Friday, November 30, 2012

Elementary - Lisa Edelstein

Probably the most notable thing about the recent episode of Elementary is having as guest-star Lisa Edelstein. Edelstein's most recognizable role to date was that of Cuddy, boss to Dr. House of House. No secret that House was based a lot on the Sherlock Holmes template. In fact, there seems to be quite a bit of the tail wagging the dog in that the portrayals of Holmes since that show started seem to take quite a bit of their cues from the outstanding Hugh Laurie's portrayal of the perpetually bad tempered, edgy, manipulative and unlikeable House.

The episode is better than the last several episodes. A running theme seemed to be that every guest-actor was going to be guilty of some crime apart from which ever ones tied in to the Dr. Watson sub plot of the moment. At least in this episode you do have some people that aren't guilty of anything. There are also some good moments of Holmes really showing off his deductive skills such as noticing the differences in the picture placements on a wall and how they are positioned in a photograph. Sadly, there are also some clunky scenes just to play off later. Such as his honing his observation and memorization skills by following multiple television shows at a time. Impressive by itself and serves as showing how he is different from the rest of us. But, it becomes a little heavy handed when it becomes an actual plot point later on. Just as when Edelstein talks about loving crossword puzzles, what could have been just a nice little personality quirk instead becomes a central detail. It keeps the show from being a bit more organic and naturally flowing as everything is too plot centric. There is a bit of humor in the teasing of sexual tension between her and Holmes as that was an ongoing theme and subplot of House.

A plus in the show is that it at least is taking some advantage of the format. Liu's Watson is portrayed as being capable and good at what she does and a strong character in the face of Holmes' overbearing. The problem with any adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is the Watson Problem. In the stories, Watson serves a specific purpose. His character can be a little bland as he's the narrator, the reader's eyes to the story and Holmes. Doyle does a good job in delineating Watson's character better than many such narrators, even others written by Doyle. Still, once you develop Holmes for tv, plays, movies, you don't need Watson for that purpose. The camera serves as narrator. Watson needs to be developed fully and equally as a character. There's still no reason for the character to be an Asian female, but they do a good job with her as a character. She shows the required will, intellect and backbone that is needed to make the relationship credible. Likewise, Miller's Holmes allows a bit more vulnerability and humanity to peak through the more frustrating aspects of the character. It's doled out to the viewers a little bit each time, much as we'd get those odd moments and flashes of humanity and humor in the books. What's missing is the sense of joy that Holmes gets from having a problem to solve.

Otherwise, the show is still in shake-down mode. As a mystery procedural it's mediocre. Which would be fine if the characters and various relationships had a little more spark and variety to them instead of flatly serious the whole time. You can have the characters be more serious and one note most of the time if the drama of the crimes and suspects are appropriately strong. It has yet to truly find that balance.

Friday, September 28, 2012


The new American made Sherlock Holmes Elementary tv show has debuted. It features Johnny Lee Miller as a tatooed Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson and Aidan Quinn as Captain Gregson.

No doubt looking to the well-received BBC's Sherlock that reimagines Holmes and Watson in modern London, with just three episodes a season and thinking, they can easily outdo that. But, here, they seem to take the tact to see how much they can change and still get away with calling it Sherlock Holmes. What makes Sherlock work is how much they keep. While the setting and style of the mysteries have changed, they stay on point with the main characters, their personalities, motivations, and even their relationships to each other. It's a game with the Holmes fans to spot the allusions to Doyle's works, the play with words of the various titles and stories while still presenting a smart show. And, while no romance between the two leads, there is chemistry.

Elementary is the anti-thesis of all that. Starting with Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. We see right off her going for a morning jog. No time spent in the Middle-East, no bullet wound. She is hired by Holmes' father to basically baby-sit him, to make sure he doesn't relapse into his drug addiction. So, she has to share a flat with him and follow him around 24-7. It is Watson who is the cultured one. Oh, and this all takes place in New York.

Miller plays Holmes much like other actors have recently. Deliver the deductions and reasoning with a lightning pace patter. The faster and more incoherent it comes out, the smarter we'll think the detective is seems to be the thought process. Nor is there any chemistry between him and Liu, even as sparring partners.

Other than bits of dialogue about deducing, a scene with bees and the drug addiction, there's nothing really Sherlockian about the show or characters. The motivations, forces that bring them together and keep them together are all wrong. In fact, it would be a superior show if it wasn't trying to be Sherlock Holmes, if it just found a different angle to hang the procedural show on. Because once you strip away the few bits of Holmes that cling to it, in reality it is a very standard detective procedural. Strip away the pretense of being Holmes and play him as a Holmsian type ala House or Patrick Jane would free up the characters from preconceived restraints. Then you can really explore the co-dependence of the relationship as established in the pilot... him as a struggling recovering addict who finds solace in work and kept on a short lease by his unseen father (what potential could be there), her as a woman driven by the loss of someone to addiction and the need to honor that memory by doing something to fight those struggling with addictions while hating the constant reminders, the loss of her old life, her old vocation. You can take the characters anywhere  you want and open up the stories to being more than just being about him making clever deductions while being insulting to everyone. Do that, and you'll be truer to what Doyle was doing and the spirit of Sherlock Holmes.