Friday, September 28, 2012

No $#!+ Sherlock!: Elementary School

"..and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue."
- Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Well, I could say the same thing about Phillip Marlowe, but I'd rather talk about Elementary, the new CBS drama that premiered last night, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, respectively. It was a show pilot, setting up the show's premise - Sherlock Holmes moves to New York - and meets Joan. He also meets Captain Gregson, played by Aiden Quin (Tobias Gregson is a character that sometimes pinch-hit for Inspector Lestrade in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so, yes, London had more than one cop protecting the city). The mystery was routine - basic Law & Order/CSI/Monk/Mentalist stuff. What was really interesting was Holmes.

In recent years, adaptations of Sherlock Holmes lean toward him as acting like an aloof, misanthropic rock star - if you can't keep up with me, piss off - that kind of thing. Benedict Cumberbatch is like that, Hugh Laurie is like that (yes, I am counting House M.D. - I believe that's how the revival really began) Robert Downey Jr. has that same approach, with the sexual ambiguity thrown in (I'm sure all the mystery writers who thought making their detectives confirmed bachelors with no sex lives and  ridiculous-sounding names are all wearing ice bags on their heads in the afterlife - it used to be a school of thought that the bouquet of roses and magnifying glass were two separate worlds and the genre would be more "romantic psychological suspense thriller" than "puzzle-solving detective story" How could they have known that they couldn't have been more wrong?). At this stage, Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell could be Sherlock Holmes.

Anyway, Johnny Lee Miller does give his performance that same rock star vibe - I'm surprised they haven't thought of playing Sting's "An Englishman In New York" or maybe they're getting to it and I'm jumping ahead again - but he also comes off as a gentlemann - we haven't seen that in a while! That was Basil Rathbone's Sherlock - calm, composed and careful. There's also some of Jeremy Brett in Miller's performance - the scenes where Homes is going over the details of the various living quarters and draws inferences from how the layout influences how the people who lived in it would have moved about. And yet, he uses his gentlemanly demeanor to deliver backhanded compliments, so their is an edge beneath the surface. It'll be interesting to watch how he stands out from the pack.

As for Lucy Liu, I think this the first time she gets to really play a character who isn't emo or a prop of some sort. There are hints that she'll get to blossom acting-wise. We'll see, we'll see.

As for the production values, I would like to see them have more fun with the New York locations. It's shot the way most films are shot in New York - flat and grainy. Terry Gilliam made New York look like a Medieval fantasy world in The Fisher King.  London was Sherlock's playground in the BBC series, but it's actually smaller than New York. Think about it, guys, just think about it...

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