How does ‘Sherlock’ work in the US? The answer is Elementary!

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In February, news of an upmost upsetting nature came to light.

Barely a month after the second season of Sherlock finished on UK screens, CBS revealed their intention to do a version of the show – Elementary – but based in New York.

I’m going to be honest. Quite frankly, the idea may not the best idea.

The BBC drama established itself as a successful reincarnation of the iconic characters.  It introduced Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero to the iPod generation and gained a certain level of credibility for bringing Sherlock Holmes into the 21st Century.

However, my problem with CBS’ plan lies in the origins of Holmes himself.

Doyle created Sherlock Holmes in 1880, when London was not only the world’s biggest city but the heart of the British Empire, the largest the world has ever seen.  The backdrop of foggy streets, horse-drawn carriages and cobbled streets has now become a classic landscape of Victorian England.  Another classic image is that of a man in his long coat, deerstalker hat and pipe in his mouth – the instantly recognisable figure of Sherlock Holmes.

In the eyes of many around, Sherlock Holmes is a British institution.  Looking back at past and present reincarnations, all of them contain two key elements – Holmes is British and he lives in London.  These two characteristics go hand in hand; Sherlock Holmes would not be the same without Baker Street and Baker Street can not exist outside of London.

So what is my concern?

CBS’s Sherlock remake, consisting of a crime-fighting duo in New York, sounds a lot like most US-based crime dramas.

Credit must be given to the casting of British actor Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes (who starred with Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch in Danny Boyle’s 2011 stage version of Frankenstein) but they have cast former Ally McBeal star Lucy Liu as his companion Dr Watson – a character that has been traditionally played by men.  It sounds like an alternative to the much-debated “more than friends” relationship between Holmes and Watson or is it to please more conservative viewers?

Could two men living and working closely together with all of the innuendo that implies will no doubt upset vocal members America’s Christian right. No TV channel wants their new programme dogged by protests and angry emails. Possibly CBS hoped that by changing Watson to a woman, the traditional TV trope of the hero falling in love with their sidekick could be upheld and any negative press defused before it even began. If true, this is a great shame as one of the most endearing aspects of Holmes and Watson’s relationship is how the fraternal love they clearly share is always present throughout Doyle’s writings.

But in Elementary, they seem to have sidetracked this controversy and less we forget, Watson eventually gets married in the novels so we can scrap this assumption for the US remake right now.

Then why the need to remake an adaptation?

Surely it would be to broaden the Sherlock fandom across the Atlantic, as well as capitalise on the increased interest after the series and the recent Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, but producers of Elementary have stated that their intention is not to create a show that resembles the BBC drama.

I’m not sure what to expect  but there will be a constant underlying fear amongst fans and critics until the pilot has been aired.

4 Comments
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  2. Kate Kulzick says

    I’m negative-excited for this pilot. Sherlock is fantastic and attempting to do it as a 42-min 22-ep a season series feels incredibly foolish. If the casting and location move weren’t enough of a concern, I seriously doubt they’ll be able to put together enough intricate, fascinating cases that only Sherlock Holmes can solve, complete with 5/6 commercial breaks, without losing the characters.

    Moffat worked around Holmes’ brilliance by letting the audience in on his process via text on screen. Psych already lets the audience in on Shawn’s process by highlighting the clues he’s noticing that others have overlooked. I highly doubt this will work as a series. I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea. Keep in mind, this is just a pilot- we’ll see if it gets picked up.

  3. Michelle W. says

    I live in the U.S., and my top three favorite shows are set (and filmed) in (beautiful) parts of England and Great Britain. (Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Merlin. Is it any wonder I want to visit this country someday?!) Seriously, though, this show is fantastic, and Benedict Cumberbatch (and David Tennant), are my favorite actors. I wish we could see the show when it airs in the UK. (Why do we have to wait until MAY?! Really?! May?! Air it on BBC America! Please?!)

  4. Niles J says

    sadly, BBC’s Sherlock works beautifully in the US, but it’s the best program that no one has seen. It has so many things going for it. I would love to see ways to get this out to a broader audience, rather than watching CBS just throw yet another version out there. Maybe us US fans should launch our own grass roots marketing campaign…

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