The CBS series with a U.S. modern slant to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner in solving crime Dr. Watson, Elementary stars Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller as the two literary legends from England. The timing of the network’s creation did alarm the BBC who have their own present day version of Holmes. The U.K. series, which is really more like a collection of three to four 88 minute TV movies broadcast yearly is based more on the books. This version made Cumberbatch a star, or at the very least a household name, and the British were concerned that their show, developed in 2010 had been copied in the 2012 American version.
After watching the newer series, the Brits were relieved to learn that there was no comparison to the two Conan Doyle based programs. In the CBS take on Holmes as a modern day detective, Watson is not the famous man’s live-in friend and colleague, but a surgeon who becomes Holmes’ protegee in the first season but when Sherlock heads back to the U.K. she takes over the detectives role as advisor to the police. In this modern retelling of the two crime solving people, the Englishman is a drug addict who is in rehab when Watson first meets him and Holmes’ father asks/hires her to keep an eye on him.
In Elementary, Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes in a modern American setting may seem quite groundbreaking with the decision to make Holmes’ assistant a women, but this combination of female Watson and male Sherlock has been seen before. Most notably in the splendid 1971 film They Might be Giants. Based on the James Goldman play, who also wrote the screenplay which was directed by Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter, Dutchman) the film starred academy award winners George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward as the famous Conan Doyle detectives, sort of.
In the film Scott’s character Justin Playfair, who is in an asylum, believes that he is Sherlock Holmes and Woodward’s character, Dr. Mildred Watson is a psychiatrist who becomes mesmerized by this paranoid psychotic who is convinced that he is the famous detective who is engaged win a battle with master criminal Moriarty. The title of the film comes from Playfair’s discussion of Don Quixote and his battle against the windmill “giants.” Playfair says that Quixote’s belief that they were giants was insane, he felt that the crusader should have thought “they might be giants.”
The two spend the film interacting more and more as Watson and Holmes and by the end both have gotten very close. This was the first time, on celluloid, that Holmes and Watson were depicted as a male and female duo. The only other thing that the two productions have in common, to a degree, is having Holmes in an institution at the beginning. In Elementary, the male/female dynamic works well and somewhat differently than the Goldman film. Lucy Liu’s Watson is capable and Miller’s Holmes is the real article, not some paranoid individual who is suffering from delusions.
Elementary has introduced another English character, Kitty Winter, played by Ophelia Lovibond, who is now the newest protege of Holmes. As a result Lucy Liu as Watson is now more of an equal, and somewhat separate partner to Jonny Lee Miller’s character of the famous detective and the show is very entertaining although not in the same way that the Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman BBC combination is. The CBS series, Elementary steers away from using the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories as source material, which is a wise decision as the British show does this for their episodes. Regardless of the gender of the sidekick, the American version is addictive viewing, if for no other reason than the network’s choice of an Asian and female Dr. Watson. Elementary has given the world a great team with Liu and Miller working very well together, now there is a trio and the writing of the show is such that this works equally well. The show airs Thursdays on CBS.
By Michael Smith