[In case you’ve Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all “These are reviews.” If you’ve read me, you’ve read my reviews and you know this isn’t what they look like.]
Show: “Elementary” (CBS)
The Pitch: “You know that British series ‘Sherlock’? We want capitalize on its success by doing something completely different and using a different name.” “Wouldn’t it be easier to say that you just wanted to become the latest in a long line of people to adapt Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character and his auspices?” “Sure. But some people are so lazy that they’ll invariably say we’re ripping off ‘Sherlock’ even if the similarities are barely even superficial.” “Why don’t you just do your own thing?” “Fiiiiiiine.”
Quick Response: I’m going to get really pissed off in a couple months when critics and audiences alike are incapable of viewing “Elementary” as its own thing and insist upon comparing it to “Sherlock,” either because it’s not as good or implying that Rob Doherty and company ripped off the British hit. And let’s get this out of the way: “Elementary” isn’t as good as “Sherlock.” See? That was an easy and painless comparison. “Sherlock” is one of the best things on TV. “Elementary” isn’t. Very few things are. “Elementary,” though, has the makings of a far better-than-average CBS procedural that takes Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous and endlessly adapted character and handles him in a way that has ZERO similarities to the interpretation by Steven Moffat and company. NOTHING. This is a different text that should be allowed to rise or fall on its own and I feel like it rises to its own — lower, but acceptable if not held directly next to it — level. Jonny Lee Miller, channeling back to his “Trainspotting” days, is a Sherlock Holmes who’s like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes only insofar as they both come from the same source material. It’s a different performance and a very interesting and compelling performance from Miller. There’s an interesting sense of Holmes’ addictive personality and an awareness of the curse of his intellect. And Miller’s doing his own accent, which is nice. Miller’s much more interesting when he’s playing at least partially damaged, so this should work. Lucy Liu’s Watson isn’t as immediately vivid, but Doherty’s script makes some effort to investigate how it might behoove Holmes to have a female partner, or at least how it might impact his methodology. It’s not exactly there yet, but there are kernels. At least in the pilot, there are no kernels of Unfulfilled Sexual Tension. Will that come eventually? Yes. Sigh. But it’s not set up in the pilot. Whew. In Doyle’s Holmes stories and in “Sherlock,” he solves a case per installment. That’s the CBS procedural model as well. So it’s not ill-suited. Was I interested in the procedural case? No. Was I interested in Holmes’ approach to the case? Sometimes. Pilot director Michael Cuesta has given the show a very good look that’s both distinctive, but no so distinctive as to be off-brand for CBS. And Aidan Quinn is, as always, just there. He may as well be playing his “Prime Suspect” character for all I know. I think that Michael Emerson’s “Person of Interest” character would get along very well with Sherlock Holmes and that “Elementary” should be complimentary pairing with its lead-in. I liked this pilot much more than I liked the “PoI” pilot. But, then again, I really disliked the “PoI” pilot. So, who knows what that really means.
Desire To Watch Again: Reasonable. I wouldn’t have thought I was a huge Jonny Lee Miller fan, but I watched every episode of “Smith,” every episode of “Eli Stone” and his full arc on “Dexter.” This’ll probably land a DVR slot along with “Scandal” in the 10 p.m. hour on Thursdays and my sense is that, at the very least, it could be a OK laundry-folding drama along the lines of “Castle,” which also features a more-than-slightly Holmes-ian main character.