Despite Changes, CBS' Elementary Captures the Spirit of the Original Sherlock Holmes
More than a century after Arthur Conan Doyle published the first Sherlock Holmes novel in 1887, the detective lives on with a film franchise starring Robert Downey Jr., a PBS series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and now Elementary, CBS' modern retelling of the crime-solving legend.
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Elementary presents a Sherlock (Eli Stone's Jonny Lee Miller) who is a recovering addict and consultant for the NYPD. His distaff Watson (Lucy Liu) is a former surgeon who becomes Sherlock's "sober companion."
Miller loves the work that Cumberbatch is doing on the PBS series, calling himself a "groupie" of his work. "We had a discussion about this project," Miller noted. "Benedict has been really supportive and I wanted to assure him how different this project was."
Despite the modern flourishes, executive producer Rob Doherty promises that the new show will capture the spirit of Doyle's hero. "I wanted to make sure that I had my own take on it," Doherty told reporters at CBS' Television Critics Association fall TV previews on Sunday, but also noted that Holmes' drug use and fumbling romances (key elements of the source material) will also figure in his version of the series.
Even Sherlock's greatest foe, Moriarty, will find a place in the series. "I feel it's important to be true to the spirit of the character," Doherty said of the eventual introduction of the character. "In so many of the books he was such a shadowy figure. He was described as the spider at the center of the web of crime in London. Quite often you're dealing with his agents because he has a finger in every pie. He's the man behind the man behind the man. We may be able to make some use of that. In other words, there are a few dominoes we may knock over before we get to him."
"Our Sherlock is a puzzle-solver," he continued. "I really think that's his obsession. To a point, you might call it an addiction. In many senses he has an additive personality. The original Sherlock dabbled with cocaine and opiates. Our Sherlock had those same problems... but the big difference is our Sherlock hit a serious wall. To his great surprise, the world is not as easy as he thought. Something terrible happened to him in London and he spiraled out of control."
The character has retained a singleminded, even brusque manner, but Doherty said Miller's Holmes is at heart a good guy. "I absolutely don't see him as a sociopath. I see him as someone who is driven ... to do the right thing, to help people. I really do think that at the end of the day he believes in justice. It's not just about putting bad guys behind bars. Helping people and doing the right thing are factors that play into it as well.
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Liu was quick to point out that her take on Watson will be less the bumbling sidekick that the character has devolved into over the years and more the brilliant partner and observer of the original. "Historically, it's been a bit skewed," she said. "Originally, if you've ever been able to read the actual literature, Watson is actually not really comedic.
"The foot in the bucket and that kind of Watson happened because in entertainment there's got to be a sidekick. In this case, I don't think that's the direction we're going in," she said. "But ask me in six episodes. If I have a foot in a bucket, we're going to have a discussion."
Elementary premieres on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 10/9c on CBS. Will you be tuning in?