‘Elementary’ An Interesting Take On Holmes


There are so few really good new TV shows this year that most of the time I stick with the old favorites. But CBS, the home of all-night police drama, does have a particularly interesting new/old detective on its Thursday night schedule. Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective in literature, appears as a major character on Elementary.

This is a new Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller). The old one, according to the new series, never existed, but the new one is a man of our times. The show’s creators decided that the (formerly) drug-addled Sherlock will arrive in New York City and continue his work as a consulting detective. They made one other “small” change. Back a hundred years ago, a respectable person’s drug problem was generally ignored unless major social problems occurred. So Dr. John Watson, although critical of his colleague because of his problem, never treated him. Today, however, we take these things more seriously. Sherlock has gone through drug rehab and is assigned a sober companion, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), who has been damaged by some of her own previous choices as a surgeon.

Chances are, many Holmes fanatics thought about drugs themselves when they heard that. Although a handful of Sherlock’s literary critics have tried to find a homosexual subtext in the relationship, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had nothing at all about that kind of relationship in the actual stories. A female Watson… well, you figure it out.

So far, however, Holmes and Watson seem not to have the slightest sexual interest in each other. CBS executives call their relationship a “bromance,” the kind of friendship two men might have, although one of the characters is female. Happily, so far the relationship between the two leads has worked well. Holmes was initially antagonistic while Watson wanted to move on to another client as soon as possible. But, over the past dozen shows, they have shown respect for each other, something vital as a part of the major plot of the show. And, with luck (not to mention taste) they will keep it that way.

Holmes, who befriended Captain Tommy Gregson (Aidan Quinn) when the man visited London, uses that connection to assist the New York City Police Department. And, happily, he uses the same kind of logical tools that fans of the fictional detective are accustomed to seeing, often frustrating Gregson’s assistant Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill). Of course, we have become fairly used to our lead detectives doing interesting things and often frustrating the regular cops because of their brilliance. The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) uses his “understanding of human emotions” to find the bad guys. Holmes uses more deductive skills as well as his careful cataloging of a wide variety of items. The show cleverly mixes his knowledge with the use of computer databases to assist in finding solutions.

The plots, so far, have been strong. There are always more than a few tricks within each show to obscure the real killer. Also, as in the best of the police shows, moral issues are often raised. In one of the earliest shows, a boy who was a victim of a serial kidnapper turns out to be even more depraved than his mentor, raising interesting questions about the justice system when it deals with the young. Other cases have dealt with terrorism, white-collar vs. blue-collar crime and the appropriateness of revenge as part of complicated crime cases.

Even better, it looks like Sherlock’s old enemy, Moriarty, might have followed him over to New York. Moriarty is the evil genius who killed Sherlock’s great love Irene Adler. Some of these things were alluded to in the original books. This show is more specific about them. It looks like there may be a confrontation in the near future. Moriarty used a minion to tempt Holmes into action, but the man involved was far more complex than is normally the case.

I look forward to more episodes. Miller is a good choice for Sherlock, both brilliant and tormented. Liu has made Watson more than a simple sidekick; she has gradually been contributing more to the whole process of crime-solving with her own specialized knowledge and insights. It is not yet one of the best shows on television, but it does have a lot of potential. And, of course, most of the best shows of this type are essentially based on the work of the original Holmes. Try it.