(This post is brought to you by a 65 hour work week and the fact that I am feeling very unmotivated to write due to my brain being missing. Obviously I watched TV instead.)
So a while ago, CBS announced that they would be airing a Sherlock Holmes retelling, set in modern New York with a female Watson and the internet exploded. I mostly avoided it, because I can’t stand Sherlock Holmes. I mean, I tried reading the books as a kid and thought they were incredibly tedious, and I watched the first RDJ movie because Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack, and I did watch the whole of the BBC Sherlock because I am a sucker for punishment (and high production values), but I hate Sherlock Holmes the person, so I can’t really give you a good reason why I did any of those things*.
But on Sunday I had some time to kill and I was out of TV to catch up on and I thought “Hey, I’ve heard some good things about Elementary and also Lucy Liu is in it and also I kind of adore Johnny Lee Miller” and then I watched the episodes on livestream and…they were really good.
Admittedly, there were some mitigating factors. As I mentioned previously, I will suffer through Holmes for music, and Elementary has managed to secure Zoe Keating, who I adore, to play the “something is afoot” music. Also the opening credits have a Rube Goldberg machine in them, and I really like those. But more than that, it’s just well written. It’s more a complete re-imagining than a straight up retelling, and I like that. The BBC Sherlock just found a way to give Holmes a cell phone. Elementary found a way to make him a modern person.
Also, there’s Joan. There are arguments about how taking a male icon and genderflipping him isn’t a victory long term, because we’ve still got an extreme shortage of female icons. I will allow that this is true (and reserve judgement for when Irene shows up), but at the same time I am a believer in increments, and if “stealing” Watson is how we get the ball rolling, than I am for it. When the news broke, before it was confirmed how different this series was going to be, I was excited for Joan to be an army doctor with John Watson’s backstory, but I really think the show did something clever in giving her an entirely different schtick. She is an icon now, taking the base John Watson laid and repurposing it into her own character. I think that is brave, and also awesome.
The Holmes stories often hang on the relationships between Holmes and Watson, and so far Miller and Liu are knocking it out of the park. Their partnership is a true one, with moderate exploitation that is occurring on both sides. This is quite unlike what we get with the BBC, and I am the happier for it. I love the idea of these two people unfolding each other, learning to complement one another, and eventually becoming better for it.
And in the end, that’s what it comes down to for me. The BBC Sherlock (the person) is a self-proclaimed sociopath. He knows that what he is doing is wrong and possibly hurtful, and he does it anyway. And John just enables him, because he’s a doormat. With Elementary, we get a Holmes that is, for whatever reason, trying to be part of the world instead of moaning about how he’s better than it and the rules should not apply to him**. And we get Joan, who is not going to put up with any crap, and who is going to make informed decisions about whether or not she wants her brain to be like his.
Elementary is a pretty basic crime procedural. It’s usually pretty obvious WHO the perpetrator is, but because Holmes is forced to play by the rules and come up with actual evidence to explain the HOW, it’s a much more human story. CBS took a big risk, moving the show to New York and being unapologetically modern and low-stakes, but so far I think it’s paid off. After five episodes, I care more about Holmes than I ever have, and I adore Watson beyond measure. I hope the show continues to be this awesome, and doesn’t fall prey to the sensationalism and ridiculousness that has felled other Holmes stories***.
*Actually, I might be able to? I mean, I acknowledge what Holmes has done for fandom, for the crime genre, and for fiction in general. And I don’t mean fandom as in “House”. I mean fandom as in people were writing their own Holmes stories AND PUBLISHING THEM very, very early on. I feel about Holmes the way I feel about the X-Files, which I cannot watch because it’s too scary for me. I appreciate the legacy.
**There’s a moment in “While You Were Sleeping” where Holmes tells the “good” sister to “Guard your big heart. It may beat longer.”, and it’s not patronizing at all. He genuinely wants this good person to keep doing good in the world. And that is probably the moment I fell in love with him. Platonically, thank god, but still.
***If only it will break its habit of giving away the ending IN THE TITLE.