I have always enjoyed reading Holmes. Probably for the same reasons most people do: his quirky personality, his extreme intellect, and mostly, his unbelievable ability to notice minuscule details which always prove to be vital. Also like everyone, I enjoy Watson and his representation of the rest of us as a contrast to Holmes. He acts as a buffer between Holmes and the rest of the world, giving us as much insight into Holmes’ as he can.
I have never viewed any of the old black and white renditions, mostly because,well, I just haven’t. This doesn’t matter much because lately there have been an abundance of new viewing options that I have seen. The best (IMO) being Sherlock on BBC, the Robert Downey Jr. movies, and now, Elementary. Each with its own take on the classic characters and each offering its own spin on setting and story.
Easily my favorite of the three, Sherlock, seems to be the most true to the canon even though it is in a modern day setting. The characters are well cast, the stories well written and they play out much like you expect: Holmes sees things you didn’t and puts it together before you do. Sometimes a twist, sometimes not as much. All in all a job well done. This series has, by far, my favorite portrayal of Moriarty. Possibly one of the best portrayals of a villain, period.
The Warner Brothers films, starring Robert Downey Jr., attempted to show him as more of a man’s man. They brought out the more physical, often overlooked side of Holmes. It was loaded with action, well cast and acted. The villains did not appeal to me as much in this version, in fact, my adoration of these films hangs strictly on three things: The casting of Holmes and Watson (excellent dialogue between them throughout) , The more physical side of Holmes and the sets. Both films are decent renditions and reside on my shelf.
Finally, the latest arrival to the party, Elementary. My grievances with this incarnation are few. While one would think that being an American, I would prefer it set here, it is not so. In the end I have accepted where it takes place, and come to like it, but it would not have been my first choice.
I won’t spoil the story for those who have yet to watch, I will just say that I am not a fan of how they chose to portray Moriarty. My opinion may sway through future episodes, but so far, it has been a let down. While it was a ‘twist,’ it wasn’t one that I enjoyed.
Lastly, the show periodically feels a bit more ‘cookie cutter’ than I would prefer. Sometimes it seems more like a standard crime drama than a Holmes mystery. The writers manage to avoid this in most cases, but occasionally it bleeds through. The saving grace in these moments is the casting of Holmes and Watson.
In this case the good definitely outweighs the bad and I watch every episode. I truly enjoy the show. The characters and story (most of the time) allow me to not take notice of how much like other shows in its genre it actually is. Perhaps it’s good acting, perhaps it’s just because it’s Holmes.
Perhaps these things help as well:
1. Lucy Liu
No-brainer here. If you have ever read my blog or held a conversation with me for more that two minutes, you know I am infatuated with her. Initially I was skeptical though. Maybe it was chauvinist of me, but I wanted Watson to be a man. He always has been. He should be still…wait…I like what they are doing here. Her character has depth and adds a new dynamic to the story and Holmes’ character too. I’m swayed. Which makes me happy, because I can quit being a pig and like one of my favorite actresses as one of my favorite characters. Mark Saks – 1, Me – 0.
2. Johnny Lee Miller
Obviously, the role of Sherlock is the most vital role in any representation. Normally I would say that his looks weren’t important, but being opposite such an attractive co-star, he had to be. And he is. Another good choice by Mark. He is quirky yet confident, confident yet troubled, troubled yet effective. He sells me on the depth of the character who is trying to seem shallow. I was not familiar with him or his body of work, but can now say that I look forward to seeing him more.
3. New York City
If it had to be set in the U.S.A. I don’t know what other city it could have been. New York City works on so many levels. The city itself is a sexy wonderful backdrop for any tale. It has a reputation for having some seedy areas and temperamental people, which add validity to many of Holmes’ and Watson’s experiences there. The fact that they can walk most places and cab it everywhere else makes it feel more natural when the characters are traveling together so much. It is necessarily big, but accessible enough to still feel right.
4. The details.
The writers provide enough details for Holmes to see, without the CSI ability to ‘enhance’. He is able to find pieces of the puzzle that add to, instead of compete with or replace what is found by forensics teams. He tracks everything in his mind as well as visually on a wall until something falls in place. Until something ‘clicks.’ Sometimes it is evidence that does it, sometimes dialogue. Either way the details and they way they are presented help the show not blend in as much as it could with very popular, similarly themed shows that are lead by less historic main characters. I expect more out of this show because of its namesake and I feel that most weeks it delivers.
5. The relationship between Holmes and Watson.
Just like the novels, stories, other series and movies before it, this show hinges on the dynamic between its two leading characters. Say what you will, but Holmes without Watson would have been missing something. The writers of Elementary have put hard work into humanizing a character who seems so beyond us. They gave him a troubled past which haunts him into the present. They gave him demons to fight off and memories he wants to forget. They also gave him a redefined Watson to help him cope and move forward. Luckily for viewers, she has problems of her own and is still struggling to find her path when they meet. This new take on an old story of two less than obvious, yet completely obviously, kindred spirits we know and love adds a fresh twist to the show. Many will disagree, but I like it.
If you can watch this show on its own merits and compare it to Sherlock as little as possible you will find it has a lot to offer. It is the same as much as it has to be, different as much as it needs to be and as appealing as I hoped it would be.