September 28, 2012

TV: Elementary (CBS, Thu 10)

CBS gives us another take on Sherlock Holmes with Elementary, in which Holmes and Watson help the police solve crimes in present-day New York.

The backstory differs from that of Arthur Conan Doyle (as does pretty much everything else). Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is fresh out of rehab, and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is the "sober companion" hired by his father to live with him for six weeks, helping him transition back to life in the regular world. Holmes is a consultant to the New York Police Department, working with Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn, hoping that this year's Thursday-at-10 cop show lasts longer than last year's Prime Suspect).

I don't have any strong objection to the idea of making Watson female, but a change that big has to have some dramatic purpose, and it has none here. It's not enough to have one scene in which a person of interest opens up to Watson (and not to Holmes) because they're both women.

There's also a serious imbalance in terms of acting styles here. Miller is playing Holmes's quirks to the hilt; it's a performance filled with eccentric tics and vocal mannerisms. As if to be sure we notice everything Miller's doing, Liu and Quinn are underplaying everything, fading so far into the background that they barely register. And the show's sound mix is atrocious. Some scenes sound just fine, and others (particularly any scene between Miller and Liu) have the dialogue mixed so low that it can't be heard.

But CBS knows its audience, and despite the show's flaws, Elementary is right on brand and fits well as a follow-up to Person of Interest.

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