Let’s face it, Sherlock Holmes has rarely been a hotter commodity than at this moment—sure, he’s always been around, but he seems inescapable at the moment. We’ve got a successful film franchise gearing up for its third entry, to say nothing of the smash hit of Sherlock. Everybody and their mom watches it, the fandom is so ravenous that the production team can’t keep up, and it’s won awards. It’s so popular that CBS has decided to slice up a piece of the Holmesian pie for themselves in their very own Sherlock Holmes show, Elementary, coming to television screens this fall. We got our first look at the show on Thursday, and, guys… I’m concerned.
There’s been some reasonable concern that Elementary is a rip-off of Sherlock; I certainly don’t think you can argue that it’s not at least inspired. In fact, Sue Vertue, a producer on Sherlock, claims that CBS actually approached Hartswood Films to see about producing an American version of Sherlock before deciding on creating their own. But will it be a legally actionable rip-off? While it’s quite true that Holmes is in the public domain and anyone can do whatever they want to him, it’s also true that Sherlock has a very specific style all its own. Since it’s actually in production, I trust that CBS’s legal team is on top of that, but I agree with Vertue and Moffat that it’s a bit worrying.
Thursday’s short preview shows a few scenes from, presumably, the pilot episode and a few talking heads from the production. To be honest, the quality of the show doesn’t seem stellar, and as soon as the creator Rob Doherty mentions Sherlock being an alien, I sighed—a few shades too close to Sherlock. But I’m still utterly fascinated by Lucy Liu as a triple-flipped Watson; can we still maintain the essential characteristics of Watson when Watson is an Asian-American woman instead of a white British male? How would that inform the character? Lady Watson (…Doctrix Watson?) has been done before, but I don’t think I’ve seen Watson cast as anything but white in American or British adaptations. There’s so much potential there, which I’m scared is going to be wasted.
I’m scared that, instead of actually exploring what Watson would do in those situations (Joan’s experience in the military is going to be different from John’s, just to start…), Elementary has only gender-flipped Watson to mimic the successful formula for so many other crime procedurals. You know exactly what I’m talking about. He’s an eccentric consultant who doesn’t play by the rules! She’s a woman in authority forced to work with him! It’s Bones, it’s Castle, it’s The Mentalist… and it always comes with a heaping handful of unresolved sexual tension that gets resolved. Now, far be it from me to argue that Holmes and Watson don’t already come with a heaping handful of unresolved sexual tension, but that isn’t what their relationship is solely about. They’re the best and truest of friends, first and foremost, before they’re anything else. And I’m scared that Elementary, already feeling like an attempt to cash in on Sherlock’s success, will neatly slot Holmes and Watson into this formula. Perhaps they won’t, but the fact that Watson is literally assigned to Holmes here as a sober companion rather than moving in with him of her own free will makes me nervous. Adaptations that don’t visually resemble the original can be successful if they retain the heart and soul of a work. The soul of the Holmes novels has always been the relationship between Holmes and Watson, as proven spectacularly in Sherlock. Change that—make them meet-cute instead of becoming friends first, or forced to work together instead of electing to work together—and you no longer have a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. You’ve just got the names.
However, if Elementary makes them platonic best friends for life and gives me Joan ending up with Mary (be she still Mary or changed to Murray), I’ll happily eat my hat.
It’s been the first week of summer for me; I’m interning at my school’s library until the beginning of June, when I’ll be starting an actual publishing internship, which I’m very excited about. I’ve got a pile of Jane Eyre books I need to get started on, but I’ve been taking some time to catch up on my reading; this week, I finished up The Ecstasy of Influence, Rose Daughter, and I’m less than ninety pages from the end of In the Peanut Gallery With Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is better than I expected.
The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!
What do you make of Elementary? Will you be tuning in (I’m definitely going to watch the first episode, at least)?