There was a bit of a ballyhoo when it was announced there was going to be yet another TV version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. There was a real intake of breath when Lucy Liu was named as the new Doctor Watson – a female Watson and a Chinese American one too. Rebranded and taken far beyond Baker Street – a New York Sherlock and not a Hollywood one – there were mutterings from all corners and eyebrows raised.
However the Sherlock Holmes of Elementary has turned out to be quite refreshing with some new and interesting ideas, and the series marks a revamp of the brand that some would say takes it further than the much-celebrated BBC series. Why not have a female Watson, and why shouldn’t she be Chinese in origin?
One of the main themes of Elementary has been how Holmes has taught Watson to think like a detective. He teaches her to open her eyes and see the world from a new perspective. The New York Sherlock uses information and data along with his omnipresent smart phone and assorted technology, to find relevant data and extract meaning from it. This Holmes is a detective who uses every technological advantage he can. And Joan Watson has begun to learn from the master and developed her character and skills in the process.
There’s a lot to like about the performances of both Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in this series. Miller is more vulnerable, less aloof than the BBC Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and what Miller loses in mystique he makes up for in depth and nuance. Lucy Liu is a better man than Martin Freeman will ever be, and has added a multiplicity of dimensions to Dr Watson, including her readiness to stand up to Holmes and match his strength of will and intellectual ability.
This New York Sherlock is a big data detective who searches for relevant, valuable information to extract meaning and correlations from the details. He uses his intuition and data-mining experience to understand the facts and reveal the truth he’s searching for. This is a Sherlock who goes beyond theory and hypothesis to deal with hard data. And with Joan Watson by his side he’s a totally new man and all the more interesting for it.