October 29, 2012

Elementary


This latest modernized Sherlock Holmes is getting better, and it could get a lot better (or ruin itself by trying too hard).

The Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu pairing so far is like a sports car driven by somebody learning how to shift. With Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law, Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman, and Jeremy Brett/David Burke, not to mention Hugh Laurie/Robert Sean Leonard fresh in our minds, the bar is high.

Miller and Liu are watchable by TV standards, and I'm hoping that they'll hit their stride in a few more episodes. At least they've stuck so far to the "cozy" murder mystery style (straying from which ruins the genre in short order).

Cumberbatch/Freeman is great contemporary casting, but I loath the scripts, that seem to be written by X-Files castoffs. Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes is too much muscle and mugging for the camera. Highly entertaining but closer to a steam punk James Bond than classic Sherlock Holmes.

It's all about digging up the relevant clues, applying brainpower, and solving the problem. Hugh Laurie remains the best modern Holmes since Jeremy Brett. Nobody has yet come close.

I do have one big beef with the Liu's Joan Watson. Despite my dislike of the BBC Sherlock, they not only cleverly kept Freeman's Watson within the literary canon (talk about history repeating itself!), but showed convincingly why he would want to hang around with such an eccentric character.

We see this in Robert Sean Leonard's Wilson as well. Liu's Watson, on the other hand, gets the standard "tragic" backstory that essentially denies her the opportunity to make an up-front decision. Granted, Wilson and Watson do end up being mother figures, but Liu's is a bit too literal.

I see no problem stealing from Sherlock and making Liu's Watson an American doctor recently returned from Afghanistan (make her an ROTC grad). Again, it could hardly be called copying because it's canon! Not to mention that there'd be a ton of potential story material in a biography like that.

However, I've noticed that Joan Watson's backstory has evaporated. And good riddance. But it still leaves Liu with a what-am-I-doing-here problem that will have to be resolved if the series lasts more than a season or two. I don't mind the drug counselor premise, but it's got a definite half-life.

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Comments:

# posted by Blogger Joe
It doesn't work for me either. A big part are the scripts; they're convoluted and boring. Moreover, I find Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock dreadful and completely disconnected. It's like the writers had been told about this Sherlock Holmes concept third hand. Same as the actors.

For me Jeremy Brett is the definitive Holmes (though even that series often dragged) with Benedict Cumberbatch a solid second. Miller pales in comparison. (For all the problems with Sherlock, Cumberbatch kept me watching. Miller doesn't. This is true with House/Laurie/Leonard--by the last seasons, they were the only reason I kept watching.)

As for Lucy Liu's Watson; once again; terrible writing. She also lacks the vulnerability of David Burke and Martin Freeman (who is awesome in the part.) With the latter two, it's clear that without Sherlock, they'd be lost. Not so with Liu--quite the opposite.

This show needs a fixer and a reset. Since the first six shows are generally a done deal by airing, that's the point to see if a shift happens (and many successful shows did major adjustments for the better.) Otherwise, this is likely heading for cancellation.
10/30/2012 6:29 AM
 

# posted by Blogger Eugene
Good point about who is dependent on whom. The easy error to make is that Holmes is the "unstable" member of the duo. While Watson is far more attuned to the rules of public propriety, if anything, Holmes is Spock to Watson's Kirk, and his curse is being too rooted in reality. Even House is usually the one pulling Wilson back down to earth, not the other way around (and Wilson is the one who prevaricates and dissembles like crazy). So, indeed, Watson probably needs Holmes more than Holmes needs Watson.
10/30/2012 9:32 AM
 

# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
I totally agree about Brett! He's always been the standard I measure other Holmes against. I enjoy Cumberbatch, but mostly I just love Freeman to death. As for the BBC scripts, each season seems to follow a consistent pattern: the first movie will be phenomenal with close ties to the "canon" story (excellent new Adler); the second will be more of a loose homage and will kind of drag, and the third will be boring conspiracy stuff with Moriarty. (However, I did think the use of Moriarty in the second season made way more sense than in the first and the "death" of Holmes' reputation--as well as his literal death--was very clever.)

But mostly, I just can't get over how great Freeman is as Watson; he has the fundamental kindness of Burke and Hardwicke as well as the coiled edgy toughness that Watson-as-bodyguard has to have. My favorite line from the first BBC season is Holmes saying to Watson, "And I said dangerous, and here you are." I'm really looking forward to Freeman in The Hobbit!
11/03/2012 1:50 PM
 

# posted by Blogger Joe
I was being too generous. Last week's episode was horrible. The plane crash episode tonight was so beyond dumb that I turned it off.

This isn't Sherlock Holmes; it's about a complete dumb ass who makes hopelessly obvious mistake after mistake before blundering onto the right solution while Watson wonders around aimlessly. She's not needed at all. I think Liu knows and shows it.

(The production value is so mundane that I wonder if they blew all their money on Miller and Liu figuring they would draw an audience.)
11/08/2012 10:07 PM