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The Fundamental Triumph Of CBS' New Crime Drama...Elementary

Updated on January 3, 2015

Dr. Watson I presume?

Actress Lucy Liu
Actress Lucy Liu | Source
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes | Source

CBS's Swift-paced Series is Afoot, with nary a misstep!

Well done, Watson (and Holmes)!

I think I found the best tv drama series of the year. As a consummate fan of Conan Doyle and anything Sherlock Holmes and with the seemingly unending interpretations of the legendary figure, I'm always happy to see a new vehicle on the horizon. I couldn’t wait for the new Elementary series on CBS to start last season.The PBS series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett had been my Sunday night ritual; the Warner Brothers movies Sherlock Holmes, Holmes For The Holiday and Game of Shadows with Robert Downey Jr. were great and I'm wondering if there will be a number three.

So, when Elementary arrived, with its puzzling casting of paring Lucy Lu as Dr. Watson with Johnny Lee Miller's Sherlock, and after the over-kill marketing of CBS to launch it (similar to the big promises, and bigger let-downs of The Dome—in my humble opinion), I was looking forward to it, but, I have to admit, I was little suspicious. Excited, but apprehensive.

I've just finished watching their 30th episode, and I can honestly say I’m not disappointed. In fact, it’s well into its second season, and I’m a bigger fan than ever!

Click Here For List Of Actors Who Have Played Sherlock Holmes

Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes | Source

Elementary Premise…Puzzling At First

Once acclimated to the plot premise, my suspended disbelief took off! I spent the first couple of episodes wondering if the characters were descendants or somehow otherwise related to their namesakes, as is the case of CBS’ new Hawaii Five-0 where lead character Steve McGarrett is the son of original Steve McGarret of the original 1970’s series, ‘Hawaii Five-O”; or, if CBS' new detective duo were simply present day characters whose investigative acumen had earned them the pseudonyms of Conan Doyle’s great detectives.

Elementary: Distractions Episode

Holmes and Dr. Watson Reimagined

CBS Succeeds

Nope. CBS simply took the original premise, set it in present day New York instead of London, and altered the character of Holmes to be a female. Cool. However, easier said than done. In this case, thank goodness the show has solid, imaginative scriptwriters. Plotlines are paramount for crime drama tv, and these don’t disappoint. The intriguing situations, the personal involvement and uniqueness of the detectives, and the surprising plot twists and evidence revelations—leading up to the ‘ah ha!” moments—all preserve the integrity of the original Doyle mysteries.

Similar to the original, the surgeon/detective juxtaposition is preserved with the new Watson, also a former surgeon, and with her second career as a sober companion, a foil is provided to establish the same companion/roommate role as the original Dr. Watson had with Sherlock Holmes, and is in place to quickly establish the intellectual intimacy and trust of the eccentric detective.

Another departure, character-wise, is Holmes’s state of being a recovering addict rather than the original’s using addict. Besides the fact that this works for me, personally, on so many levels, the show doesn’t sacrifice any of the dramatic tension of the juxtaposition of addict and genius. The character’s inner struggle with his addiction continues, as did the original, albeit, the new in-recovery phase of the character provides addition depth and interest as he struggles with the questions his life experience poses; was the narcotic necessary to stimulate his imagination; and how could a man of such vision become a slave to a substance.

Personally, my background in classical theater establishes the position that a theatrical message should reveal universal truths about the human condition, and hopefully uplift the viewers’ morality. However interesting it made the original Holmes character in 1887, as a parent in 2013, I appreciate the fact that in this vehicle CBS doesn’t flirt with the questionable device of pander to, and glamorize the current taste for decedance and violence as entertainment. (In a Time Magazine Poll 53 percent of respondents said that they think the FCC should place stricter controls on broadcast-channel shows depicting sex and violence. 68 percent believe the entertainment industry has lost touch with viewers' moral standards.) Please note, that although there is some violence, in my opinion, it is not gratuitous, and the program does air at a later time, 10pm Eastern.

Behind the Scene Footage

Plots, Characters & Dialogue—all deliver!

Elementary Screenwriters Create Episodes Of Intrigue

With the understanding that the British television “did it first” in 2010 with their contemporary Sherlock, I still give credit to the uniquely creative concept of the Elementary writers. My biggest complaint with recent prime time TV viewing for block-buster results, is the pasted together, barely plausible plots, and poor dialogue—I’ve gotten to the point where I’m inventing lines, to my partner's annoyance, and ‘correcting’ them as they’re happening. I don’t know if the actors are ad-libbing, missing their cues, or the process of discovery of the script is simply poorly established.

Here, Elementary is the wonderful exception. I think you will find the quick repartee and unusual points of view between Holmes and Watson refreshing; the exposition of the plot via the dialogue, on cue; and the actual plot lines imaginative and well thought out.

Actors Interpret Flawlessly

These two know how to play a scene. Lu and Miller treat us to thoughtful interpretations and professional delivery. Gone is the over-abundance of alarmist scenes where every single moment shoots for the bigger than life drama, over-laden with weak platitudes underscored with sensationalistic music and close-up camera shots held way too long.

Here, subtlety is the key, Elementary episodes carry the viewer along with inspired dialogue, complete with of thoughtful pauses and tempos of realistic delivery that make it interesting and move the plot along nicely. The script is lightly seasoned with humor, but, without breaking character or interfering with the mood. In the episode, An Unnatural Arrangement (written by Cathryn Huphris), when Holmes’s attempts to support his boss after his serious marriage issues, Holme’s makes a special office visit to let his boss know he understands and is there to support him in his time of need and ends, straight-faced, with…”so, if you need someone to talk to…ask for Watson.” By the way, without giving away too much, this episode, although not as action-filled as most, has one of the most beautifully done and poignant conclusions.

Additionally, both characters are allowed to grow into their own, as the writers show us how Watson’s detective skills develop under Holmes’s wing, and she begins to discover her own innate abilities and relish the thrill of solving the case. By the second season, we finally begin to see Watson take flight as the insightful co-pilot navigating the psychological thrill of mystery-solving.

Watson’s character also realizes growth curves as he deals with his own changing perspective on past loyalties; his relationship to his work; and, of course, his development as a recovering addict. Although, there were moments in the first season when I was poised to disimiss his interpretation of Holmes, with the large shoes to fill as a post Basil Rathbone/Jeremy Brett/Robert Downy Jr. Holmes; was he going to let his character careen into a lightweight segue of the original complex make-up of Homes; make him too androgynous, too weird, too hyperactive—all aspects of the original, but a dangerous departure if used as the core representation. I have to admit, Mr. Miller won me over with his character’s intensity and believable manifestation of the highly intelligent, creative mind.

Sherlock's Oscar

Which actor portraying Sherlock Holmes won an academy award for his performance?

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Superbly Appointed Sets and Wow Factor Wardrobe

Eye Candy Environments

To be honest, I think I would have watched Elementary just to check out the well-appointed sets, fabulous camera shots, and Dr. Watson's A-list wardrobe alone. During the first season I noticed shot after shot that was magazine cover perfect. Either Elementary shoots their episodes in some of the most beautiful and breathtaking locations, or the skillful cinematography just makes it look that way. Additionally, yes, there are the occasional unusual, artistic camera viewpoints, however, in this case, the camera does not take top billing, it does not disturb the unfolding story or dislodge the viewer's suspended disbelief; and it does blend beautifully into the story and enhance it. (Did I mention I was a fan!)

The set for the Holmes/Watson home alone could keep me happily entertained as I peruse the minutely detailed trappings of genius and friend living in an old unrenovated Brooklyn brownstone. Apparently, the "murky lighting and a sparse array of mismatched furniture" is called "a stripped-down version of the steampunk style that's everywhere in decorating." This quote is from Leslie Van Buskirk in her piece on 'Elementary' Set Design. Here again, the professionalism of the craft is carried through; every character's environment is unique and well thought out and reflects the individual or institution that would have created it.

I would be remiss not to mention the wardrobe…the wonderful wardrobe of of Dr. Watson. I didn't know if I was seeing a reflection of the delightful Lucy Liu's taste or the invention of a can't- miss Costume Designer. Turns out the second is true, and Rebecca Hofherr explains her concept this way, "...turning Dr. Watson (Lucy Liu) into a woman — a woman living in a man’s world, to be precise — was going to be a challenge...It is, for all intents and purposes, a crime show, and the usual thing is to have the characters on crime shows in uniforms and suits,” Hofherr says. “But Lucy’s character is not a detective, so I was really excited to know that every week I could put her in way more exciting clothing than you’d see on a standard detective show.”

For a good example of a hit-or-miss wardrobe designer, peruse Kono's cothes in Hawaii 5-0 throughout the seasons. Hopefully, Costumer Cate Adams will soon find a good look for Kono, and stick with it.


The Mystery Concludes in the Elementary Season 2 Premier

A Plot Within A Plot Within A Plot.
There is always an array of arresting sub-plots and parallel theming throughout the Elementery episodes, however, the crème de le crème is presented to us as Elementary transitions from its first to second season. Again, without giving too much away for anyone who will be watching post-season runs, the mysterious ‘Irene’, who has been alluded to throughout the first season, comes into play, with a vengeance! We are treated to robust characterization and plot that integrates the original Holmes nemesis (similar plot), complete with death parallel of the legendary nemesis, Moriarty, but re-invents the story (within a plot), with a final, unexpected twist that rewrites our character’s history of understanding (within that plot). Ah! Now, that’s theater…I wish I could tell you more. By the way, Elementary Season 1 episodes are available on DVD.

Elementary airs Thursdays 10pm (9 Central time).

For Sherlock Holmes Fans

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