Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller & Lucy Liu starts on Sky 1 tonight: Episode One Review – not one for purists but we think it has the right mix of dry wit and suspenseful murder mystery

by Matt D

If there’s one thing I’m surprised by it’s the recent revival of the Sherlock Holmes character which begun with Guy Ritchie’s film in 2009 and continued with the BBC TV series in 2010. While the film kept the setting and time period in Conan Doyle’s original, the TV series updated the stories in a modern day setting and garnered critical praise in the process. So the announcement that CBS were to make their own updated version of Sherlock Holmes, complete with a female Dr Watson, was met with plenty of scepticism. Elementary moves Sherlock across the pond to New York but have kept his accent the same casting English actor Jonny Lee Miller in the role of the legendary sleuth.

Interestingly we are introduced first to Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson, a former surgeon who has now become a sober companion to people who have left rehab but still need someone to help them through their adjustment to normal life. Watson’s latest patient is Sherlock Holmes who has already escaped from rehab on his day of release and is back home enjoying the pleasures of female company. This being Sherlock Holmes it’s not long before he uses clues to find things out about Watson, namely that she used to be a doctor and that she drives a car….deep. Like in the British version of the programme, Holmes is a consultant for the police. Formerly working for Scotland Yard he now assists the NYPD with their homicides and soon Joan finds herself at a crime scene. Sherlock’s contact at the NYPD is Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson who trained with Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Unit after 9/11 meeting Holmes while he was there and has now seemingly formed a respect for his working methods.

The first crime of the series sees Gregson and his team investigate the disappearance of Amy Dampier, the wife of respected psychiatrist Dr Richard Mantlo, who has vanished after a break in at the couple’s house. As the first scene depicted her murder we already know that she’s dead and it’s not long before Sherlock also figures this out after finding blood splatters and broken glass before discovering Amy’s body in an unusual place. From there the police procedural element kicks in, as Sherlock is always one step ahead of the law enforcement officers, interviewing potential suspects and inevitably getting himself in trouble in the process. Through the course of the episode we also learn more about Joan namely why she gave up surgery in favour of becoming a sober companion, as well as seeing her relationship with Sherlock develop. The end of the episode sees the pair working together to crack the case and essentially celebrate the start of a beautiful friendship but hopefully one without any romantic ties.

Anybody who feared that Elementary would be a carbon copy of our beloved Sherlock can rest easy as there is very little similarities between the two other than the names of the central characters and the fact that they both wear scarves. Whereas each of Sherlock’s ninety minute episodes are updates of the original Conan Doyle stories, Elementary is simply the story of a quick-witted police consultant and his frustrated companion. Holmes purists might want to steer clear of Elementary as there’s very little in common with the books as for the time being there is no Mrs Hudson, no Mylock and no Moriarty while there also doesn’t seem to be any references to the stories themselves. Personally I think Elementary has more in common with something like Castle as both focus on police consultants who often wind up the officers despite their brilliance often cracking the case, however this show has neither the humour nor the sexual chemistry that that programme does. That’s not to say Elementary doesn’t have its merit as I thought it was an incredibly watchable police procedural comedy drama albeit one that doesn’t really feel that original. Creator Rob Doherty’s script was well-paced with the right mix of dry wit and suspenseful murder mystery while he also managed to flesh out both of his lead characters as well as establish a connection between the pair.

In terms of performance Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes is nearer to Robert Downey Jr.’s performance than Benedict Cumberbatch’s, as this Sherlock is on the whole fairly sociable. In fact the first time we meet Sherlock is just after he’s enjoyed a bit of a romp, however it is revealed he doesn’t much care for sex because of ‘all the fluids and strange noises.’ Personally I feel he puts his own stamp on the character as he deals easily with the quick witted dialogue but there is also a warmth and tact to his Holmes that I don’t feel we’ve seen in any of the modern Sherlocks.

Some other writers have criticised Lucy Liu as being the weak link of the show but for me the part of Joan Watson plays to her strengths as she portrays this woman as cold and stand-offish as well as someone who has long given up on life. Liu’s icy expressions balance neatly with Miller’s zany characteristics and by the end of the episode they do make me believe that they have become quite fond of each other. My one wish is that they don’t try to make any kind of romantic connection between the two as for once it would be good to see a platonic relationship between a male and female lead. I also quite liked Aidan Quinn’s performance as the world-weary Police Captain who realises how brilliant Holmes is but at the same time is wary of his volatile nature. Elementary is also well-directed by Michael Cuesta, who was recently Emmy nominated for his work on Homeland, as he makes the New York setting fit the character of Sherlock Holmes especially when he frames the detective against the city skyline.

My main issue with this first episode was that it didn’t really make any attempts to set up a story arc for the rest of the series. Sure we got some clues about skeletons in the closets of both Holmes and Watson but I didn’t ever feel that Doherty gave us a reason to want to tune in next week other than to see this pair solve another mystery. To me the other problem is that there are so many American police dramas around at the moment that Elementary will struggle to fit in as I don’t feel it has as much originality as it likes to think it does. It seems to me that the producers wanted to create an updated version of the Sherlock stories but all they’ve really done is create a character with the same name as Conan Doyle’s hero who is quite good at spotting the clues others miss.

Ultimately I can’t say I wasn’t entertained by Elementary as it was a well-paced and well-directed crime drama with a witty script to boast. The performances from both Liu and Miller suited the characters they were portraying while the pair share a believable plutonic chemistry. Though this first episode was enjoyable I wish more had been done to create stories for these characters outside of the murder mystery plot. Hopefully in upcoming episodes we’ll learn more about the pasts that both Holmes and Watson are trying to escape if this doesn’t happen I can see the show getting very stale very quickly. I have to say though I am surprised by how much I enjoyed it and for now at least it seems that the small screen is big enough to have two programmes fronted by modern day interpretations of the great Sherlock Holmes.

What did you think of Elementary? Do you think it’s different enough to Sherlock? Leave your comments below..

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