Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I have now seen the pilot for Elementary.

Not. Impressed.

I tried to like it. I tried really hard. I said to myself: Self, the camerawork and score at the beginning make it obvious they want this to be a 'dark and gritty' thing. Maybe that will work! There is a lot of murder in Sherlock Holmes! It is at least a little plausible that in this day and age if Holmes really did a shitload of drugs rather than taking up some hobby that is a more accurate social equivalent to cocaine back in the day he would have gotten into a lot of trouble! And that trouble might have results!

No.

They touched upon the sex thing in the beginning; when Watson goes to find him, she meets an escort coming out of his place. He tells her he finds sex vaguely disgusting but without it his brain seizes up, so hookers it is. I suppose I can buy that, I guess, although Holmes has a tendency to not ever eat or sleep either, so why he'd think to take care of sexual frustration is beyond me. I was willing to run with it until the end, when Watson asks why his drug addiction got so bad in London, and his lack of answer prompts her to guess -- an actual guess, not an educated extrapolation from other thing she knows, just a goddamn guess -- that it had to do with a woman, and apparently was right.

Holmes is irascible, scruffy, and lacks conviction. He jitters a lot -- I assume this is intentional, since Miller's not that twitchy normally, not even on the floor at ComicCon when someone surprise jams a mic in his face. He seems somehow smaller than he should be. They also seem to be banking on the idea that Americans can't tell one English accent from another. Miller personally fronts his th'es and wibbles his initial r's in that sort of "I police my diction so I don't sound Cockney to the Americans" way, but his Holmes is explicitly stated to be from a wealthy (and presumably educated) background which matches the accent basically not at all.

The character is much less Holmes than it is House without a medical license. He's deeply invested in psychology. This Holmes figures out people -- things too, but mostly people, and the emotional things that make them tick. He is so aware of the inner workings of other humans that it's blatantly clear that he's being an ass to everybody just because he wants to be an ass to everybody; it serves no deductive purpose and most of the time doesn't even function as effective manipulation, he's just honestly pissy and trying to push everyone away. Watson gets rather angry with him more than once, as well she should, as it's obvious he's not doing these things out of absent-mindedness or ignorance or obliviousness to everything that isn't the case, he's just being vicious. He does understand how and why people lie to avoid hurting feelings, and he does it early on, which makes it about nine times as bad when he uses it to hurt her on purpose later. The sober-sitter setup is because there is no other reason anyone else would possibly hang around for this.

Watson is thoroughly impressed with the wrong things. There are a couple of clever bits in, although no more than I'd expect from CSI on a good day, but those aren't the things that make her boggle. I realize I'm the wrong person to be evaluating what of these bits would be obvious to a normal human being, but it doesn't take a genius to go 'huh. too much glass there for one cup' or to figure out that it takes a significant career event to make a surgeon stop being a surgeon. (Although the way he deduces she's a surgeon is utter bullshit -- anyone who thinks you can tell a surgeon from beeswax hand cream is A. unaware of the bazillion brands of specifically beeswax-based creams marketed to the general public and B. unacquainted with women who fuss over their nails.) It was nice of them to let Watson make an important observation, but for Holmes not to have realized that means that this one isn't an eideticker, which removes much of the fun from watching him rummage through his brain.

Nobody involved pings my radar as being interesting levels of bright. They all seem like normal humans, and none of the performances are particularly bad, but it is exceedingly difficult to fake genius if nobody in the food chain has any, and nobody here has. (FWIW, generally speaking, actors who play Holmes well do ping my radar. Basil Rathbone does, Jeremy Brett does, Robert Downey Jr does. Benedict Cumberbatch pegs the needle -- not only is he very very bright, but he has a lot of really classic gifted-very-early-kid behavior when out of character. Many of the Watsons do, too, particularly Hardwicke and Freeman.) The writers do not make up for it. It's a lot like being a doctor and watching House -- if they stick to hitting the high points of behavior you know is television-symbolic for "this person is an excellent physician" then you can kind of turn your brain off and go with it, but as soon as they start trying to fill in the details they get it so horribly all kinds of wrong that you just want to knock your head on the coffee table until you can forget you saw that.

The relationship between Holmes and Joan Watson here also shows suspicious signs of veering into "teaching the weird one how to behave" territory. The weird one knows how to fucking behave. (And is not even really satisfyingly weird, here.) This one is just not interested.

The people who are writing this evidently don't really grasp how you can find someone like Holmes sort of charmingly mad rather than completely unbearable. One gets the feeling that they think Watson's noblest quality is a sort of addlepated codependence that results in sticking to Holmes harder and harder the more vicious he gets. There is nothing noble about volunteering for abuse, and in the adaptations I actually like, it's not an issue, as Holmes makes it a point to be his own strange version of kind and interested in his flatmate. "Not easy to live with" is not really the same thing as "mean sonuvabitch".

Oh well. I don't really watch TV anyway, and giving it a miss is easier on my bandwidth.

Comments

  1. "The character is much less Holmes than it is House without a medical license."

    Hah! I said the same thing last night. It's kind of nice knowing my neophyte knowledge of Sherlock syncs up with an expert on the subject. Well...I said it was more House/Wilson than Holmes/Watson.

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    1. Except that Wilson also chose to stick with House. People kept asking him why he put up with that and he always sighed and said, "Because he's my friend." Plus House knew what made Wilson tick. Wilson was not boring, and House made sure that Wilson was not bored. Holmes here may or may not know what makes his Watson run, but he's really not interested in playing with it -- he's interested in making her do what he wants, and then go away. He's not sharing. He's just yanking her around and demanding her attention as a method of control.

      It's going to be rather a waste of Jonny Lee Miller, unless they revamp the writing pretty spectacularly between the pilot and the second episode.

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  2. I thought by the end of the episode, when they were watching baseball, she'd decided to stay because they were...if not friends...interested in each other.

    The BBC version is still light years ahead in that department anyway. The moment I realized...well, when Sherlock said...that John had stopped limping, it was like a THUNK. Those two were symbiotically linked.

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    1. The way it came off to me was that, although they were on slightly friendlier terms, the baseball thing was Watson trying to goat Holmes into learning "normal" as per her job description, and Holmes was using his deductive prowess and ability to do math in his head as a means of control, i.e., forcing her to come away from the TV and get dinner. She might think he's intriguing, but he doesn't find her especially interesting -- he doesn't ask questions, make any testing statements, or pay any particular attention to her reactions to anything. Overall he seems to have figured out her basic structure and then stopped caring.

      Pretty much all involved in Sherlock have described it at one time or another as a kind of love story. (Somewhat hesitantly in the case of the two leads, who are hilariously aware of the slashfic.) These two men need each other whether they want to need each other or not. Unusually for dramatic TV writing, they both seem pretty okay with that. Their character growth is not about becoming close -- that was set before they left the first crime scene -- but about learning to communicate.

      It's not ordinarily the way you tell this type of story, but I suspect it's a lot more familiar to people who are in or near the Sherlock-bracket of brains. It has been noted, even by people who aren't me, that the weird genius kids tend to be able to grok who they can actually talk to in the same way they grok everything else -- immediately or not at all. It is not at all surprising to me that this is the kind of friendship shared by both Moffatt and Gatiss, the writer-producers, and also apparently by Cumberbatch and Freeman, who both recount clicking immediately from the first time they read together. It's TV about smart people, written by smart people, and played by smart people. Elementary, as well-produced as it may eventually be, is not.

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