Elementary is one of my favourite under-dog television-shows.
This is a show that aired in the shadow of the BBC’s Sherlock, which was a colossal hit; it’s not filmed on location in London, but instead filmed in Vancouver, which serves as an unconvincing New York; and with a female Watson played by Lucy Liu, instead of Bilbo…
Nobody thought this show would be worth a damn. At least, I didn’t.
But, now that Elementary is half-way through it’s sophomore season, I feel compelled to write about it. There were a few missteps along the way, yeah, but finally, Elementary seems to be living up to the promise of a long-running, modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. But, like most under-dogs, this show has a pretty rocky past…
I’m going to get this off my chest right away: I hate the way Watson and Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) meet in this adaptation. It’s partly the hooker Watson passes on her way into Sherlock’s apartment – I’m fine with that being a characteristic of this Holmes, but it’s not how this character should be introduced – and it’s also partly the clumsy monologue given in-front of the bank of TV monitors. It was such a weird, bizarre way to establish this character dynamic. I don’t even know what to say other than it simply does not work. Also, Jonny Lee Miller doesn’t seem like he has a firm grasp on what he intends to do with the character, just yet. This is likely the case, since pilot episodes are typically filmed months before the show is green-lit for air. By the time Jonny Lee Miller returns as Sherlock in episode two, his performance is considerably better tuned.
The first crime-scene we visit with Sherlock and Watson is… Pretty interesting, nothing jaw-dropping. There is a moment were Sherlock counts broken glasses, using only their shattered pieces on a kitchen floor, then argues about the results. It’s a nice character touch. Later, in the bedroom, there is a neat reveal given when Sherlock drops a marble and we get to watch it roll across the room to the entrance of a hidden panic-room. The visual of the marble rolling through the opening of the panic-room and suddenly getting stuck in a puddle of tacky blood was effectively jarring.
The dialogue exchange between Sherlock and Watson early on regarding her brother and her career in medicine felt like a poor imitation of Sherlock. Watching this pilot for the first time, I felt my heart sink a bit here. The fact that it ends with Sherlock telling Watson he used Google to learn her past (“Not everything is deducible”) seemed like the final nail in the coffin for this show. It’s just dumb. Thankfully, Watson and Sherlock get a much better exchange a couple scenes later, after she discovers honey dripping from the ceiling of the apartment. This is the scene where Sherlock first gets the notion that Watson might be inclined to his line of work.
The murder of the week is pretty ho-hum. Some gibberish about plastic surgery; Holmes crashing a car into a suspect’s vehicle; a mental patient tricked into committing murder. There is one thing about the structure of this episode that I think is indicative of the biggest difference between Sherlock and Elementary: the last clue is solved by Watson, not Sherlock. She’s the one who realizes the cell-phone is still inside the bag of rice (that’s actually kinda clever, guess it wasn’t all “ho-hum” after-all). By the time we get to season two, Watson will be pulling 50% of the weight on most cases. Yet, it never feels like the character of Watson is stepping on the legendary toes of Sherlock Holmes; they simply compliment each other, each possessing very distinct skills ad specialities. There’ll come a scene later this season when somebody describes Watson as Sherlock’s “mascot”; that couldn’t be more true of the Watson from Sherlock, but here in Elementary, it’s proven false immediately.
In fact, I’m just going to get it out of the way now: I love this interpretation of Watson. Like most everyone, I initially reacted with disappointment to the news that Watson was a female in this incarnation. I suspected drawn-out, tedious love-triangles and fan shipping; but, like with NBC’s Hannibal, I was beyond pleasantly surprised. This might be the best Watson on film/television, ever. Period. She’s simply fantastic.
My favourite scene of this episode comes toward the second half. It was enough to make me stay around for episode two, all by itself. Watson confronts Sherlock about how much he knows about her past, because she feels he has invaded her privacy. Sherlock confesses to pretending to know less then he really does. Watson pushes him further, until Sherlock snaps. In a angry fit, he recounts her failures as a doctor and cites the little bits of evidence that lead him to the conclusion. Watson looks stunned, deeply hurt. Sherlock looks back, full of shame. He is embarrassed to know so much about her. Apologetic, even. Not arrogant, like the Holmes from Sherlock might have.
Holmes: “Run it up and what does it all say? You were visiting the grave of the man you let die on your operating table.” Watson: “It’s so incredible. The way you can solve people just by looking at them. I noticed you don’t have any mirrors around here.” Holmes: “And what’s that supposed to mean?” Watson: “It means I think you know a lost cause when you see one.”