In the upcoming CBS drama Elementary, a very modern Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a disgraced and traumatized former London detective who takes a gig as a NYC police consultant after he’s sprung from rehab. His Watson? A troubled former surgeon turned sober companion who’s assigned to Sherlock’s case. Also, she’s a lady. First name, Joan. Played by Lucy Liu.
But before you wave your well-worn copy of “Hounds of the Baskervilles” in protest, or swear you’ll only watch Holmes on high-falutin’ networks like PBS or the BBC, Elementary’s executive producer and writer Rob Doherty says he hopes you’ll give his Sherlock a shot.
(BTW, if you’re not the least bit wedded to the lore of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic literary sleuth and and just jonesing for an eclectic take on crime-drama, this could be the show for you, too.)
Doherty, Miller and Liu (along with Doherty’s fellow EPs Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman) took to the stage at the Television Critics Association summer press tour to discuss their Holmes and Watson — and why there’s room on the telly for all interpretations.
“Our Sherlock is a puzzle‑solver,” Doherty explained when asked to describe his take on the good detective — whom, he says, will embrace the do-gooder element of cracking his cases. “I see him as someone who is driven to solve puzzles, to do the right thing, to help people. I really do think, at the end of the day, he believes in justice. It’s not just about putting bad guys behind bars.”
And for those of you who insist that the crux of Sir Conan Doyles’ tales is the complex bond between his two primary characters, Miller said that that element is still very much at the forefront of Elementary.
“The major thing that makes him Sherlock is his relationship with Watson,” said Miller, who has knocked off almost all of the Sherlock Holmes literature. “It’s about a relationship between two people and their friendship. For me, that’s the more interesting side than the genius. There are human issues going on with Watson and Holmes — timeless issues that everyone can relate to. I think people really appreciate seeing their heroes dealing with problems. I mean, I do.”
Liu cited Dr. Watson’s critical function as narrator/observer as another reason her role works — regardless of Watson’s gender.
“All of the stories come out of what he sees and what he experiences, so it’s a very fresh and wonderful take on who Watson is,” said Liu, who was offered her spot in the cast first but didn’t sign on until Miller did. “Who Watson is now is also somebody who is sort of on the sideline observing him, because she’s his sober companion. So she’s not engaged in the mystery; she’s engaged in him. And from that point on, you get to see how that sort of blossoms.”
Doherty also said that he has an “official plan” for Sherlock’s archenemy Moriarity, but he wouldn’t reveal exactly how he’ll modernize the character — or how soon we’ll get to see him.
“I feel it’s important at the end of the day to be true to the spirit of the character,” Doherty said. “[But] I feel like there’s a little more wiggle room with Moriarty in that in so many of the books he was such a shadowy figure. I think he was described as the spider at the center of the web of crime in London. So quite often you’re dealing with his agents. … In other words, there are a few dominos we knock over before we ultimately get to him, but because I want everyone to be surprised, it’s hard to give too many clues or descriptive terminology when it comes to Moriarty at the moment.”
Elementary premieres Sept. 27 on CBS.
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