It’s nice to see that with yet another incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, we’re at least giving more than the usual, casual nod to the original work. Oh sure, any Sherlock you’ve seen has most of the traits down, and is bound to offer up a Sherlock that is at least “a quirky old bean,” but CBS‘ Elementary goes for broke in delivering the most honest translation of genius as its own damage we’ve seen since The Zero Effect, and who saw that anyway?
Jonny Lee Miller is thus far very nearly perfect as a Holmes who isn’t just observant in the extreme, but who has a mind that closes as many doors as it opens. Now in the United States, after a stint in rehab, Sherlock finds himself with a special sort of “recovery” babysitter named Watson (Lucy Liu). Said babysitter comes to watch over him by way of his father, and has no idea what she’s in for. Tagging along with Sherlock would be bad enough, and rather irritating, of course, but he’s also decided to pick up work as a consultant for the police, something he used to do for Scotland Yard.
Though I’ve never been a fan of Liu, the pair have a nice chemistry, which is trickier than it first appears, because the idea is for them to not quite have a good working bond. This direction goes a few steps further than the original works, at least for now, though we easily imagine a point not too far off when their relationship stabilizes, but it embodies the spirit rather well, especially since we are spinning this yarn in an updated world.
This entire opening may sound a little “Sherlock fanboy,” but the effort behind this aspect of the show is the great positive it has. The episodic case work provides the “fun” of the show, and I predict it is going to be much more of a challenge to keep up than your ordinary crime drama, but it’s the analysis of Holmes himself that pushes the show to its true heights.
We’ve all had the, “Ahhh… I see you’re a surgeon and your dad had an affair,” more times than we can count, but more often than not Sherlock is delivered almost as a sort of magic trick. We see the trick, then he explains how it’s done, and we move on to watch him apply this to the solving of crimes. We rarely get the statements that make this character, and these are ultimately the most compelling parts of the books. Genius, sure, but there comes a point of genius (or perhaps a certain kind of genius) when life itself becomes increasingly difficult to deal with, and that’s before you even get to dealing with other people.
Even better, while Sherlock Holmes has always been a hell of a hook, he’d be nothing without crimes worthy of his presence. That’s a hurdle for television crime drama, and one that shouldn’t be glossed over. You don’t call in Sherlock Holmes whenever you get a murder case, and you don’t need him to put the screws to every jilted lover that isn’t confessing. You need serious crimes, and ones that involve grand machinations as opposed to crimes of passion. The show might not kick off with the best cases you can imagine, but they’re certainly solid entries in the effort, and ones that manage a lot of fun.
And then, we’ve got the police, and while purists like myself might raise an eyebrow at the fact that we’ve taken away the rivalry and sparring that’s usually involved, but Aidan Quinn not only gives us a fair play at flummoxed when needed, but he also gives us believable reactions to Sherlock appearing to offer help.
Put it all together, and consider the fact that it’s all these pieces are put together so well, and it’s the best new show of the season. In fact, there isn’t even a race.