be personally insulting to people who like something you dislike. No one here played a part in making this TV series. We are only discussing in a civil manner the pros and cons of it.

And surely you know what they say happens when you "assume."

Reine said...

Linda, well put.

Anonymous, this is a fun place to visit and exchange ideas, not to offend one another. You might want to curtail the amount of time you spend watching U.S. television. Anyone who wants the original stories can read the books. Simple. Lovely having you drop by.

Nancy said...

Haven't seen Elementary, but I just LOVE the new BBC Sherlock!

Deb said...

Linda and Reine, I just want to say thanks for your comments to Anonymous yesterday. I enjoyed yesterday's post and everyone's comments, then was gobsmacked to read Anonymous before I went to bed.

We are a good-natured bunch, our community of readers on JRW, who enjoy one another's opinions and comments, and I know we all appreciate your defense of our tradition of civility.



Jungle Red Writers said...

Dear oh dear,
I still think anyone other than Basil Rathbone is a pretender to the throne, but I recognize that every generation and every new wave appreciates (or hates) the new books, waves, interpretations, portayals whatever, in a different way. Chacun son gout! With every remake, revisitation, reimagining of Jane Austen, Conan Doyle, Tolstoy...or Tolkien, some love and some hate. That's why what writers write is so powerful. Readers are passionate. F%^&in" A whatever side of the aisle you're on. Readers who care are what makes the world go round. Otherwise we're talkin' Snooki, Honey Boo Boo, reality tv and all that other crap - some of which - ahem- has been imported from the UK - birthplace of Shakespeare, Conan Doyle and Big Brother.