Well, it had to happen sooner or later.
US television is notorious for taking a UK property and tailoring it to the palates of US audiences (see: The Office, Being Human, Britain/America's Got Talent, The Inbetweeners, et al). Consequently, with the success of BBC's "Sherlock" it was only a matter of time before the world's greatest detective made his way stateside. "Elementary" will no doubt invite comparison to its UK counterpart, as both feature modernized spins on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic characters. I'll try to keep those to a minimum with this review, as both series should succeed or fail on their own merits, but some areas kind of necessitate comparison.
In this latest reimagining, Dr. John Watson is Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), a once-promising surgeon who has been emotionally and professionally crushed after making a fatal mistake with a patient. She is unenthusiastically embarking on a new career as live-in sober companion of the also-damaged Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller), under unwanted supervision at the behest of the man's wealthy father. Holmes is fresh out of rehab -- for what is not immediately known, though the original Doyle stories did feature the character indulging in cocaine and opiates.
With his addictions in check, Holmes has relocated to New York City eager to transplant his investigative consultant activities from Scotland Yard to the NYPD. Detective Gregson, played by veteran Aidan Quinn, worked with Holmes in both settings and serves as a kind of middle man between the new companions as well as their introductory case revolving around a missing wife, a panic room, and a mentally unbalanced patient.
Exposition-wise, that's as far as I'll go, as half the fun of any mystery series is coming in cold. And this is one area where the Americanization of the new series works against it -- the traditional way of shooting an US procedural is to rack focus on key clues followed by an eyebrow raise or some other reaction from the character who notices it. Ordinarily not an issue, and a nice way to lead the audience along with an investigator's line of thinking, but the character of Sherlock Holmes is one who is supposed to notice the typically unnoticeable. The UK series cleverly solved this with Holmes absorbing a bevy of information in a few short seconds, represented by stream-of-conscious text so that we, the audience, were never sure what is relevant and what is not. That said, by and large the pilot is impressively shot. It's directed by Michael Cuesta, most recently credited with helming episodes of "Homeland" and, indeed, much of the overall feel and look seems quite reminiscent of the Showtime series.
Miller plays Holmes as the typical eccentric, perhaps on the wackier side with a shade of Adrian Monk-esque neuroses and tics. The oddest choice is Holmes exhibiting uncharacteristic tact and sympathy in some scenes, running counter to the typical coldness of the character and numerous other scenes in the pilot. Liu holds her own as Watson, playing a broken spirit decently enough even if it's nothing remarkable. The Watson character is essentially the pathos and humanity of Holmes, and the casting of a female in a role heavy on emotion seems simultaneously clever and unclever to me. Regardless, the eventual road we're going to have to travel is Holmes and Watson solving even more mysteries... in bed. Because of course that's happening.
Overall, the pilot shows promise. Fans of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" or the aforementioned "Monk" will probably find a particular enjoyment from the procedural. While it's a far cry from the quality of the BBC series, it still carries an air of quality and uniqueness characteristic of Holmes himself.
Overall grade: C+
Check out the premiere of "Elementary" Thursday on CBS.