ELEMENTARY: Thursday 10PM on CBS -Potential DVR Alert
ELEMENTARY has been given CBS’ showcase Thursday 10PM timeslot in the fall. Perhaps surprisingly, it may deserve to be there.
The series concept is… well, let’s just say it’s not complicated. (Nor is it entirely original, since the BBC got there first a couple of years ago, albeit with a very different take on the material.) There have been, over the years, so many movie and TV detectives described as “modern-day Sherlock Holmes,” so why not make a show about Sherlock Holmes in the modern day? There’s no time travel involved, this Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) simply lives in our present. The details have been worked out fairly ingeniously by series creator Rob Doherty, writing his first US show. This Holmes is an expatriate from London, where Something Happened that we don’t yet know. Having moved to the US, he works as a consultant with the NYPD, having a far better relationship with the local Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) than he ever did with Inspector Lestrade. Holmes is just out of rehab (presumably for cocaine addiction, although that’s not made clear), and his unseen father has ordered that he have a “sober companion” stay with him. That would be Miss Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), formerly a surgeon but with secrets in her own background. While of course spectacularly brilliant, this Holmes is hardly the pipe-smoking, violin-playing gentleman detective of old–when Watson meets him, his hooker for the night is just leaving, and his temper is so out of control that he smashes a car when it seems he might not be able to prove a criminal guilty. Watson is only supposed to stay with him for 6 weeks and keep him off drugs, but naturally before long she’s intrigued by Holmes and his crime-solving.
The Sherlock Holmes series of stories may have been pop culture’s first procedural, so the format fits on network TV neatly enough. Elementary‘s success or failure will depend on its execution of plot and character, and the pilot is quite promising. Although the killer’s plan, once we know it, is rather ridiculous, the way Holmes and Watson catch the villain is clever, as are the deductive insights along the way. (The script is certainly far smarter than the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr movies have been, and it mercifully refrains from turning Holmes into an action hero.) At least as important, the relationship between Holmes and Watson is an interestingly spiky one. Although there’s obviously a potential romantic component that can develop over time, Watson is a strong character with her own issues. Miller is a terrific, borderline manic Holmes, and Liu, too, plays Watson like an entirely new character–she’s an effective counterweight to this Holmes, relatively responsible but not immune to the excitement of the chase. Quinn doesn’t get to do much in the pilot, and it would be a waste of a fine actor if things stayed that way, but there’s plenty of time to develop supporting characters. (As it is, in its present form the pilot runs 5-6 minutes too long for a broadcast TV hour, which means it’ll either have to be cut–difficult, since it’s wall-to-wall plot–or play with “limited commercial interruption”.) Michael Cuesta, whose directing credits include the pilot for Homeland, does a bang-up job of keeping the hour shooting along, even though it’s basically a string of dialogue scenes.
CBS has enormous advantages over the other networks when it comes to pilot development: it has very limited needs, and knows exactly what its brand is. That allows it to be very focused and discerning (it’s the broadcast network version of “the rich get richer”). This fall, the network is introducing only 4 new series, 3 dramas and a single comedy. There’s no reason at all why Elementary shouldn’t join Person of Interest and 2 Broke Girls among CBS’s recent hits. The 10PM Thursday slot is wide open, with ABC’s political soap Scandal going for a more female-skewing audience, and NBC basically not even trying with Rock Center as its sacrificial victim in the hour. In the end, Elementary is just a procedural, but if the scripts and performances can stay as strong as the pilot suggests, the series may be able to make it look easy.