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Elementary Review: "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)

September 28, 2012  |  11:05am
<i>Elementary</i> Review: "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Elementary is not BBC’s Sherlock by any stretch of the imagination. And it’s not trying to be. CBS’ take on the classic character tweaks the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective story to give its own spin on such a classic sleuth.

This modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes takes place in New York City. Holmes ended up there after establishing himself as a super sleuth with Scotland Yard before being sent away due to a drug addiction. Now after leaving rehab, his father has given him what’s supposed to be a “dumpy” brownstone in Brooklyn for him to live as long as he maintains a sober companion—Dr. Watson.

Jonny Lee Miller’s (Hacker’s, Trainspotting) Holmes is enjoyable the same way Dr. House was enjoyable. He’s seemingly a genius who plays by his own rules. He’s tatted up, unkempt and does whatever he wants when he wants. Miller is charming and aloof and while this take on Holmes isn’t revolutionary, it has just enough subtle nuances to make such a tired character fresh again.

I was a little skeptical when Lucy Liu was cast as Watson. He’s such a classic character, but she pulls it off in a completely different way than I ever imagined Holmes’ sidekick being played. John becomes Joan, a former doctor who is paid by Holmes’ father to watch over him for six weeks. What’s great about this relationship is that they don’t know each other. This is one of the aspects that makes Elementary completely fresh. The audience is seeing Holmes for the first time and is often seeing him through Watson, who is placed in a similar situation. They don’t like each other right off the bat, and neither knows what to expect (well, Holmes presumably does since he knows everything).

So how do an ex-junkie and a “glorified helper monkey” start solving crimes in the Big Apple? Holmes does whatever he wants, remember? Watson is a little apprehensive joining him at the crime scene at first, but she’ll eventually get over it.

The show, which isn’t going to be a serialized take, sets itself up as a solid procedural. Perhaps it would have been the smart decision to make each episode about one set of murders, or at least arc a few episodes together. CBS, however, is the king of procedurals (CSI, NCIS, etc.) and knows what the average American viewer wants.

That’s not to say Elementary is average. In fact, for being a simple procedural it does take a few large steps past your typical crime series and jumps into what everyone expected from the show. Holmes is Holmes. That’s what we want. The show kicked things off with an intriguing mystery with just enough twists and turns to keep me tuned in. Elementary will draw a lot of just comparisons to Sherlock, but in reality it does come off more like House, which was in fact based off of the Holmes character. If this show is going to match the level of success the medical drama had, it’s going to have to tighten the core set of characters and keep churning out twists and turns each and every week.

I have a feeling Elementary is up for the job.

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