It’s difficult to think of a television show in recent memory that has proved as universally popular as Sherlock, so CBS were on a hiding to nothing when they decided to revamp their own version of Conan-Doyle’s mercurial sleuth for American audiences this year.
Even the most slippery PR would struggle to deny that the timing of this show – which is coming to Sky Living later this year – was coincidental.
There can be no doubt that they saw the spell that Cumberbatch’s incarnation cast and wanted a piece of the action, but this is not quite the carbon-copy that some of the BBC’s more cynical bosses predicted.
For a start, the brush strokes are far broader and Jonny Lee Miller’s cypher is inevitably, a far more accessible Holmes. Rather than a borderline-Aspergers genius, we have a slightly irritable yet charming prodigy, who apologises more times in this premiere than Sherlock has in two series. In short, while undeniably intriguing, Jonny Lee Miller’s lead is a sanitised one whose corners have been well and truly knocked off for our American friends.
Yet if you cast comparisons aside, Elementary stands as an entertaining and satisfying puzzler which will keep us bubbling over until the excellent – but perilously fleeting – real thing returns.
We find Holmes (Miller – who by all accounts is a very close friend of his counterpart Cumberbatch) in his father’s New York apartment. He’s recently been released from rehab and his old man has hired him a ‘companion’ (Surgeon Watson – Lucy Lui) to ensure that he stays drug-free for six weeks – on pain of being turfed out on the street if he relapses. To keep himself busy he starts helping out the NYPD and soon Watson falls under his spell.
The plot of the opening episode bears the unmistakable procedural hallmarks that you get with US crime dramas. In short this feels a bit like the Victorian sleuth has been dropped into an episode of CSI. This is no bad thing, but may leave those who delighted in the ‘high mystery’ of Sherlock a bit underwhelmed. Nevertheless, Holmes remains an undeniably watchable character, the script is busy and there are some nice comic touches.
One of the advantages this show has is that it was built for a ‘season’ rather than an explosive miniseries. Pound-for-pound, episode-for-episode, it can’t reach the bar that Gatiss and Moffat have set with their intricate masterpieces, yet with a 13 part series on the way, there will be plenty to get our teeth into. As ever, quantity is the keystone of the US market and in Sherlock Holmes, they have one of the most naturally captivating characters to build something around.
Essentially, CBS realised that their show didn’t need to rival Sherlock to be a hit. You sense that Elementary will be very successful in the States and should attract a decent following in the UK, simply because Conan Doyle’s detective is one of the finest fictional characters to spring from anyone’s imagination. This may be a less edgy offering, but it still outstrips the majority of American police procedurals with ease.
So what of Jonny Lee Miller and the female Dr Watson? Well the British actor does a fine job of bringing a very English character to the big apple and his ADHD-y, yet good natured character will go down well en masse. The relationship between Holmes and Watson has always been the driving part of this tale, yet in this version we start to get a strong sense of equality. Lucy Liu is fine as Watson, yet you sense that this is going to become a ‘partnership’ with Miller exhibiting a vulnerability and a need to open up we haven’t been seen before. She even did a bit of her own detective work by deducing that Holmes fled London “because of a woman”. Irene Adler perhaps?
Elementary will be coming to Sky Living later this year..
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