What is our modern obsession with Sherlock Holmes? In the span of three years we’ve had two feature films and a modernized reboot on the BBC channel starring the legendary detective. We’ve had two Holmes and two Watsons, and recently even two Moriartys.
The portrayals of Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch are distinct enough that the actors make the roles their own, yet both convey the Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. So why does CBS feel the need to put out another version of Holmes when we have two perfectly good ones already?
CBS’s new show “Elementary,” like its British counterpart “Sherlock,” seeks to modernize Holmes for the 21st century. Jonny Lee Miller plays Holmes while Lucy Liu, in an interesting twist on the mythology, plays Dr. Joan Watson. Not only is Watson a woman this time, but instead of Holmes’s loyal partner she’s his sober companion, helping him recover from a drug addiction.
Placing Holmes in contemporary New York and forcing Watson on him are intriguing choices to make, but they ultimately don’t lead into any new territory. Miller’s Holmes is still the neurotic but brilliant detective with amazing deductive skills. He’s eccentric, yes, but there’s nothing about his performance that sets him apart from Downey or Cumberbatch.
Theoretically a female Watson would provide a whole new dynamic on the famous relationship, but it never leads into anything more than the typical man-woman partnership found on most American cop dramas. Ultimately that’s what this new Holmes is: just another detective drama without most of the iconic elements that made the movies and the BBC show so compelling. “Elementary” could have done something new with Holmes, but it seems content with piggybacking off the success of “Sherlock” and the Downey films.