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.
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.