Modern Sherlock has elementary mystique

16:00, Feb 27 2013
NEW TWIST: Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary.

It's far too slick, far too self-consciously wacky and, for pity's sake, we've already got two of them – but somehow the new Sherlock Holmes series, Elementary (Prime, 8.30pm last night) seems destined to sneak into viewers' affections and stay there.

Jonny Lee Miller, as a modern-day reformed junkie amateur detective working in New York, does the whole maddening Holmes schtick: Aloof, abrupt, inscrutable, selfish, frequently infantile and given to theatrical flourishes at the expense of his friends and allies. But he has charm. It's that simple. As Dr Joan Watson, Lucy Liu is vividly deadpan, only just restraining her bubbling indignation at her assignment as Holmes' "sober companion" post-rehab – but like the original, much-put-upon Watson, she is intrigued by Holmes' world.

Like the superb new British Holmes series, Sherlock, this version updates the characters without sacrificing the essential facet of the original: Holmes' mystique. He remains an enigma, and viewers are only grudgingly allowed the odd sniff of his past. We know he used to work as an unpaid consultant to Scotland Yard, but his drug habit became so bad he had to be incarcerated. There is serious money, but we are not told from where, only that his father has sicked Dr Watson on him to keep him company with her electronic drug-detecting mouth swab machine till such time as he can be trusted alone.

Necessarily, we need to know more about Watson's past, as unlike in the Victorian era, where a physician of independent means might faff about helping a famous detective, modern doctors usually have to work. She, we learn – via Holmes in one of those seeming cold-reading flourishes of his – was a surgeon, but has down-shifted to rehab babysitting after making a fatal error during an operation. Later, in a scene similar to one in Sherlock, we learn he found this out on Google, admonishing that not everything can simply be deduced. Somehow, this makes him seem more endearingly arrogant, rather than less.

It's a wonderfully kinetic show, with Miller often alternating between gazing mulishly into the middle distance, ignoring people, and throwing himself about frenziedly sniffing, palpating and inspecting things in unlikely places.

It's fair to protest that we don't need another Holmes, updated or classic. Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr have it more than covered. But it turns out there is room for one more – and with tacit reassurance that the writers would never dare to turn Holmes-Watson's relationship into a romance.


The Dominion Post