Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An early review. . . . .

CBS’s Elementary: it’s Elementary, but it’s not Sherlock Holmes

I wanted to like CBS' "Elementary," really I did. But, it’s pure and utter tripe. It has the framework of the Sherlock Holmes novels, but the acting and speedball pacing of a high-energy sugar addict. "Elementary"’s lead might be called Sherlock, but he is no Sherlock Holmes.

Because of the kickbutt Sherlock Holmes TV derivatives, like MonkPsychCastle and The Mentalist, and the recent Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings from Guy Ritchie and Michael Robert Johnson’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s Sherlock (2010), I assumed CBS’s version would equally amaze me. After all, it’s a century-old story about a brilliant British detective and a loyal best friend; how can you destroy a proven formula? Well … it’s Elementary, my dear readers.
Elementary’s framework is smart, the actors are good, and the production values are excellent, but the writing, the directing and the characterizations are bad. Correction, they’re not bad — they’re just trying too hard. In creating their own series, CBS produced an aimless, unplanned show that has Sherlock’s skeleton, his actions, and his hobbies, but not his heart. The previous reconstructions worked because the directors/writers’ re-boot included a focus for Doyle’s century-old detective. They knew how to re-imagine him; they connected with him; and they created scripts with tightly drawn plot arcs. CBS’s Elementary has none of that. It feels like the writing staff quickly sped through the novels, gathered the bare essentials and brainstormed ways to make their Sherlock seem cool and new

CBSs Elementary: its Elementary, but it’s not Sherlock Holmes [cbs elementary keyart 150x150] (IMAGE)
The Bad
Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes has all the quirks of Sherlock Holmes, but he doesn’t feel like Sherlock. Yes, he is British. Yes, he is observant. Yes, he has the same hobbies. However, his hobbies seemingly exist for the cool factor. And, his observation skills are practically omniscient. I enjoyed Monk(USA), Psych (USA), The Mentalist (CBS), Castle (ABC), Sherlock (BBC),Sherlock Holmes (film) and the original Sherlock because the leads took time to survey the land before stating their theories. But, in Elementary, Sherlock walks into a room and can immediately discern what’s wrong, even when watching events he has no familiarity with.
In fact, my main problem with Elementary surrounds how Holmes is written. Doyle’s Holmes is an admitted hermit who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. For all his brilliance, he’s slightly broken. All of the recent shows/films have done an excellent job portraying that. However, this Sherlock acts like a dick to people, not because he’s focused on the task; not because lives will be lost; not because he can’t stand idiots; but because he’s … Sherlock Holmes. And, that’s my problem: this Sherlock lacks focus. None of his actions appear to have a reason save to show how “cool,” “smart” or “Sherlock-y” he is.
Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is a big baby on meth candy. He seems too artificially hyper, too chipper, and too child-like. Doyle’s Sherlock used silent spaces to see the un-seeable. But, Miller’s Sherlock Holmes lacks quiet spots, preferring to act like an immature twat who prattles off thoughts at hyper-speed.
I mostly attribute that to pacing. Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock needs to slow the eff down. I don’t get the energy Sherlock typically feels when he encounters a new “game.” Instead I think he just needs a case of Ritalin. The script and director seem afraid the audience will leave if not continuously entertained by Miller or the music. As a result, moments that could’ve lasted longer are interrupted by peppier music or by Miller’s character bouncing awkwardly. Miller and Liu have a nice casual chemistry. But, I sense the writers want to get to the Watson-Sherlock glue we all know and love as soon as possible, but they shouldn’t. These people just met. Give it time.
The Good
Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson remains the show’s bright spot. It’s the first time I’ve watched a Sherlock derivative and consistently thought “wow, that’s great, but when does Watson return?” Everything about the Watson character is well-paced, well-written and well-acted. At its core, the Sherlock Holmes novellas are gothic mystery stories. As the series progressed, Doyle incorporated that darkness into his lead character. While Elementary’s Sherlock is a one-dimensional cartoon who lacks self-awareness, the writers seemingly incorporated that haunting self-flagellation, self-doubt, and underlying darkness into the Joan character. It’s amazing watching her. When Joan is alone in Sherlock’s house, I see the gothic elements immediately, particularly within her silence. I feel the writers spent more time re-imagining her character than Sherlock himself. I might’ve doubted Liu’s addition at first, but the Joan Watson character is a joy to watch in her watchfulness. Honestly, I can’t say enough about this character and how they reworked her, but I’m looking forward to future episodes.
I also have to high five the casting director, Mark Saks, for bringing on Aidan Quinn as Captain Tobias Gregson. Aidan rocks whatever he does, and he does a similar job here. My only complaint — which I share with other Sherlock-type procedurals — is the overt reliance of the police officials on their consultants. In Elementary, the police seem incurious almost to the point of carelessness where they barely bother about finding the most basic items like cellphones.
Other things I enjoyed included the musical score, the set, and the cinematography. While we didn’t require it in the quieter moments, the musical score is exactly what I hoped for. The set for Sherlock’s house is amazing. And, I loved what the costume designer did for Joan Watson (Sherlock, not so much).
Last Thoughts
Elementary has many elements that I enjoy, but the main character shouldn’t be the show’s weakest link. Here, I won’t blame Johnny Lee Miller, but I will blame the directing and writing. It’s tough writing a show about a character everyone knows and loves. However, CBS already has a modern-day Sherlock, called The Mentalist, and it does an excellent job. If Elementary‘s producers slow the character down and spend more time on pacing, Elementary can work as well. And, yes, I probably will continue to watch the show for a couple episodes. It doesn’t hurt that Johnny Lee Miller is a hot Brit with adorably huge eyes. However, throughout the show the characters talk about “trying too hard” while stating “[the case is] too simple. It’s too fast. Something’s off”. Yes. My thoughts exactly.

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