I've held off writing about the CBS Sherlock Holmes-ish show, Elementary, thus far this year because I wanted to give it time to see where it was trying to go. After four episodes, I think that's enough time to wait -- and I don't have a clue what they're doing.
Okay, yes, I do know what they're doing. I just don't have any idea why in the world they thought this was a Really Great Idea. Because basically they've gone out of their way to flip relationships around and make most everything on the show intentionally unlikable.
To be clear, I much enjoyed Elementary its first two seasons And (despite the criticisms I'm about to write below...) I think the new season still has incredibly good things going for it. Mostly what all that enjoyment and "incredibly good" encompasses is star Jonny Lee Miller, a tremendous British actor from the National Theatre, who is enthralling to watch, under any and all circumstances. (Last week, for instance, he had a scene watching a turtle eat lettuce -- seriously --, and he made it compelling.) The material has always been respectable, though the mysteries are just fair. The acting by others is pretty good, though I've never been a huge fan of co-star Lucy Liu. To me, she basically has two expressions -- pissed off and trying to be friendly, though happily she plays them well.
But this year...this year, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. Clearly, they wanted to Shake Up the dynamic of the series, which is a reasonable thing when you fear your show risks becoming stale. But Elemtary has only been on for two seasons. If you think you're stale after two years, then something has gone way off the rails. And it wasn't stale. It actually was beginning to develop the characters a bit. But this year, they seemingly have decided to go for "kablooey."
Here's the deal with the plot now --
Apparently during the show's hiatus, Sherlock decided to take MI6's offer to go back to London to work for them. Now, that would be an interesting way to Shake Up the series -- if they decided to show it. But they didn't, it all happened when the show was off the air during its summer break. When the series started up again a month ago, Holmes had decided to return. So, in other words, nothing really happened as far as the real-life viewer was concerned. We last saw Holmes In New York with the offer to go to London -- and when we next saw him, he was right there in New York.
Well...one thing happened. His assistant Dr. Joan Watson apparently got really, really, really, really angry that he left. And so she's held this unearthly massive grudge against him. Even though he's profusely apologized -- something not terribly Holmesian, though if they want to continue developing him that way, so be it. Now, mind you, why she was SO furiously pissed off is something I've never heard explained very well. He's Sherlock Holmes, after all, mercurial, distant, socially inept, and from freaking London -- so going to London to work when the British government asks you doesn't seem all that horrible a thing to do. Enough to get SO deeply angry and continued bitter-angry, even after being apologized to by someone who doesn't apologize. Saying that he actually missed you -- and Sherlock Holmes doesn't miss people. But he said he missed you. And yet she's still raging at him. Even though she decided at the end of last year that she had to move out the townhouse they were sharing to be on her own. Which he not unreasonably took as distancing their relationship. Which is party of why he said he took the job in London. And she's SO MAD at him???! Even after he explained all this and apologized.
So, that means we now have this profoundly bitter rift that's still continuing after four episodes. She at least doesn't appear to be as furious at this point, but there still is clearly a holier-than-thou, woman-scorned chip on her shoulder, allowing for the rift to remain apparent.
Far more bizarre though is that last season, after Holmes starting training her as an apprentice for a year (the first year of the show she was mainly his social worker protector, who went along and helped out a bit), Watson is now apparently so brilliant a master detective already that the NYPD has hired her as their private consultant, replacing Sherlock Holmes -- the greatest detective in the world -- when he left.
No, I mean, seriously????!!
Not only is this mind-numbingly unbelievable (the amazing genius Holmes spent years and years and years and more years obsessively training himself to understand the most arcane minutiae of world knowledge -- and in one year, Joan Watson, former surgeon, has come close to matching him? She sure didn't show it even close last year), but worse, it created an awkward dynamic on the show whereby when Holmes returned, he was put in the position of getting Watson's grudging permission before the NYPD would take him back as a consultant. And ever since, the imperious Holmes has been forced to be sort of acquiescent (by his standards, at least), making him less vibrant a character in those moments. And it's required the show to keep coming up with convoluted reasons why he and Watson keep working together, since it was established that she'd "accept him back" on the condition that they worked separately from now on. (Hey, there's a great dynamic for a detective series!).
But no, things are even worse than that. Because they had Holmes bring in a new assistant from London to train as a protege -- and as pissy as Dr. Watson has been this year, this new woman pretty much hates everybody in the world, including it seems the man who is training her. Always getting so angry when Holmes deigns to work with Watson. And snarky because there's really not ever enough for do. (In fact, dramatically, there isn't much for her to do. So, why bring in the character??!)
And even when they finally had their first really fairly interesting episode, they could help muck it up. It was an impossible challenging murder that Holmes and Watson finally seemed to sort of work slightly better together, a bit -- the show couldn't let things alone, but instead (are you ready?) didn't let Sherlock Holmes solve the crime! Instead, they left him having to accept that the killer's accomplice took the rap, while the murderer couldn't be proven. And when we last saw Holmes, he was left lying on the floor of his townhouse, staring at the evidence, pondering o-what-could-he-do, the proof must be there... It just sort of sucked the life out of the room.
(Besides which, it was idiotic. They had showed that accomplice didn't know a single thing about computer code, and expert knowledge was required to commit the crime. It's hard to imagine that a good D.A. couldn't have broken her confession. And then been able to prove the connection to her computer-expert professor...)
What also hasn't helped the show is something out of the producers' control -- the real-world schedule. CBS airs the series on Thursdays -- but for the first several weeks of the new TV season, the network broadcast NFL football that night, pre-empting Elementary, while its competition solidified their fan base. So what began as one of the network's hits when it came on the air, is now floundering in the ratings.
All the while making all the main characters on the show so unhappy and leaving Sherlock Holmes morose on the flooor.
As I said, it's clear that the show decided to Shake Up things, even though it didn't seem particularly needed. I suspect too that Lucy Liu wanted more to do, or the show wanted to give her more. But...but when you're doing Sherlock Holmes, that's sort of the interesting balance the character has -- he's brilliant and rude, and he has a sidekick who keeps him in line and helps the best he (or she) can. If you don't want that, don't do Sherlock Holmes. You can give Watson more, and a more rounded life than Holmes will ever have, but to split the character off from Holmes and become almost as brilliant, just please spare me.
I'm sure that they are continuing to develop the situation, and what we see now will not be what is going on by mid-season. That doesn't mean it will be better, but one can hope. But one can also hope that they haven't driven away the audience by the time they get to that point.
To be clear, the show remains a total joy to watch Jonny Lee Miller. And he remains the main character, even if he's now sharing more of the stage. But...man, are they making you slog through the muck to get to the destination. It's getting better. Or perhaps less annoying. But why on earth did they think it wouldn't be this way when they came up with their Really Great Idea to Shake Up things???
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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