Elementary: Is America ready for this radical Sherlock Holmes reboot?
The new CBS drama moves Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective to modern-day New York City — and reimagines Dr. Watson as a woman
In recent years, there have been no shortage of cases for Sherlock Holmes to tackle — and as it turns out, no shortage of Sherlock Holmeses. Between the big-budget films starring Robert Downey Jr. and the BBC's Sherlock, which recasts the adventures of Holmes and Dr. Watson in the modern day, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective has been quite busy. The most radical revision of Sherlock Holmes yet debuted on CBS on Thursday night: Elementary, another modernized re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, starring Lucy Liu as a female Dr. Watson assigned to monitor a drug-addled Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) after he's sent to rehab in New York City. (Watch the trailer below.) Does Elementary's radical Sherlock reinvention warrant further investigation, or should TV viewers turn this case down?
Elementary is a clever new take on an old character: With Elementary, CBS "brings something fresh to the Holmes mythos," says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. The series has found a worthy Sherlock in Miller, whose unconventional performance makes the detective "a brilliant, jumpy, self-described 'recovering addict' fresh out of rehab." And the show wisely avoids falling into the original stories' "gummy mythologies," which have made other recent adaptations less appealing for mass audiences. With a strong cast and a more accessible approach to the Sherlock Holmes stories, Elementary could prove to be the most popular recent Holmes adaptation yet."
"TV review: Elementary"
The show is actually a pretty cliché: "Moving the story to the states and changing Watson's gender seems to be where the creativity ends for Elementary," says Marisa LaScala at PopMatters. The series premiere contains almost every increasingly familiar Sherlock Holmes cliché: He shows up the police by using a clue they overlooked, rattles off an uncannily accurate description of someone he's just met, and has a general lack of interest in conforming to social norms. It's unsurprising that Elementary goes so far out of its way to hit those beats, since they're so central to the character, but they're starting to wear out their welcome as they "become a little less novel" with every new Sherlock adaptation.
"Elementary: Lucy Liu as Holmes' sober companion"
Elementary isn't really a Sherlock adaptation at all: Although "Holmes is one of the most adapted literary characters of all time," there's plenty of room in popular culture for two TV shows and a film series, says Jessica Johnson at Time Out Chicago. Elementary, though, isn't a particularly faithful adaptation of Doyle's stories — and not just because of the gender-swapped Watson. Miller's Sherlock is "a little too cold, a little too much of a machine," and the series also lacks familiar chemistry between Holmes and Watson. Elementary doesn't really use much of Doyle's conception; it's just another CBS crime drama with "case-of-the-week storytelling and some amusing twists and turns."
"Elementary TV review"
Consensus: It may not measure up to the BBC's Sherlock, and while Miller's Sherlock seems a bit more addled than normal, Elementary is one of the better new shows of the fall season.