VOL. 13, No. 28
DONNA J. PLESH
The People Behind
LUCY LIU as Dr. Watson with
JONNY LEE MILLER as Sherlock Holmes.
New CBS series re-invents
"Sherlock" one more time
By DONNA J. PLESH
Sherlock Holmes. The great, legendary British detective was the centerpiece of a series of late 19th century and early 20th century stories and novels by author Arthur Conan Doyle. The tales of Holmes, and his trusty companion Dr. John Watson, have intrigued readers for more than a century so far.
Then came the movies about his exploits, starring a wide variety of Englishmen (Basil Rathbone, Clive Brook, Arthur Wontner) and the occasional Americans (John Barrymore in 1922 and Robert Downey Jr. today). Holmes and Watson have also been on the small screen, probably best remembered in the 1980s series of Holmes tales on PBS starring Jeremy Brett. And more recently in PBS very popular Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and set in modern-day London.
Now there is Elementary, a new CBS series about Sherlock Holmes set in present day New York City. It premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 27). British actor Jonny Lee Miller stars as Sherlock, and his Dr. Watson is a woman, played by Lucy Liu.
Both this Sherlock and Watson come with baggage. Sherlocks been exiled to New York City by his wealthy father following a stint in rehab and has to live with a sober companion, Dr. Watson, who is there to keep him on the right track. Watsons a former surgeon who lost a patient and her license to practice medicine and views her current job as an opportunity to help people.
Executive producer Rob Doherty said the genesis for Elementary came during a meeting with Carl Beverly, who's also an executive producer on the show.
Carl and I would meet every once in awhile to kick potential projects around," Doherty said in an interview. "Carl said hed been thinking about Sherlock Holmes in New York City, sort of an Englishman in New York, that kind of vibe. I was immediately attracted to the idea because Ive just always enjoyed the character. So I was intrigued but also wanted to make sure that if we were doing this that I had my own take on it.
Doherty's take, he explained, meant checking out the source materialDoyles storiesand that in turn led him to look at Sherlocks drug use in relation to the series plot.
It was absolutely his drug use, which I know has been mentioned and acknowledged once or twice outside of the stories. One of the things that jumped out at me was that it [the drug use] never really dictated plot. It never really informed or altered the course of the story. Early in a story Watson will mention his [Sherlocks] drug use or that Sherlock got bored today and used cocaine, and thats it.
That led Doherty to look at drug use as what he calls a handhold for the series.
Its a handhold in our take on the character and on the franchise, he said. He said other handhold elements for the series were Sherlocks uneasy relationship with women and setting the show in New York City.
Actor Miller, who worked with Benedict Cumberbatch in a British theater production of Frankenstein, said he was a fan of the PBS Sherlock.
I would call him up like a groupie after every episode came out and want to talk to him about it. And we had a discussion about this project as well. It was a private discussion. Benedict has been very, very supportive and I wanted to reassure him about how different this script and project were, said Miller.
Liu, most recently seen on TV in Southland, said she was offered the part, but at first was not sure if she wanted to sign on to something that was also another Sherlock Holmes and Watson. But after meeting with the producers and Miller she changed her mind.
I thought it was really brilliant [the Miller casting] and it changed the color of the project for me. And then I met Rob and Carl and they were the nicest people on the planet. And I just thought when you work on a show, on a series, you really are there all the time and it becomes a family to you. And it becomes important to have that connection with somebody and that you have a trust with them and you care about them, she said.
Liu stressed the importance of the writing in her new role.
I think that the writing is essential to create the foundation for where the characters are going. I think flawed characters, having a history and having sort of a mysterious past, is always going to keep the audience engaged, she said.
What about being a woman cast in a previously man-only role?
I think that Rob brought up something really wonderful at Comic-Con, which was that he could have made Watson a man," said Liu. "That was kind of a given. And the only reason he didnt is because in the stories themselves youll see that Sherlock Holmes has a bit of an awkward relationship with the other gender. And so bringing that into play, its a constant reminder of that awkwardness and that division between being friend but its a woman. Its like having an itchy sweater. You know you have it on, but theres a little bit of something going on. So I think thats a nice thing to have, that uncomfortability,
The writing also was crucial to Miller.
Good writing makes characters accessible to the audience," he said. "Its the writing that forms the connection and its a very subtle connection. And I feel that there obviously are human issues going on with Watson and Holmes, but timeless issues that everyone can relate to. They have some problems and I think people really appreciate seeing the heroes dealing with problems.
Doherty says this Sherlock is a puzzle solver.
I see him as someone who is driven to solve puzzles, to do the right thing, to help people," he said. "I really do think, at the end of the day, he believes in justice. Its not just putting bad guys behind bars. Helping people and doing the right thing are factors that play into it as well.
Doherty feels that drive to solve puzzles has turned into what might be called an addiction.
"I think in many senses he has something of an addictive personality," he added. "In the source materials, obviously, that turned into a real kind of addiction. The original Sherlock dabbled with cocaine, dabbled with opiates. Our Sherlock has those same problems but I think one of the big differences is that our Sherlock hit a serious wall. Something terrible happened to him in London and he spiraled out of control. And I think our Sherlock has emerged with what I think is, at his core, just a tiny kernel of self-doubt where one previously never existed. Its not something we are going to speak to very often, but I think its one of the things that drives him.
©2012 by Donna J. Plesh. The photo is courtesy of CBS. This column first posted Sept. 24, 2012.
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