Human Again: Elementary

I wanted to title this post using the words elementarymy, dear, and Watson, but that is cliché and doesn’t actually fit the content.

CBS’s new drama Elementary is all that it was cracked up to be. A fast-moving, fast-talking pilot introduced the leads, recurring characters, and mood in a precise, comprehensive, and intriguing way. If you like procedurals, Sherlock Holmes, and mystery, then I think you will like this newest spin on a classic character.

In a brief recap, Lucy Liu’s Watson is a non-practicing surgeon (having caused the death of a patient on the operating table) who has taken a job as live-in sober companion to Jonny Lee Miller’s ex-drug addict Holmes. Holmes escapes from rehab the day of his release because he was bored (“I’m always bored”) and jaunts over to a vicious murder scene, where he meets an old acquaintance: Aiden Quinn’s Captain Toby Gregson. Holmes and Gregson actually get along and seem to appreciate one another; they met ten years previously during an American-British terrorism collaboration at Scotland Yard, where Holmes was consulting on murder cases.

The case is interesting and the mystery sufficiently crafted, albeit the murderer rather obvious. Most importantly, the dialogue and the acting does justice to the story and the chemistry between Miller and Liu works, not only professionally but personally. Miller is just pushy enough to be Holmes-like without being insulting, irritating, or unlikeable.

While there are many things about the pilot that deserve recognition (including Watson), it is Jonny Lee Miller’s fantastic rendition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s unfeeling powerhouse of deduction that shines.

In a word, he is human. Miller’s Holmes is brilliant, obstinate, calculating, arrogant—everything you would expect. But he is also ever so slightly unhinged. It is as if he could, at any moment, crack from feeling too much, rather than nothing at all. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes can be a jerk, Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes borders on the insane—and though both demonstrate loyalty and concern for their close acquaintances, it is difficult to determine if they are selfless or acting from ulterior motives.

Miller, on the other hand, plays Holmes as someone who is lost, alone, and slightly afraid of getting hurt (again—Watson determines a woman had betrayed him pre-drug binge). While he still retains that offensive honesty and bluntness, Miller gives Holmes a heart. He has the ability to be wrong, to make mistakes, to miscalculate.

At one point, he admits to Watson that he had lost his temper during an interview and not expected the suspect to react in the way she did—though at first, he insists in his usual arrogant, conceited way, he had planned it all out. Later on, Holmes again loses his temper, this time driving one car into another purely out of frustration and anger.

Despite his assurances that he does not, in fact, need Watson’s services, he demonstrates several times that he’s just as susceptible to emotions and feelings as any normal human being, although he has an uncanny ability to sweep it all under the rug. This characterization allows for a lot of development in multiple realms, from his “bromance” with Watson, his relationship with his father (not yet seen, but mentioned dozens of times), and what will hopefully be many insightful trips into his past.

In short, Miller’s Holmes is likeable. I can understand why Watson has the patience to stick around—as will I.