TV Review - Elementary

I never watched the Emmy nominated, PBS, British remake of Sherlock Holmes that put Sherlock Holmes in a modern setting, so I don't have that basis of comparison. I abhorred the Robert Downey, Jr. film, directed by Guy Ritchie, which didn't put Sherlock Holmes in a modern setting, but it did use modern, if not ultra-modern, filmmaking techniques to create this ultra-stylized, visual spectacle. It's probably because of my abhorrence for that film that kept me from watching the PBS series. However, three reasons made me tune into Elementary, which is again a modern interpretation of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story of the super sleuth. The first two reasons are the two actors: Jonny Lee Miller who plays Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu who plays Joan Watson. Miller did one season of the short-lived Eli Stone as well as one season of Dexter, and I thought him amazing in both. I first saw Liu in Ally McBeal and instantly fell in love with her. The third reason I tuned into this show was Michael Cuesta who directed the pilot episode of Elementary. Cuesta has directed episodes in two of my favorite TV shows: Six Feet Under and Homeland, as well as many more. I think he is probably one of the best TV directors working right now and I trust his abilities.

Cuesta's abilities certainly shine in the pilot episode. Cuesta comes up with some camera angles that reveal or position characters, particularly corpses, in awkward forms. His shots aren't awkward in their framing nor their movement and editing, but the images are striking and memorable. Cuesta's color palette is eye-popping. The tones are mostly hushed, but when he wants to accentuate a color like red for example, Cuesta can do it. His camerawork is fluid and there's more of a handheld feel. It's helpful because Miller's Holmes is antsy, always moving around and Watson has to follow him, so we in turn follow her, which means the camera operator is constantly on his feet. It's not shaky cam. It's fluid and there's a difference.

Cuesta doesn't direct the second episode, so these nice flourishes and unique cinematography touches aren't present, but the show is such that I didn't notice because Robert Doherty's writing is strong enough and Miller and Liu's performances are absorbing-enough that those flourishes aren't necessary but become frosting to a well-baked cake.

The premise is that Holmes used to be a consultant for Scotland Yard until something happened that resulted in him becoming an alcoholic and/or drug addict. Holmes' father who is apparently wealthy threatens to cut him off unless he rehabilitates. Holmes moves to Manhattan to start over but his father hires a woman to be what's referred to as a "sober companion." She's Watson and her job is akin to a AA sponsor mixed with adult babysitter. She lives with him and makes sure he doesn't relapse.

In the meantime, Holmes works with the NYPD and specifically Captain Toby Gregson whom he used to know in England. Like with Doyle's original character, Holmes has a great power of observation and deduction. In the past decade, there have been characters like this in prime-time, American dramas like Emmy-nominee Tony Shalhoub in Monk or Vincent D'Onofrio in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Critics can draw comparisons to Sherlock Holmes for those characters, and Holmes might have been a definite source of inspiration, but Shaloub and D'Onofrio do create unique persons. For better or worse, Miller simply by being called Holmes seems like he's not being unique. Perhaps, it's just a game of semantics, but I would have preferred making the name of Miller's character anything else. Yes, all the others are ripping off Doyle too, but at least they're not as brazen about it unlike here. Pretend like you're trying to be original.

Nevertheless, I do like Miller's performance, even though characters like his and shows like this have an essential problem that was actually pointed out in Star Trek: The Next Generation in the second season in an episode titled "Elementary, Dear Data." The episode was a mock Sherlock Holmes adventure. One character points out that the fun comes from trying to solve the mystery, from searching for clues and putting the puzzle together one piece at a time. When someone can walk into a room and have the whole thing figured out and then proceeds to rattle off all the answers immediately, what's the point? That's not fun. It's actually boring. It's impressive that this human has seemingly super senses like super smell as evidenced in the second episode, a photographic memory and an almost computer-like mind, but it can get tiring very quickly.

What the writers have to do is come up with cases that really challenge Holmes. This would involve cases with a lot of twists and turns that grow in ridiculousness as they go on. This happens in the second episode when the mystery is revealed to be so insane. The other thing the writers have to do is change the focus here and there, and they do that in the first episode.

Aside from being someone who merely follows Holmes, Watson starts to participate in the cases, but she's not only trying to deduce who the murderer is, she's also trying to deduce who Holmes is and what his past is. Holmes resists opening up and sharing what happened to him that caused his substance abuse and eventual rehab. In the first episode, there is a great scene with Holmes in jail where Watson is able to crack Holmes' facade a little. It's extremely well-acted between Miller and Liu, and it convinced me that this could be a great show.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Airs Thursdays at 10PM on CBS.


  1. Great post.

    I liked the latest episode - M. Probably the best episode in the show.



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