So the premiere of CBS' Elementary goes out tonight, and like Han Solo before me, I've got a bad feeling about this.

I have no complaints about the cast. Nobody makes me cringe. Jonny Lee Miller is actually quite a respected thespian, if mostly unknown in America, and in fact was recently on stage with Benedict Cumberbatch, switching off the roles of the mad doctor and the Creature in Frankenstein. Lucy Liu gets a lot of undeserved crit, mostly for doing fluffy pop things, but she isn't a bad actress. I have not, however seen her in anything serious enough to evaluate whether she's a good enough actress to save a crap script, which I suspect is going to be the problem here.

I have serious misgivings about the combination of "female Watson" and "American network television". I don't object to a female Watson per se; in the Victorian originals, the constraints of military service and medical school meant that Watson pretty much had to be a white Englishman, but for modern adaptations there is absolutely nothing in the character that would dictate race or gender. Given his position as Holmes' de facto bodyguard in many respects, it might be a little difficult to rewrite the role for a quadruple amputee, but you never know, someone sufficiently creative might succeed.

No, my fear is that CBS will never be able to air a series starring a (presumably straight) female and a (presumably straight) male and be able to resist the temptation to run it straight into the ground with gratuitous sexual tension. Unresolved sexual tension is a really cheap way to create the illusion of emotional intimacy, as anyone who has ever been head over heels with someone who turned out not to be so great after they started dating can attest. The other variant, a female Holmes and a male Watson, has essentially been done before on Bones, which was a great show up until the writers decided Bones was lying when she said she had no urge to make out with Booth, at which point it became an astonishingly uninteresting soap opera where occasionally someone was murdered as an afterthought, and I quit watching.

There is also the annoying tendency of mainstream media to resolve any kind of relationship, platonic or sexual, between a normal-ish person and a weird genius person by having the genius slowly learn to be more ordinary, and to discover they're much happier that way. Speaking as a weird genius person myself, I find this very irksome, rather to the tune of airing a drama about a man who turns out not to be homosexual after all, once he finds the right girl. Much of the appeal in the relationship between Sherlock and John, or House and Wilson, is that while the mostly-functional one does (justifiably) do a lot of teaching the weird one how to interface with normal people, neither John Watson nor James Wilson have ever wanted their friends to actually be ordinary. Their weird-brilliantness is what makes them fascinating enough to befriend in the first place.

There is a promo available, here--

--which gives me pause in several other respects. One is that evidently Joan Watson has been hired to babysit Holmes, which is a bit disappointing, as it removes the element of choice from the relationship: Watson is no longer Holmes' friend, she's a paid companion doing a job. The original Watson decided to room with Holmes mostly because Watson is very laid-back and Holmes is an interesting character to watch. Being sort of required to hang around because it's your job is a lot less auspicious beginning, and makes me wonder about the level of constant petty bickering that they intend to write in.

Another is that while Miller's interpretation is appropriately theatrical, he seems not to be playing Holmes with the confidence, bordering on derisive arrogance, that the character normally has. He seems too eager to explain, and too invested in everyone else's approval. One of the constants, in the canon and in pretty much every other serious interpretation I've seen, is that Holmes is rock-solid sure of his deductive prowess, to the point where when he occasionally screws up, he asks Watson to please remind him that he's capable of doing that the next time his ego gets in the way. He might be secretly touched by praise from specific people, as with Brett's classic version, or Cumberbatch's younger Sherlock, but outside of those moments, the showmanship masks everything but skill and surety.

(I suspect this has less to do with Jonny Lee Miller than with CBS. Sherlock went, what, twenty minutes? between the first meeting and John finally cracking and asking how the hell he could know about Afghanistan. That would never fly on network TV. Pacing is annoyingly strict and dictated by commercial breaks, and the general practice is not to carry explanations across an ad break unless you're going to use the reveal as a teaser to make sure people stay tuned. If they're attempting to write this at all properly, there will be far too many deductions involved for any of them to stand out enough to use as a cliffhanger-across-commercials, and so they're pretty much forced to explain everything immediately. Witness CSI with its infamous awful one-liners as an excellent example of how Americans think detective TV should be paced.)

One thing that struck a good note with me was the line at the end, where she asks how he knew she was a surgeon, and he says, "Google. Not everything is deducible." If this is characteristic of his dialogue, then at least they've got Holmes' sense of humor right -- he does have one, and it's often tripped by other people vastly overcomplicating what they think is going on inside his head.

Elementary may wind up decent TV -- someone else who'd seen a screener compared it to The Mentalist more than Sherlock, which is fine by me, as I actually rather liked The Mentalist whenever I caught it. (And not as far a stretch as you'd think. As mentioned above, a not-insignificant portion of the Holmes Method mystique is showmanship. This is also true in real life.) I just really doubt it's going to be proper Sherlock Holmes. And I do not say this lightly -- I speak as someone who used to cheerfully sit down and watch a Saturday morning cartoon about Holmes being revived to fight crime in the 22nd century, and enjoyed the hell out of it. On va voir.


Popular posts from this blog

The mystery of "Himmmm"


WARNING! Sweeping generalizations inside!