Sherlock Holmes has returned to popularity, thanks to two blockbuster movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and an acclaimed British series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Now Sherlock Holmes comes to present day New York in CBS’s new fall show Elementary. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes. He actually performed Frankenstein on stage with Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes in the series Sherlock.
“Even before this project came along, I loved the work that Benedict has done on the show so I’d call him up like a groupie after every episode came out, want to talk to him about it,” Miller said to the Television Critics Association at a CBS session today. “We had discussions about this project as well. It’s a private discussion. Benedict’s been very, very supportive and I wanted to reassure him about how different this script was, the project was and all the other differences that would be apparent. It’s another country and a whole other vibe. Obviously we discussed it.”
Sherlock Holmes was author Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective character in many Victorian era novels. His partner was Dr. Watson, often a reflection and sounding board for Holmes’ thought process. Casting Lucy Liu as Watson marks a major update to the character, making her a sober partner for a Holmes released from rehab.
He could’ve made Watson a man,” Liu said. “The only reason he didn’t is because in the story themselves, you’ll see Sherlock Holmes has a bit of an awkward relationship with the other gender. Bringing that into play is a constant reminder of that awkwardness and division, being a friend but it’s a woman. That’s a nice thing to always have under there because it’s like having an itchy sweater. You have it on but something’s going on. It’s a nice thing to have that uncomfortability.”
Making Watson a woman could make some audiences think romance. Instead Elementary hopes to reintroduce platonic friendships into mystery entertainment.
“The friendship is core,” Miller said. “The partnership and they become colleagues, partners. There’s also the other reason that they have to be together that we have, the sober companionship. [Executive producer] Robert [Doherty] said, ‘Man and a woman shouldn’t matter.’ There is that element and people are going to wonder, but then wondering and asking questions is something you really want your audience to do.”
In some of the adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Watson became the comic relief. Liu won’t be that kind of Watson. “If you’ve ever been able to read the actual literature, Watson is actually not really comedic,” she said. “He’s somebody who’s incredibly observant. All his stories come out of what he sees and experiences. It’s a very fresh and wonderful take on who Watson is. Who Watson is right now is sort of on the sideline observing. She’s his sober companion so she’s not engaged in the mystery. She’s engaged in him and you see how that blossoms out. The foot in the bucket and that kind of Watson happens because in entertainment, there’s got to be a sidekick. In this case I don’t think that’s the direction we’re going in but ask me in six episodes. If I have a foot in a bucket then we’ll have a discussion.”
Elementary premieres Thursday, Sept. 27 on CBS.