Monday, 1 October 2012


Last week American network CBS premiered Elementary, its modern take on Sherlock Holmes starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. The show was of course widely commented ever since the announcement of the project because of Sherlock, the acclaimed BBC version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories by Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

Moffat's reaction was widely commented too (1). And the comparison between Elementary and the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer was inevitable given the worldwide prestige of Sherlock. But U.S. networks have an old relationship with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson through a consequent number of pilots and TV movies, or Holmes influenced shows like House
and CBS's own The Mentalist.

In the past the Eye network even tried to launch a modern Sherlock Holmes series with a couple of unsold pilots: in 1987 Michael Pennington played Holmes and Margaret Colin was Dr. Jane Watson in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. In 1993, Anthony Higgins was a very doctorwhoesque Sherlock Holmes alongside Debrah Farentino as Dr. Amy Winslow in Sherlock Holmes returns, written and directed by the great Kenneth Johnson (V, The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman). For the record, CBS also adapted several Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple books and one of the biggest drama hits of its history, Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996) owes a lot to Marple.

Written by Robert Doherty (Medium) and directed by Michael Cuesta (Homeland, Dexter), the pilot of Elementary takes the 221B Baker Street sleuth to New York. Former consultant for Scotland Yard, Holmes is also a former addict and his rich father has hired a sober companion to watch over him during six weeks. This "addict sitter" is Dr. Joan Watson, an ex-surgeon who lost a patient because of a mistake. She's left no time to be confused by their first meeting as Holmes, who now consults for the NYPD, brings her to a crime scene where he must assist Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn).

Retrospectively Team Sherlock didn't need to worry because the only thing the Eye got from them is a good amount of free publicity. Devoid of the gimmicks and mannerisms of the British series, the Elementary pilot is 45 pleasant minutes of an old school CBS procedural/crime mystery served by a competent cast. English actor Jonny Lee Miller does a decent job obtaining his rather likeable Sherlock a membership to the club of the eccentric and irreverent U.S. television detectives. Lucy Liu is an interesting Watson and the new pair works fine.

The total lack of pretension and originality of Elementary is certainly its main asset but this entertaining modern update of Sherlock Holmes shows some unexpected potential for more "sherlock holmesisms" than two names. We'd like to have further details about that woman in Holmes's past (THE woman?) and about Sherlock's dad. Nobody can pretend he is the only consulting detective in the world, it's just elementary.

(1) (In French)

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