Lucy Liu stars as female Watson

Last updated 13:45 14/03/2013
DYNAMIC DUO: Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, as Holmes and Watson.

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REVIEW: Elementary Prime, Wednesday, 8.30pm Reviewed by Nick Ward.

It would be easy to dismiss Elementary as another pale American imitation of a successful British show. Sherlock Holmes in present-day New York? With a female Watson? But that would be a shame - while it doesn't reach the heights of Sherlock, it's a good watch, largely for the same reason: a great performance by its star.

Sherlock and Benedict Cumberbatch have set the bar for modern interpretations of the great detective very high indeed. Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes has the same high-revving brain, and a similar array of eccentricities. He remains aloof from people while making brilliant deductions about them, tramples over social graces, uses psychological tricks, and notices crucial details at crime scenes, sniffing things as tiptoeing violin music plays.

Fortunately, Elementary doesn't set out to be an American reflection of Sherlock. Instead of a know-it-all fuelled by nicotine patches, our hero is a recovering drug addict, with tattoos and a thing for S&M, whose rich dad has hired Watson as a "sober companion" to stop him relapsing. He used to "consult" for Scotland Yard before he went off the rails.

But at its core, it's a police procedural, interrupted by heart-to-hearts as Holmes and Watson drip-feed each other personal secrets. The episodes don't appear to be based on Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, and the police are involved more, and they call Holmes things like "Prince Charles" and "Harry Potter".

The sleuth with endearing quirks and/or special talents is a staple of American TV, and we've seen a lot of them lately - Monk, Lie To Me, Unforgettable.

Despite the New York setting, this Holmes isn't a manic channeller of the Big Apple's supercharged energy, and Miller doesn't overplay the character's eccentricities.

He's more a cheeky Charlie than a workaholic ideas machine, and modern technology helps to kick the story along by letting him do his research on the run.

Where the show stumbles is the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson, a former surgeon with her own demons.

Martin Freeman's Watson, and his struggle to be assertive in the face of his friend's overbearing intellect, is a key part of Sherlock's success, but Liu - who's always been pretty wooden - struggles to engender much interest in her character.

And then there's the setting - New York may be a great city, but London beats it hands down for history and atmosphere, and its grey, grimy glory is Sherlock's other trump card. The character and the city are pretty near inseparable - streetlights peeping through fog, dark deeds on the muddy banks of the Thames and blood on the cobblestones make up the essence of Conan Doyle's creation, and always will.

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Coming up: Will Deano and Nicki get together? Will Oscar's scheming succeed? Find out in the final of the great new Kiwi comedy Sunny Skies, tomorrow on TV3 at 8pm.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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