When the BBC decided to re-imagine the classic “Sherlock Holmes” detective stories and set them in modern-day London, it was undeniably a big risk. It’s always a little dangerous when you deviate significantly from the source material while adapting a well-known literary work. However, it’s a risk that ultimately paid off, and the BBC show, called “Sherlock,” now has become many fans’ favorite portrayal of the famous detective. The second season of the show already has aired in the United Kingdom, and it will air here in the United States on PBS in May.
The U.S. television network CBS has apparently taken note of “Sherlock’s” success and is now working on its own Sherlock Holmes TV show called “Elementary.” The show is set in modern-day New York City and will star Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes. In another departure from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes’ assistant and best friend Dr. Watson will be a female character, played by Lucy Liu. In this version of the story, Holmes is a former Scotland Yard consultant who travels to New York City to enter rehab, and Watson is an ex-surgeon who has lost her license and is now helping Holmes to stay sober. Holmes has been consulting for the NYPD, so he and Watson most likely will team up to solve cases.
I must admit my initial reaction to CBS’ announcement was not a very enthusiastic one. I love BBC’s “Sherlock,” but I’m not sure “Elementary” can capture the same magic. I’m a little skeptical CBS can make a modernized and Americanized version of Sherlock Holmes work.
The Sherlock Holmes saga has always been quintessentially British, and the city of London plays just as significant a role in the stories as Holmes and Watson do. Even though BBC’s “Sherlock” changed quite a few details and updated the story to modern times, the show still is set in London. New York City has a very different vibe than London, and a modern Sherlock Holmes story set in New York may be too much of a departure from the source material for fans to swallow.
Shows that work in one setting can’t always be successfully transplanted to another. For example, “White Collar,” a smartly-written crime drama about former “white collar” con artist Neal Caffrey, is set in New York City. The location helps set the tone of the series, and “White Collar” just wouldn’t be the same if it were set in, say, Dallas, Texas, or Portland, Oregon. This doesn’t mean you can’t make a good crime drama set in Dallas or Portland; you’d just have to come up with a different story that utilized the unique cultural features of those two cities.
I’m afraid CBS is just trying to capitalize on the success of the BBC’s show and will turn this into “CSI: Sherlock.” There’s nothing wrong with the CSI series of shows; I just don’t think the Sherlock Holmes story would work as a typical procedural crime drama.
According to the U.K. news organization “The Guardian,” CBS reportedly asked the BBC if they could remake “Sherlock,” and the BBC turned them down.
“They approached to reversion our show, we said no and they just decided to make one anyway,” said Steven Moffat, who is the co-creator of “Sherlock” and also known for his involvement with the popular British sci-fi show “Doctor Who.” “So I’ll just leave you to speculate on what I think about that.”
That said, CBS’ “Elementary” does have a good cast. I like Jonny Lee Miller as an actor and really enjoyed his performance as Mr. Knightley in the recent BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” Lucy Liu has appeared on the TNT law enforcement drama “Southland.” Although I don’t necessarily have a problem with portraying Watson as a female character, I hope CBS is not going to turn her into a too-obvious love interest for Holmes.
I’m willing to give this show a chance, just to see what it’s like. I was skeptical of “Sherlock” before I saw the first episode, but now it’s one of my favorite TV series. However, I have a feeling CBS’ “Sherlock Holmes” experiment isn’t going to be as successful as the BBC’s was.