It’s Elementary

Last week, a new version of Sherlock Holmes premiered on CBS titled Elementary. It stars Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. The setting is NYC in the present day.

T. F. Charlton and I (Jessica) both watched and really enjoyed the premiere for lots of reasons. Here is our conversation about what we liked (Sherlock has sex! Watson is a woman of color! There’s no sexual tension!), what we hope changes (Watson is the only lady! Voyeuristic killing of women!) and some other random thoughts (the BBC/Moffat’s Sherlock in comparison to this one, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Monk).

[Note: SPOILERS on the pilot of Elementary.]

Lucy Liu is on the left in profile. She is wearing a jacket and holding a purse. She's looking at Miller, who is on the right, also in profile. He is wearing a short-sleeved yellow shirt. They appear to be mid-conversation. They are in his apartment, which is messy and has bookshelves full of books.

J: Elementary premiered last week and per our conversation on Twitter (T = @graceishuman, J= @scATX), I think we both rather liked it. I will say first off, I thought the casting of Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller was great.

T: Yea, I think they both work well in their roles. I was a little nervous about both of them at first – especially Miller, he seemed to be forcing the weirdness a bit in the first few minutes. But I think they both settled into the roles quickly.

J: I agree. I think my least favorite part of their interaction in the episode was their first meeting when he fed her the pick up line from the TV. I suppose that was to show us how Liu’s Watson would respond to the weirdness of Miller’s Holmes but it seemed too much. But as soon as they got to the crime scene, their chemistry clicked in.

T: Yes, that was a bit strange. I wonder if it was meant to tie back in to what Watson says about him towards the end of the episode – the act he puts on to keep people at a distance, because he’s scared of intimacy.

J: What about Sherlock hooking up?

T: I liked him hooking up! For one thing, it immediately distinguishes Miller’s Sherlock from Benedict Cumberbatch’s asexual Sherlock (which…I’m not sure Moffat really has the best grasp on asexuality, but that’s another discussion).

J: I agree. I felt like there were definitely moments in the pilot that seemed to be responding almost directly to the BBC and Cumberbatch. This was certainly one. There was a strange Girl With the Dragon Tattoo vibe to that scene, right?

T: Yea, that was interesting. I haven’t seen that movie yet (either version) so it’s hard to compare. But both Miller’s tattoos and the tattooed woman also seemed to scream “This isn’t Moffat’s Sherlock.” I dig Miller’s tattoos.

J: I felt like the crucial scene at the end, when Holmes does the final confrontation with the villain and he gives Watson so much credit for figuring out the crucial evidence in the case, we saw MAJOR distance between this Sherlock and the BBC’s. In a way I appreciated.

T: Oooh, good point. I hadn’t thought about that scene in that way – but I was struck by the scene where she visits him in prison, and the fact that he apologizes to her, which is also a big difference for a number of reasons. One, that he’s apologizing at all. And two, that he’s apologizing to a woman of color, which is a rare sight on TV.

J: And when they go to the dead guy’s apartment (house?) and she says something like, “Your disappointed that you didn’t find the body first.” And he tells her he doesn’t do it for the credit. Again, totally different than Cumberbatch. Or, maybe I should say Moffat.

T: LOL, indeed. I wonder how much of it was a conscious attempt to distinguish the two. Obviously some of it was…and I know there was a bit of prickliness on Moffat’s part over the idea of a U.S. adaptation.

J: You’d think they had to be working against it on some level. Either way, I think they did a good job showing how their show is going to bring something new to this re-played trope/storyline/characters.

[Note: from The Independent in February 2012: “Elementary has already been threatened with legal action by the producers of the BBC’s Sherlock, amid concerns that its modern-day scenario appears to borrow elements from the hugely-successful series starring Cumberbatch. Sherlock producer Sue Vertue [stated], “We have been in touch with CBS and informed them that we will be looking at their finished pilot very closely for any infringement of our rights.”” As T.F. wrote, “For goodness’ sake. They don’t own Sherlock Holmes!”]

T: But I thought the apology was a nice moment not just for Sherlock but for the whole dynamic the show is establishing between him and Watson. It’s not going to be this emotionally unequal relationship that Cumberbatch and Freeman have. And the fact that Liu is a woman of color adds a whole other layer to the apology and the respect Sherlock is giving her as a partner and a person – as a few reviewers have pointed out (Marisa Lee at Racebending and Kendra James at Racialicious).

J: Yes. I was actually thinking, could that Cumberbatch and Freeman dynamic work with Watson being a woman of color? I think I would physically cringe to watch Miller be that much of a dick to Liu. The gendered and racial differences between the characters force the creators to construct a relationship not built on that unequal partnership.

T: Yea, that really wouldn’t work. I suppose BBC Sherlock is less abusive to Watson than he is to most of the women on the show, but…that would not be good. Actually, this reminds me how irritated I am by the portrayal of the only woman of color on BBC Sherlock [Sgt. Sally Donovan] – she’s the nasty woman always out to get Sherlock, of course. And in her very first appearance Sherlock humiliates her by publicizing her sex life.

J: Oh, that’s right.

T: So I guess we’re agreed that Rob Doherty is already doing a better job portraying women than Moffat. >.>

J: Ha. Well, the bar isn’t set so high.

T: Point.

J: I will say, I was sad when it all started with a scene where we had to watch a woman be hunted down and harmed in her own home.

T: That was disappointing. Very clichéd, too.

J: The voyeurism of that was disappointing in its typicality. I hope it’s not a pattern for the show. Especially because there was another murder and we did not experience it at all in the same way.

T: Very true.

T: To go back for a sec – can I just say? I guffawed when Watson was all, “Let me in on your plan,” re: Sherlock crashing her car. That was hilarious.

J: Played to perfection!

T: Their faces were just the best. I’m sure a GIF exists already.

J: I think a MAJOR plus of the Miller/Liu dynamic is that there was no sexual tension.

T: Yes, that’s nice. Apparently Doherty has said he wants to write their relationship as a bromance, with one of the bros being a woman. I mean, I would just call that, y’know, “friendship,” but whatever floats his boat. I like the sound of it.

J: Yes. Let them have a professional relationship and friendship that is just that. It will be refreshing.

T: I was trying to think of an example of a show that’s successfully pulled off that dynamic between a straight man and a straight woman… Monk is the only show I could think of.

J: Yes. And that was very well done. Someone on Twitter referred to Monk as being a Sherlock Holmes-esque character.

T: Definitely. I guess both Monk and Sharrona and Monk and Natalie, but I was mostly thinking of Sharrona. They had a great friendship, and I especially loved that she was never cowed by him.

J: Right.

T: It’s kind of awesome that of the three popular contemporary portrayals of Sherlock (if we add in Robert Downey, Jr.), this is the one with no romantic or sexual tension. I gather from occasional peeking into Tumblr that some fans were upset that there was no possibility of slash fiction in Elementary, lol. It’s an unexpected subversion all around.

J: That is so interesting.

T: I do hope they add another woman to the cast soon.

J: Yes, me too. How hard can it be to have a lady cop? I am intrigued with where they will take the characters. We learned a lot about Watson but not really all that much. It was a great teaser of an episode in that way.

T: Yea, there’s a lot of room to explore the characters. We know something happened with Sherlock and a woman in London; I assume we’ll get more details about that. And of course there’s Watson’s professional disgrace and guilt to work through. Angst is always nice for driving a plot and adding a bit of seriousness

J: And she’s a Mets fan.

T: That was a nice touch.

J: Watson’s family, too. As well as Sherlock’s – the much-mentioned father.

T: Yes! I hope we see some of both of their families. Especially Watson’s. Not many Asian American families on TV.

J: And how do you feel about NYC? I thought the city worked well as a setting and that the show was true to the city, too.

T: I liked it. It gave an air of authenticity – made it feel more concrete. I guess that’s a similarity to BBC’s Sherlock, especially the first season, which is so firmly rooted in London.

J: Yes. And even though there are plenty of crime procedurals that take place in NYC, this didn’t feel like a copy cat.

T: No. It helps that they actually shoot in New York.

J: I am really looking forward to where the series will go. Room for improvement but intriguing new interpretation of the Holmes story.

T: Agreed. It’ll be interesting to see if Watson being American makes much difference. Most of the commentary I’ve seen has focused on Liu’s race and gender, but it’s a pretty big change to make Watson a Yank, too!

J: YES! Great point. We’ll have to do this again after a few episodes. See how we’re feeling. Until next time!

T: Yea, looking forward to chatting more about it.

What are you thoughts on Elementary? Did you like it? Why or why not? What did you think of the casting and the chemistry between Liu and Miller? Are you tired of Sherlock Holmes or will you continue to tune in?


7 thoughts on “It’s Elementary

  1. I loved the pilot, for all of the reasons mentioned above, plus I just loved the tone of the show. It was so much quieter than other dramas — no loud interstitial music and (thank God) no weepy montage at the end with soulful coffee shop music over it (I’m looking at you, Bones). The mood and lighting were somber, which helped build the characters. I’m definitely watching.

  2. Yay for TV chats! It occurs to me that we don’t actually know Watson’s sexuality yet. Now kind of squeeing over the (admittedly remote) possibility of queer lady Watson.
    There’s also a very different relationship to the source material than on Sherlock. Moffat and Gatiss are very fan-boyish about the original Conan Doyle stories – they adapt them pretty faithfully. It looks like Doherty isn’t going that route.

  3. To me the biggest difference is that Moffet puts on modern spin on actual classic Sherlock Holmes stories, and Elementary is just another generic police procedural with a quirky detective. There is absolutely nothing that ties it with the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

  4. I thought the opening scene of the woman being murdered was fucking awful, but I also thought it looked like it had been added in. Probably at the behest of suits. It looked/sounded nothing like the remainder of the episode, nor the second episode. No other murders have been shown so far, so I’m guessing execs.

  5. Pingback: Elementary!

  6. Canon!Holmes was a drug addict. (The only difference is that rehab didn’t exist (as far as I know) in the Victorian era.) Canon!Holmes studied and kept bees. Canon!Holmes played violin. The speech E!Sherlock gave at the beginning of the second episode, where he explained to Joan how his mind works, is based on Canon!Holmes’ explanation of the same to Watson in A Study in Scarlet. Some of the other dialogue in the first episode is from there, too. Detective Gregson was a canonical character. In the second episode they genderbent Mary Morstan (first appearance was in The Sign of Four) to become Ty. The writers have said they’re going to work Moriarty into things eventually.

    And the Sherlock Holmes stories practically invented the procedural.

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