Why I Won’t Be Watching “Elementary” – An Anglophile’s Rant
Remember when we were taught in school that plagiarism was bad and would go on our permanent record and pretty much ruin our lives for all eternity? I was terrified of doing anything that remotely resembled copying someone else’s work, and as an adult I can appreciate why we were so warned. Originality is the key to any good product, from a film, to a recipe, to a television show. Over the past few years there has been a resurgence of a nasty trend that has me more than a little upset, especially that part of me that learned all about the evils of plagiarism. Whenever a show does really well in England, American producers seem to think that not only should there be a version here in the States but that it will do even better. Luckily, most of the time the latter is not the case, which helps restore my faith American audiences, if only a little. But the arrogance, the overt plagiarism, sometimes so far as a scene by scene, line by line, copy of a British show by an American channel, is infuriating. I am not saying that this is anything new or that the Brits aren’t doing it as well, but recently it seems as though the major networks in America just want to have someone else do all the work and copy the answers at the end. For this I wag my finger of shame at you, SHAME!
The most recent show to have its essence sucked dry, its very soul stolen and spat back out is the phenomenal series “Sherlock” which will be airing in it’s Americanized version later this fall as “Elementary.”
Before I allow my wrath to explode upon this blog, I will first describe “Sherlock” in case you have yet to experience the brilliance of this program.
Sherlock is a modern retelling of the classic stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, often using some of his actual plots as the main subject for an episode. The Sherlock Holmes in this series, played by the up and coming British star Benedict Cumberbatch, is an arrogant, nearly sociopathic PI armed with a blog and a cell phone, which he uses to annoy and taunt the police at his pleasure. Dr. John Watson, played by Bilbo himself Martin Freeman, is a war vet and also a blogger, who acts as the audience’s conduit into the mind and world of Sherlock. These two men fight and bicker like an old married couple, their chemistry is really what drives the show and what keeps it so grounded. The scripts and plots are intricate, intelligent and witty, never treating the audience like it is the lowest bar on the intelligence ladder. It is a pity that there are only three episodes a season for the show, and that because of this American awards categorize it as a miniseries. But the key is that so much time and effort is put into those three 90 minute episodes that we are left wanting more but not feeling any less fulfilled with what we got. One other aspect of the series that makes it so unique and important for our time is the way the evidence is given to us throughout each episode.
Now, let us look at the show that will be making me sad until it is canceled, at which time I shall celebrate accordingly. Elementary is pretty much exactly what you would expect from an American adaptation or a remake: remove the quick-witted intelligent dialogue, add in some blatant innuendos and an unnecessary gender change and voila instant remake. Oh don’t let me forget, add in feel of sexual tension that will never be consummated or else the show will fail. Do I really need to say more, because other than that it is a straight up copy of a show that doesn’t need to be copied because, well, it IS STILL ON AIR! Sherlock is a character that can only be portrayed by 1 in a thousand actors, which is why we haven’t seen it in so long. Robert Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch are a rare breed. They can play charming sociopaths, you love them for being so anti social and odd. The same thing cannot be said for Johnny Lee Miller who has never really grown to be anything more than a side actor, the best friend, your basic supporting actor. He lacks any of the charm and depth that is needed for a role like Sherlock. Watson is a character that needs to be loveable but strong, shy but powerful, and I am sorry but no way in hell does Lucy Liu fit any of that criteria.
You may say to this: Well you can at least give it a chance, you can’t judge something without watching it. In my ranting rage I would answer with two statements: 1. Yes I can because I have forced myself through the other remakes by American networks and they have done nothing but anger and upset me. 2. Lucy freaking Liu! I really think number two is perhaps the most important answer.
But let’s take a quick look at my first answer because it is one of the things that forces me to switch over to BBC America rather than endure NBC or CBS or any other major American network. The problem is when one of these Americanized versions fails because it can’t pull off the magic of the original, people often don’t go back and look at the source, because they expect the same crap. The one show that epitomizes the failures of Americanizing a show is Life on Mars, the original series ran for two fantastic seasons while the remake barely made it to a full season.
The original series is a mix of science fiction, period drama and cop show, and honestly shouldn’t have worked. The reason it did work was because of the caliber of talent both on and off-screen, the actors were brilliant and the writing was spot on. After receiving great critical praise and pulling good ratings on BBCA, ABC felt they could recreate this lightning strike. What was created was a travesty in every sense, they attempted to use the exact same plot lines, the exact same dialogue and the exact same characters, but it was a disastrous failure. The show was lacking in the writing, the directing, and especially in the acting, none of it worked, and it just proves that you can copy someone’s paper but you will never get the same grade. You cannot paint a fake Picasso and expect it to pass, you cannot try to sell an off brand sandwich cookie and expect it to taste like an Oreo, no matter how much everything is the same, there will always be something missing. What angers me most is that many people didn’t even know it was a remake and when they did find out they didn’t seek out the original.
Keep in mind, I don’t write any of this to tell you what to watch or what not to watch. All I hope I accomplish with this rant, other than releasing my pent-up rage, is to get you to look at the original first. The show is on Netflix, on DVD, probably on YouTube, so before you attempt to sit through the flaming pile of…the new American version of Sherlock, just take 90 minutes to educate yourself with the source material.