Sick Boy as Sherlock and a female Doctor Watson: Can ‘Elementary’ break the Holmes mould?

Neela Debnath
Liu 300x225 Sick Boy as Sherlock and a female Doctor Watson: Can Elementary break the Holmes mould?


Sherlock Holmes will be hitting the small screen again, this time in the form of Elementary, a modern re-imagining of the consulting detective set in New York. The latest version stars Trainspotting star Jonny Lee Miller in the title role and, controversially, Charlie’s Angels actress Lucy Liu as a female Dr Watson.

The question is whether Elementary can break the mould and offer something new to the vast body of Sherlock Holmes-related work that is already out there. The recent Hollywood movies have done so by going for an action film with a steampunk slant. Meanwhile the Bafta award-winning Sherlock has transported the consulting detective to present-day London which is something that has not really been done before.

The two biggest differences between Elementary and Sherlock are the former’s New York setting and, most obviously, Dr ‘Joan’ Watson’s gender swap. Holmes is a recovering addict and Watson has been drafted in as a ‘sober buddy’ to the consulting detective.

Perhaps American network CBS could have pushed the boat out a little further and made Holmes a woman? Instead they have chosen British actor Miller who was working on stage with Sherlock star Cumberbatch only last year in the Nick Dear and Danny Boyle’s West End production of Frankenstein where the pair interchanged the roles of the monster and his creator.

Miller is just the latest actor in a long line to be starring as the world’s greatest detective. According to the Guinness World Records, Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed fictional character of all time. Some of the actors who have been played him include Basil Rathbone, Richard Roxburgh, Rupert Everett, Tom Baker and Charlton Heston, along with countless others.

From a CBS preview, Miller’s Holmes appears to have that alien, otherness that the great detective has. His detachment from others is the key to his brilliance but the addict element means that there is more unpredictability compared to former incarnations. Liu’s Watson is far more feisty from the start, unlike the more sedate Watsons of eras gone by. She also seems a lot more demanding because of her role to keep him on the wagon.

In Elementary, the relationship and dynamic will hinge on Holmes being a recovering drug addict and the accompanying self-destructive nature. It seems the makers are going for something a lot edgier but will it still be Sherlock Holmes? It could well just turn into a generic American detective/cop drama under the mantle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character.

Interestingly enough, Lucy Liu initially turned down the role as Watson. In a BBC interview she said: “I said ‘no’. I passed on it a couple of times. I just thought, you know what, to take something that’s a movie that was very recent and a current TV show, I just didn’t know what could be different about it.”

Indeed when it was first announced that Elementary was going to be made, there were concerns from the makers of Sherlock that it might reflect badly on the brand or be too close the British show, whether this will be case has yet to be seen.

We are currently in a state of Sherlockian mania with the recent Robert Downey Jr films, the British re-imagining currently taking America by storm and Anthony Horowitz’s Holmes novel The House of Silk. The appetite of fans appears to be insatiable, therefore another Sherlock-related television series may even be welcome.


In other Sherlock Holmes-related news, the three-year campaign to save the former house of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been successful. Undershaw in Surrey was due to be converted into nine homes however following today’s ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London these plans have been quashed. The Grade II listed building was designed and built by the author who wrote several Holmes’ stories there including The Hound of the Baskervilles.

‘Elementary’ will be airing on CBS in America in the autumn

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  • robertinjapan

    Love the ”Stuart tartan” scarf,matches his hair.

  • NT86

    Anything that involves the goddess that is Lucy Liu will be worth watching.

  • I_See_Dead_Truth

    You are kidding me, right?  Her moustache is not quite visible…plus, how many Chinese women do you know of with the name “Dr John Hamish Watson”, let alone who joined the British Army and went into battle in the the late 19th century?

    Utter rubbish.

  • hughetorrance

    When it says …”sorry this content is not available for viewing in your country” install in Firefox from Add-ons   anonymox with add-block plus and enjoy.      LOL

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