For the past 120 years or so, Sherlock Holmes has reigned as the indisputable king of fictional characters the world over. So, with the richly deserved popularity of the newest Holmes offering by the redoubtable BBC, it simply stands to tedious reason that American television would immediately want to rush out a 'knock off'. Enter 'Elementary', who's misplaced claim to fame is having cast Watson as (egads!!) a woman. Perhaps CBS would like us to forget about their two previous unsold pilots come TV movies which featured a couple of perfectly charming lady Watson's (Margaret Colin and Deborah Farentino respectively), each paired with a Holmes who had survived to the present time through the expediency of a rickety Victorian cryo-stasis machine. The result in each of these cases was a bright and breezy modernization of the classic character which, at the same time, somehow managed not to take him completely out of context, just as the BBC version has so beautifully done.
My predictable objection, then, to the newest CBS retread is in the casting of the two principle players. Lucy Liu is quite simply the most wooden and irredeemably unappealing actress I have ever seen anywhere in anything. Neither her facial expression, nor her tone of voice varies by so much as a micron through the entire hour as she allegedly ratchets from rage to sadness to depression to shock to fear as the primary object of Holmes' justifiably condescending attentions. No charm, no chemistry...no NOTHING. At long last, the industry has finally produced a more patently dismal Watson than the laconic Nigel Bruce, who played opposite the superlative Basil Rathbone in those cheesy 'Holmes fights the Nazis' flicks of the early forties.
Now on to Holmes himself. First off, any casting director worth her gravitas would NEVER hire an actor named Johnny Lee Miller for this role. It just SOUNDS wrong; Jed Clampett, maybe but Sherlock Holmes...I don't THINK so! It's actually off-putting before you even set eyes on the man, but when he DOES appear, it only gets worse...MUCH worse. Never mind the scruffy pre-beard growth that is perpetually on his face. I realize that they're just ripping off Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal in the recent movies because it's probably too much trouble to have come up with a 'look' of their own, but the copious tattooing on Miller's torso and arms was WAY off the mark! Refer to the Sidney Paget drawings from the original stories to get an idea of what Holmes is SUPPOSED to look like.
While it was lightly touched upon in those original stories that Holmes occasionally used a 7% solution of cocaine in order to alleviate his mental boredom, this updated depiction as a broken down, bottomed out addict who needs a keeper after leaving rehab is simply more of a stretch than I am willing to make. His otherwise appealing superior intellect just comes off as grating, as assayed by Miller, adding to the general air of disappointment which every true Holmes devotee must be feeling about now. The show's one saving grace? The plot lines are both intricate and compelling, although I DID count no fewer than SIX usages of the phrase 'reaching out to thus and so' when they meant phoning them. Hackneyed catch-phrases are the hallmark of inferior writers, so my hope for maintaining the story quality of the first two episodes is actually quite low.
Ultimately, with this latest debasing of two of literature's most iconic characters, the only step down from here is Holmes / Watson slash!