Fall Pilots – ‘Elementary’

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , , ,

There were three reasons I did not – DID NOT – want to like Elementary, CBS’s new “Modern Day Sherlock Holmes in New York City” crime drama:

1) Obviously, I was concerned that it was basically ripping off BBC’s Sherlock, and while “modern-day Sherlock Holmes” isn’t exactly fresh ground, this is the only one that stars a man so British that his name is Benedict Cumberbatch, so yes, I was worried CBS would stomp on something that did a great job the first time over.

2) CBS already HAS a “Sherlock-type solving murders” series, it’s called The Mentalist and I enjoy it – so I’m a little protective, when I see the same network trotting out a similar premise with a higher-profile title, and

3) Even though the Sherlock Holmes books were essentially eccentric-lead-in-a-crime-procedural stories when they were originally written, I still felt like literally using the Sherlock character was cheating, in a way, or at least being kind of lazy about introducing a new detective character.

So imagine my shock at quite liking Elementary.  

For starters, Johnny Lee Miller looks like he’s having a hell of a good time playing Sherlock – and despite the telling wardrobe choice of a scarf and black overcoat indicating that YES, the makers of this show have, in fact, seen Sherlock – he’s actually playing Matt-Smith-As-The-Doctor-As-Sherlock-Holmes.

In that sense, many of Miller’s mannerisms – the finger-wiggling giddiness, the too-loud calling for people in other rooms, the child’s-version-of-polite phrasing –scream of Doctor 11. Still, I don’t hardly mind – a Sherlock who’s trying desperately NOT to rub it into people’s faces just how smart he is, trying to play it off like, “Oh, you’d have caught that eventually, right?” is a great way to differentiate from Cumberbatch’s “Fuck you, I figured this out five minutes before you asked…” attitude.

There’s something oddly sweet in Miller’s delivery of, “The strangulation marks are indicative of a man much larger than Mantlowe. Not just heavier, but taller, I’d estimate his height to be somewhere between 6’1” and 6’3”. Your ME will come to a similar conclusion in a couple of hours I’m delivering it early…”

He even gives Liu’s Watson a Doctor-esque “Here’s why you should travel with me” speech. “You don’t hate what I do, though…”

We should also give some props to Aiden Quinn and Lucy Liu. These are the shitty roles, the “Oh Holmes, maybe it’s not what you think…” but IT ALWAYS IS, so basically you just need solid personalities who can deliver the skeptic roles without them coming off like morons. Quinn plays Don’t-Call-Him-Lestrade as a meat-and-potatoes kind of cop who genuinely respects Holmes’s gifts (in fact, he plays him so “everyday joe” that he primarily reminded me of my landlord), and Liu’s Watson has hidden depths she manages to tease as though she’s reserved, not as though the part is under-written in the pilot (and also, Liu in a baseball cap is pretty adorable).

There’s also a really great moment where Liu spots a clue before Holmes, directs his eyes toward it, and they give each other a “Nice catch” head nod that kind of makes me love them both. So, chemistry achieved!

(There is also a fucking terrible line that Liu cannot save about Holmes being a “lost cause,” but just ignore it.)

(There is also-also a pretty dumb-ass move on Liu/Watson’s part for the sake of act-ending drama, where an agitated Holmes requests Watson’s car keys, and…word of advice? When an angry man with shaking hands and a drug problem is demanding your car keys? You should not give them to him. The More You Know…)

Obviously, I have a problem with the beats of the plot. They’re so…CBS…that it’s frankly maddening. Earlier this week I watched the pilot for Vegas, which I can charitably describe as “What if Justified was boring and kind of shitty looking?”

But you can pretty much swap out the murder mystery of this episode with the mystery in Vegas and it’s still basically the same show. You can do the same thing with most episodes of The Mentalist and you’re still in the same boat. I haven’t watched many CSIs past their first seasons, but I’m preeeetty sure the same holds true for them too. It’s CBS’s motto: “We found a formula people will watch and damned if we’re gonna change it now.”

That said, there’s a definite tonal difference between the dour proceedings of something like Criminal Minds, and this, which is so very much “Doctor Who Solves Murders” that it can’t help but be somewhat jaunty and positively-charged.

(Unrelated: I kind of wish TV people would learn that when you hang up on someone using a cell phone, there’s no “dead dialtone noise.” Every year that bugs me more and more….)

Anyway. Elementary is the kind of fun, quirky crime-procedural you might not have known CBS has already been running for the past few years, but if you think Simon Baker’s beautiful hair and beatific smile are too hard to believe, this might be the show for you.

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