Buy, Sell, or Rent: Elementary
current song: "Dreams" by The Kills
Trying to Find the In-Between
It is said that the truth lies somewhere in between, but between what? Between good and bad, between light and dark, between fact and fiction, perhaps. In crime procedurals, typically the truth lies between science and psychology, and Elementary falls in line with this. While Holmes is securely locked into the study of physical evidence, often observing clues no one else can see or would even know to look for, Watson is more emotionally grounded. Generally speaking, this fits their sexual roles as men are often considered more analytical than women, but it does not fit their characterizations - Sherlock an eccentric genius; Watson a disgraced surgeon. Given her medical background, it wouldn't have been shocking for Watson to be adverse to anything but harsh realities, but this isn't the case, and it's a good thing. It makes a show that fits into such a narrow genre - that of the crime procedural - a little less predictable. Unfortunately, it doesn't make Watson a more appealing character.
Before I continue, my bias must be stated. I am not a fan of Lucy Liu or her work. I find her acting very one note and cold, which then translates into a lack of chemistry with her costars - whether they're male or female. In Elementary's case, her lead counterpart is male - Holmes - and played by the incomparable Jonny Lee Miller who would probably have chemistry with a paper bag, he's that charismatic. My dislike of their interaction has nothing to do with the fact that Elementary elected to throw the world of Sherlock onto its ear by modernizing the literary legend and by making the Watson to this 2012 Holmes a woman. In fact, I rather like this idea. I just don't like Lucy Liu in the role... or that the series is already showing signs of taking their relationship past the point of mere friendship and into a sexual realm.
Now, don't get me wrong. Neither character should spend the entirety of the show's run alone and single. Relationships can come and go, but an entanglement between Sherlock and Watson wouldn't have nearly as much angst and drama as one or both of them getting involved with the criminals they investigate. After all, someone has to be the Irene Adler to Miller's Holmes. Plus, it might be nice to see partners on a crime procedural not end up in bed together, especially given the lack of chemistry between Miller and Liu. There is also the sanctity of Doyle's characters to consider as well. It's one thing to take his creations and put them in a different time and place, but it's a whole other story all-together to completely disregard the very basis of the Holmes-Watson connection: friendship. Allow these characters to grow closer to each other as time moves forward, but keep it platonic.
Moving past my casting complaint, Elementary is smartly written, and Miller's physical delivery - the jerky movements, the blink-less stares, and rapid-fire of his speech patterns - fits Sherlock's personality well. I do think that the show should take steps to make sure that all evidence is presented to viewers... even if viewers don't realize that what they're seeing at the time is evidence. Just as in a mystery novel, the clues need to be laid out very precisely - there for the reader or, in this case, the viewer to interpret and analyze on their own. The fun of a mystery is trying to solve it along with the detective(s) or even perhaps arriving at the answer before all is revealed. This can't be done when a show withholds information and drops it out into the open at the last minute, concluding the episode with a grand, revelatory scene, and flashbacks during said revelatory scene do not count. I think such an approach is especially important on a show like Elementary where the lead character isn't even just a few steps ahead of the viewers but sometimes he's sprinting past a marathon's last mile marker, and viewers are just pinning on their numbers. If done the right way, viewers will still experience an 'oh! that's what happened' moment at the end of every episode, but then they'll also say 'why didn't I see that?,' further cementing Holmes' genius while, at the same time, observing the genre's unwritten rules.
Verdict: Rent. Elementary still needs to find its balance. There are moments when it's brilliant and moments when it's forgettable. If it, too, can find the in-between... just like when a detective is seeking the truth, then it'll be worth checking out for the long haul; if it can't, then it'll become yet another CBS procedural.