Elementary – Pilot: Occasionally entertaining but lacks where it matters
Elementary – Pilot episode
Directed by Michael Cuesta
Written by Rob Doherty
Aired on Thursday, September 27th 2012, 10/9c on CBS.
Now, it is going to be a good year or so before the much-anticipated third series of Sherlock returns to UK TV screens. As much as fans cannot wait to see how Cumberbatch’s Holmes marks his return, we have something else to – hopefully – fill the void. Thursday saw the pilot episode of Elementary, the CBS drama that is also based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero, taking place in modern day New York. Trainspotting‘s Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a recovering addict who breaks out of rehab who acts as a consultant for the New York Police Department, while Ally McBeal‘s Lucy Liu plays his ‘sober companion’, Dr. Joan Watson.
Even though the initial reaction to this remake was negative, with criticism focussing heavily on the ‘copying’ of the BBC series, the pilot is quite surprising – in fact, it is not that bad. It obviously takes the lead from other New York-based crime dramas in terms of the similar grainy-appearance and production style, with the first few moments of the opening scene being particularly intriguing – even though they effectively throw off the viewer from what becomes a relatively rushed, open-and-shut murder case.
Michael Cuesta’s fast-paced direction around the city that never sleeps is by no means, Holmesian – the lack of suspense and mystery in this pilot doesn’t encourage the complexity that comes as standard with a Sherlock Holmes story. In contrast, the Manhattan skyline and the continual presence of the NYPD serves as a ongoing reminder of their involvement in the case, instead of highlighting Holmes’ incredibly deductive mind. Furthermore, the featured murder of a wealthy woman doesn’t really pose a mental challenge and Doherty’s script only serves to focus on Holmes and Watson’s developing relationship, rather than highlight the complexity of the case in question.
This particular pilot episode doesn’t appear to base itself on a well-known Holmes story; in fact, the only similarities it draws from the original stories is Holmes himself (a man originally from London with drug issues), his companion Watson and the fact that he helps solve crimes. By distancing themselves from the obvious connections that will link them to the BBC series as well as Doyle’s novels, CBS and Rob Doherty – Elementary’s frontrunner – have allowed themselves much-needed room to avoid direct comparisons in terms of plot and style.
While Robert Downey Jr. has charm, Benedict Cumberbatch has intensity, Jonny Lee Miller has…well, he has the funnies. His take on Holmes is not the quick-deductive smart ass we all know him to be. Instead, his persona is not as sharp in his methodology and by going out of his way to prove his reasoning, rather than using assumption and observation (this is even by his own admission; he does actually admit at one point, he ‘cannot deduce everything’), he is more emotional and in some parts, more believable as a person. One key phrase he says sticks in my mind: “Sometimes I hate it when I’m right” – not the kind of thing you would expect from a guy who takes immense pride in his intelligence.
Lucy Liu breaks the norm by portraying a female Dr. Watson – a role normally played by a man, the ‘bromance’ between Holmes and Watson is one of the endearing aspects in Doyle’s works. Even though she cannot equal the same level of wit as Miller, Liu’s Watson takes a soft and almost cautious approach to Holmes’ quick tongue, supporting his bat-crap craziness and notably, isn’t quick to swoon at his feet – and more importantly, at his quick mind – and keeps her focus on being a responsible addict-support figure. Crime show veteran Aidan Quinn plays NYPD Captain Toby Gregson, whose persona and hardened character fits like a silk glove, even though he doesn’t have enough screentime to shed more light on Holmes’ history in London.
Overall, Elementary works moderately well as yet another US-based crime drama – however, as a Sherlock Holmes remake, it is lacking in key elements to make it stand out amongst its fellow adaptations.