Elementary Series Premiere Review: Something Fun Is Afoot

Elementary S01E01: "Pilot"

Public domain, impeccable brand recognition and the insatiable American appetite for procedurals have summoned Elementary despite/maybe because of the excellent PBS/BBC version that electrified the UK only a couple years ago. This incredibly British property being rehashed through an American perspective is of course going to infuriate a few Brits (not least of which is Benedict Cumberbatch, who threw a fit about it) and you know, they can have that. I kind of get it, when I heard Jennifer Garner was cast in a Miss Marple series I lost my cool for a few hours, and I am as American as a Bald Eagle perched on the Statue of Liberty.

Re-telling stories defines them the way running defines muscles, streamlining and perfecting them. I'm not going to say Elementary improves the Sherlock Holmes mythos with the liberties it takes, but it certainly doesn't hurt it, and when compared with the original, I mean the REAL original, I mean black letters on white pages, the adjustments make for a contemporary re-imagining of Holmes closer to its source material than any amount of Robert Downey Jr. boxing his way through a dock of coal workers.

A lot of people initially gave Elementary guff over having a lady Watson. Holmes and Watson is the bromance of the century, and that makes people worry that if you remove the BRO you turn this series into the last season of The X-Files. The series itself plays with this a little bit: When Joan Watson first meets Holmes, he quotes awkward soap lines at her in a squirm-worthy moment.

However to these concerns I say, are you serious? I don't remember anyone complaining or denying the insane sexual tension between Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.! Watson and Holmes are kind of in love with each other, albeit in a non-sexual way, and that's how it's always been.

The producers have basically taken blood oaths that Watson and Holmes will have only a platonic relationship, and so far that's what these two are building. And shame, shame, shame on y'all for saying men and women can't have mutually beneficial platonic relationships. That's why so many women get left out of office lunches, networking rounds of golf and other important social mixery, because everybody's got to play like girls got cooties.

I'd argue Elementary's version of Watson is superior to the PBS/BBC version's in how the show explains Watson shacking up with Holmes and tailing him day and night: Watson is Holmes' sober buddy.

That was the most brilliant stroke of the pilot. Being a sober buddy explains beautifully why she has to live in his house, why she has to shadow him at all hours, and why she observes him so closely that she can serve as a framing device for the story, just as in the original source Watson essentially existed to pontificate on Sherlock Holmes' mental facilities.

Plus: Lucy Liu?! Like many other '90s kids I see her as nothing less than a goddess and she's genuinely excellent in Elementary: restrained and frosty and strangely vulnerable by turns. When I first heard she was in it, I thought she'd be a lady Sherlock Holmes, and frankly I'd still love to see that version.

Harder to stomach for purists is Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock. With a corny tattoo sleeve and all abs-out when we first meet him, this is not the impeccable, dapper eccentric of 42 Baker Street but an addict "escaped" from rehab, continually at the mercy of an off-screen wealthy father. With flatscreens and BDSM and funny T-shirts Elementary tries hard to underline that this is Not Your Daddy's Sherlock Holmes, but this edginess is largely superficial—he's still an arrogant eccentric who talks like any improv actor given the prompt "Detective story! Go!"

I do appreciate turning the Sherlock Holmes archetype on its head by introducing him as an addict first, a genius second. Traditionally Sherlock is introduced as a flamboyantly clever walking computer with a later reveal that he's super into cocaine and such. Traditionally the character's drug use only vexes poor Watson, it doesn't mean he's been living up in Mile High trainspotting in London like Elementary insinuates this Sherlock has been doing. Re-framing him as a hardcore junkie whose new addiction is the truth achieves what the tattoo sleeve and hipster boots fail to: It makes Sherlock a more provocative character.

As for the first mystery: Please do not expect me to go into detail about this or any procedural's B plot. A procedural's weekly crimes succeed only to the degree that they reveal more about the primary story of every procedural, namely the development and growth of its main characters. Just know that the next time you drop your cell phone into the toilet, rice is a desiccant, y'all.

However: I was sort of alarmed that in this first foray Watson actually discovered the clue that would crack the case, showing observational skills almost on a par with Sherlock, which, HMMM. Seems like heavy lifting for Watson.

Despite being based on one of the world's most reiterated franchises, Elementary managed to say something new about these characters while maintaining their essence, and also looked great, sounded great, and didn't bore me. PBS/BBC fans please don't compare and contrast, its a disservice to both shows. As an entry into CBS's pantheon of outrageously successful procedural lineup, Elementary already feels somehow both cozy and fresh and engaging and personally I'm looking forward to the next one.

More importantly, what did YOU think of it?


– Is anger over a lady Watson kind of misogynist?

– Can't guys and girls have a bromance without having a romance?

– Would a Sherlock with an American accent have been the Final Straw for Benedict Cumberbatch?

– Sherlock uses Google and Facebook to get clues. Has social media made sleuths of us all?

Will you watch Episode 2?

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