A Brief Love Letter to Elementary
By AlexToday, I am called upon to reflect on the glory of Elementary. The majesty of Lucy Liu’s existence, the splendor of Jonny Lee Miller’s hideous t-shirt wardrobe. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel!
I exaggerate slightly. But ever since the show was announced and the internet collectively flipped its shit, I’ve been on team OMG this looks amazing, side-eyeing the overwrought Sherlock fans crying plagiarism in the distance. (Full disclosure: I both watched and mostly liked Sherlock, but with a continual sense of dread in waiting for Moffat to slip us some fresh new awfulness.) I knew there wasn’t much point in getting too excited before Elementary aired. What if it sucked? And so I waited for autumn.
My patience was rewarded. To be fair, there have only been two episodes so far, but I’m sold. We’re given the marvelous gift of Lucy Liu as a competent, shrewd Watson who’s empathetic, but not a pushover. While it is, technically, her job to “take care of” Holmes, we see her frequently refuse to bend to his whims and tell him quite clearly when his behavior is inappropriate or hurtful. At the crime scenes, she’s not just a helpful add-on to Holmes, but often notices things he doesn’t. Moreover, she is a character with her own distinct trajectory that, while intertwined at the moment with Holmes’, is not inextricably bound to him. The interplay between the two is wonderful, with Liu entirely believable and sympathetic without falling into gendered stereotypes of a woman running around cleaning up a man’s messes apologetically.
Jonny Lee Miller is a rather wonderfully flawed Holmes who, although still something of a manchild, is frequently called on his bullshit and faces more consequences for it than Sherlock‘s Sherlock ever was. We’re still granted a fairly copious amount of “but he’s a genius” flailing, but we are also shown quite clearly that he’s someone who continues to struggle with addiction and, frankly, needs someone like Watson around, both to keep him from relapsing but also to remind him that he’s still human.
The other cast are excellent as well, and the show’s overall diversity makes it feel distinctly modern in a way that Sherlock never quite did for me; after all, New York and London are highly heterogeneous cities, and a similarly varied cast lineup just feels right. In Sherlock, besides an Orientalist subplot about a Chinese gang, the only character of color we’re given is Sgt. Donovan: Vinette Robinson, who is excellent, but the viewer is clearly meant to sympathize with Sherlock’s constant denigration of her instead of seeing her as a woman who is just doing her job and (in my opinion, rightfully) frequently finds his behavior suspicious. There are way more people living and working in London who aren’t white dudes than we see on screen in Sherlock. Besides Liu, Elementary has Jon Michael Hill as Detective Bell in the main cast, and both the crime scene crew and people working at the precinct have a better-than-average-for-TV percentage of people who aren’t white or men or both.
Some people have been saying that the show is all right but nothing spectacular, and we should be careful to not be too reactionary in heralding it as a work of genius if it’s no better than your average crime procedural. Fair enough. But I do think the show has great potential and I’m eager to see where it goes this season. Elementary‘s had a lot of hype, but I think the show might just be able to meet it.
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Alex is a lesbian Jack Mormon feminist from Utah going to school in California. She has a BA in Anthropology and is currently pursuing her MA in Women’s Studies in Religion. Her research focus is Mormon women’s auxiliary organizations and concepts of women’s modesty in religion. She likes nail polish, fanfic, feminist theology, and tea.