First Impressions: Elementary

By the aloof, yet wonderful, Hedge

As an English teacher, I’m a huge fan of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: the intrigue, the clever plot twists, the depth of character – quite uncommon amongst shorter works of fiction. As a nerd, I’m a huge fan of the BBCs Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson: the portrayal of Holmes as a strange, antisocial weirdo with a ridiculous intellect and a collection of symptoms that make for a convincing diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome and Watson as his much more functioning, and incredibly tolerant best friend and companion was a truly inspired piece of dramatic adaptation.

As a human being, and a consumer of a fair amount of American television I am not, I repeat not, a fan of Elementary.

Beginning this week on CBS, Elementary features Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant, misunderstood drug addict fresh out of rehab and ready to resume his work as a consulting detective for the NYPD. Joining him is Dr Joan Watson, a disgraced surgeon played by Lucy Liu. Neither very convincingly.

Holmes is self confident to the point of arrogance and socially inept to the point where I’m thoroughly convinced he was raised in a cupboard. It’s the only way somebody that irritating could have survived as long as he has. He’s not just clever, in this series; he borders on prescient. He discovers evidence with the calm, monotonous demeanour of a serial killing android. The volume of shards in a glass leads him directly to the discovery of a second base beneath the fridge, he is able to detect a virtually imperceptible lean to a room just by walking on the floor and he knows Watson used to be a surgeon because she smells faintly of beeswax, and “many surgeons, as you know, use a beeswax cream to protect their hands from the dehydrating effects of repeated washings”.

Oh and he’s writing a book. In his mind. Would you like to hear the last few paragraphs of Chapter 19? No. Me either, because it’s irrelevant pomp designed to make him seem aloof yet wonderful for the sake of being aloof yet wonderful and not to add any character to this series.

Watson is… well she’s kind of bland, to be honest. She doesn’t do much in the episode besides follow him around, offering little in the way of character or emotion. She does point out a few medical things throughout the episode but it all seems a token gesture. She stands up to him when he’s being a jerk (because he’s aloof yet wonderful) to a rape victim and she is the court-mandated human side of his personality.

Mostly, I just don’t buy Lucy Liu as a doctor. Not because she’s Asian, I know several Asian doctors. Not because she’s a woman, or attractive because I know more than one attractive and female doctor personally. Mostly it’s because she’s Lucy Fucking Liu and I don’t particularly think she can act.

She was good in that episode of Futurama, I guess.

It’s all just so fucking mediocre. Despite the insistence of CBS prior to the series premiere that the series was completely unrelated to, not inspired by and totally different from the BBC series that just happened to air in recent years the entire thing reeks of carbon paper. From the way Holmes carries himself throughout the episode, to the forced awkwardness between Holmes and Watson, to the relationship Holmes has with the other crime scene detectives.

It couldn’t be more of a rip-off of Sherlock if it was trying. Which actually I think it is trying, and not doing a very good job at.

Cumberbatch’s Holmes is arrogant, aloof, bitter, angry, gleeful and meticulous. He’s a firecracker.

Miller’s Holmes is a fact spewing machine who offends everybody because the writers think it’s cool to be aloof yet wonderful. There’s no deduction here, it’s just leaps of exposition and even when Miller is emoting, there’s no emotion. He’s an android. He’s Data without the quirky charm.

Freeman’s Watson is desperate, clever, witty, snappy and fierce. He’s a war hero, a fallen soldier and a man who struggles with his past.

Liu’s Watson is furniture for Johnny Lee Miller to talk at and who occasionally fills the role of ‘speak medical things lady’ or ‘I like baseball, see how “everyman” I am’.

This is Law And Order: Irritating Jerk Squad. It’s NCIS: Holmes. It’s CSI: Let’s Do Everything Steven Moffat Did Just Not Very Well. It’s a way to cash in on the current nerd-obsession with Sherlock Holmes without understanding, nor very competently replicating the things that make Sherlock so easy to fawn over.

The target audience for Elementary is pretty clear; it’s Sherlock for people who either won’t watch ‘foreign’ shows or who tried and just don’t get it and as a less-clever version of a really clever show, it’s fine or whatever. Overall though and despite the claims otherwise, this is another disappointing US version of an excellent UK series like The Inbetweeners and Life On Mars (amongst others) before it.

Watch it if you’re desperate. Or just watch Sherlock. It’s better in pretty much every way.

You can harass the author of this post via Twitter: @CAricHanley