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Keen powers of deduction, razor-sharp wit, and fine British sensibilities—just a few reasons Sherlock Holmes became a household name, and why CBS hopes its latest crime drama (10 p.m. Eastern on Thursdays) may become one, too. With the BBC series Sherlock fresh in fans’ minds, as well as Robert Downey Jr.’s award-winning movie incarnations, the franchise might seem played-out to the casual observer.
But CBS is betting that British actor Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting) can find his own niche. How? They’ve moved Holmes to New York City, cast Lucy Liu (Kill Bill) as Watson, and set them in the context of modern American life. Judging by its debut on Sept. 27, upwards of 13 million Americans are intrigued.
What remains unproven is whether these viewers will be back. While Liu’s performance pleasantly surprised—her no-nonsense character nicely balances Holmes’ eccentricities—Holmes himself is awfully familiar. A wealthy egocentric, he’s plagued by addictions and broken relationships. That brokenness shows in his numerous tattoos, a visit with a prostitute (not shown to viewers), and his relationship with Watson.
Just out of drug rehab, Holmes needs a companion to help him reenter society. Or so thinks his wealthy father, who has hired Watson to supervise Holmes. In the first episode, Watson patiently endures Holmes’ scorn, accompanying him both in his detective work and in dark valleys of the soul. The details of their murder case are largely forgettable, but several scenes between Holmes and Watson are affecting. It’s their relationship that keeps the story moving.
Even so, compared to other versions, Elementary is mostly nondescript. New York here is hardly evocative, and even with a likeable police captain (Aiden Quinn), supporting characters are sorely lacking. Still, less artistry means that while these characters aren’t angels, they’ll likely avoid the lurid scenes of Sherlock. And as Watson proves, being clever isn’t everything—a little heart at the right time and place is endearing, too. Taken on its own terms, Elementary may be on to something.