Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fall Preview: CBS' Elementary

Elementary stars Lucy Liu and
Jonny Lee Miller

When producer Carl Beverly first posed the idea to Rob Doherty of transplanting Sherlock Holmes to present-day New York, the writer’s response was Elementary.

“I daresay Sherlock is the most popular character in literary pop culture from the last 100 years,” enthuses 
Doherty; perhaps that’s why there have been so many prior filmic depictions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s prototypical detective.  Doherty says it was “one of the wonderful little details that Doyle crafted a very long time ago” that became the key to Elementary, his new CBS series adaptation starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.  The 19th Century Holmes was famously addicted to opiates, “and that’s the way I’ve always looked at him, as an addict,” the writer explains – and not just to drugs.  “He’s driven by and very much addicted to what he does for a living.  He enjoys unfolding the origami of a crime, matching wits with someone who thinks he’s smart enough to get away with something horrible, and bringing that person to justice.”

Yes, this new Holmes does have a literal addiction to deal with, too.  Having just returned from rehab – a vanishing he explained to his local police contact, Captain Toby Gregson (Aidan Quinn), as a holiday in his native London – the hyper-observant detective “was previously used to being so ahead of everyone, and oozed confidence,” Doherty says.  “Now he’s left rattled, concerned that he may not be what he used to.  I liked the idea of a person like him feeling a little bit of doubt for the first time.”

That’s where Lucy Liu’s Dr. Joan Watson comes in.  As a former surgeon haunted by her role in the death of a patient, Watson has now gone into business as a sober companion, hired by Holmes’ concerned dad to keep him in line.  That means accompanying him everywhere, where the new duo finds that “as a doctor, obviously she has many skills in forensic science,” Miller says.  “So Holmes begins to realize that she’s not just a companion, but she’s very useful.”

It was Doherty’s innovation both to alter this Watson’s occupation and to make Watson for the first time a female, who, he says, “has much of the empathy Holmes is missing.  In that way, she completes him.”  As the writer praises, Liu brings her innate strength to Watson, who needs to be able to stand up to this quirky and demanding Holmes. But it’s also their characters’ more vulnerable moments that both Miller and Liu say attracted them to Elementary.  Watson, Liu says, “is not going in with her ‘sober companion’ coat on.  I like that she’s trying to bring a certain sense of humanity and understanding to her client.”

Miller adds that “one of the things that struck me, reading [Doyle’s] books, is how colorful and funny the characters are.”  Doherty fully intends to weave that same wit into Elementary, which is why he is excited that Miller’s embodiment of Holmes exhibits “a warmth, intelligence, and a fantastic sense of humor.”

But perhaps the most important quality that both Miller and Liu are bringing to their new show is  appreciation.  In filming Elementary’s pilot, “the first time I heard Jonny say ‘Watson!’ it was a thrill to be creating that, to be part of history,” Liu reveals.  The British-born Miller feels it, too.  “There’s a reason why the Holmes stories keep being retold and redone,” he theorizes.  “People play Hamlet a lot, and always want to play Shakespeare.  Good stories and good characters come back.” 

Premieres Thursday, September 27
10 PM Eastern / 9 PM Central

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