The Soapbox: Fall’s Most Controversial New Show Is “Elementary”

CBS’s new fall show “Elementary” has not even premiered yet, but already nerds everywhere are boycotting it. Why would people write off this modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes story starring Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller so soon?

There are a bunch of (not very good) reasons.

John Watson vs. Joan Watson, Gender Reassignment Of: In “Elementary,” the trusted companion of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, has been changed to Joan Watson, a “sober companion” who has been hired by Sherlock Holmes’ father to watch over Sherlock upon leaving rehab. This sex change has driven Holmes purists out of their minds. “Watson has always been played by a man!” has been the outcry on the interwebs. Well, may I also point out that Sherlock Holmes stories have also traditionally been set in London, not New York City?! And, oh, yeah, THEY DON’T TAKE PLACE DURING MODERN DAY?! It’s a reinterpretation, people. If you’re so upset over Watson being female, where were your cries of protest when “The Great Mouse Detective” came out? And  let’s not even get started on the people who are upset that Joan Watson is Asian.

“Sherlock” vs. “Elementary,” Need For Both: One of the biggest gripes with “Elementary” is that a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes already exists in the British show “Sherlock” and as such “Sherlock” fans are fretting that “Elementary” is going to cannibalize “Sherlock”‘s audience.  I love “Sherlock”;it’s some of the most intelligent writing on TV right now and the combination of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (Watson) is delicious. But even I’ll admit that “Sherlock”‘s viewers on PBS might not be exactly the same viewers as basic cable. Fans like me love “Sherlock” for being artsy-fartsy, while “Elementary” looks more like a straightforward 45-minute-long police procedural that just happens to have a Sherlock Holmes twist. My point? There is plenty of room in the 1,000s of television channels for both shows.

Benedict Cumberbatch vs. Jonny Lee Miller: The media like to create drama where there is none and a good example of this is the “feud” between Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock in “Sherlock”) and Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock in “Elementary”). The two men are, by all accounts, friendly work colleagues.  In fact, Cumberbatch and Miller starred together in the National Theatre in London’s production of “Frankenstein.” Actually, the two actors both played Frankenstein and the Creature by swapping roles night after night. So this is not even the first time the two have played the same roles! Not surprisingly, people were curious to see how Benedict would react to his co-star also taking on Sherlock Holmes.

Shit hit the fan last week when Cumberbatch was quoted seemingly talking smack about his former co-star. He was quoted in an interview with Shortlist saying:

Jonny [Lee Miller] asked me if I was all right with him doing it. I said, “What are the similarities?” And he went, “Well it’s modern…” I went, “Oh.” Then he said, “Lucy Liu’s going to play Joan Watson…” And I went, “Oh.” I got hold of the pilot script just to check it out. I don’t know, we’ll see. I think there’s room for us both to coexist. I don’t feel threatened by it and I wish him the best, which is as diplomatic as I can be. … I did say, “Well, I’d prefer you didn’t do it but you’ve got a kid to feed, a nice house in LA and a wife to keep in good clothes.” When you get used to a certain standard of living and they waft a paycheck at you, what are you going to do? I think Jonny was like, “Mate, I’ve got the f*cking mountain to climb here [to reach the acclaim of Sherlock], you’ve got nothing to fear.” I wish him the best of luck, but I’m a bit cynical about why they’ve chosen to do it and why they cast him.

To put it bluntly, PEOPLE WENT CRAZY. Cumberbitches (yes, that’s what his fans are called) all over the globe decried Jonny Lee Miller for upsetting his sharply cheek-boned friend: How dare he!  Cumberbatch has since claimed he was misquoted and that what he really said was that it was odd how the friends had such similar roles and he hoped it turned out OK for both of them. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “What I said is I would have preferred not to be in the situation where we will again be compared because we are friends. … [The misquote] is baffling because I have only been supportive of an incredibly talented actor who I am proud to call a friend taking a job I know he is going to enjoy immensely and be wonderful in.”

So there you have it: Jonny Lee has been given a benediction. (I’m sorry. I had to.)

Most of us “Sherlock” fans were a little surprised when CBS announced they, too, were making a modern Sherlock Holmes TV show. But ultimately I realized I love Sherlock Holmes stories and I’m about to get more of them. That can only be a good thing, right? At worst “Elementary” will be another boring, formulaic police procedural. But what if it’s actually fun? What if it’s (gasp) a good show?

I am willing to give “Elementary” a shot. Put that in your Calabash pipe and smoke it.

[Shortlist: Benedict Cumberbatch Q&A]
[The Hollywood Reporter]

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