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CCI: CBS’s Elementary Brings Sherlock Holmes to New York

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu of "Elementary (photo by Mark Cronan)

The first-ever public screening of the pilot for Elementary, CBS’s modern take on Sherlock Holmes, was greeted by cheers from an enthusiastic audience at Comic-Con International. (Warning: This report includes a summary of the episode.)

Following a stint in rehab, Sherlock Holmes (played by Jonny Lee Miller) escapes to New York City, only to discover that his father has hired a sober companion for six weeks to help him transition into regular life – once-successful surgeon Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). However, Watson is in for a surprise of her own: that Holmes has decided he can best speed his recovery by resuming work as a police consultant, leaving his new companion no choice but to accompany him while he works.

Following Holmes to investigate the kidnapping of a woman from her home, Watson is introduced to police at the scene as his “valet.” The detective immediately picks up on clues that police overlooked, leaving Capt. Tobias “Toby” Gregson (Aidan Quinn) to explain to Watson that his experience working with Holmes shortly after 9/11 led to him being brought on the case.

Holmes concludes from his brief investigation that the victim knew the attacker, who took a jewelry box from the living room. He thinks the victim wasn’t kidnapped but was likely murdered, and goes in search of a body. Heading farther into the house, Holmes discovers a hidden safe room, where the woman’s body is found. Her psychiatrist husband later claims he had no idea there was a safe room, and that his wife must have installed it without his knowledge. With these new details in play, the husband becomes a suspect.

Holmes asks Watson to look at a photo of the strangulation marks on the victim’s neck, and she concludes they don’t appear to match the hands and height of the husband. Holmes also believes the killer was taller than the husband, and questions him about any tall men in their lives. Following the new lead Holmes and Watson learn that the victim underwent plastic surgery to alter her appearance, although she didn’t seem to need it.

What’s more, Watson discovers she has an affinity for investigative work. Holmes deduces that the doctor hates her job, as she requires two alarm clocks to wake up in the morning, and agrees to use her as his companion for the proposed six weeks. The next morning, Watson discovers Holmes has disabled both of her alarm clocks.

Holmes’ research uncovers a seemingly related case from two years ago in which the victim had similar marks on her neck; that woman survived. Although that woman tells the two that she was unable to identify her attacker because he wore a ski mask, Holmes believes otherwise. However, his aggressive questioning spooks the victim, and Watson is forced to take over when he’s asked to leave. She manages to elicit the information through kindness that Holmes failed to get through the more aggressive approach, and they come away with the name of the attacker. Watson’s success appears to bother Holmes, but he claims he had planned to maneuver Watson into a position to obtain the information.

Tracking down the attacker turns out not to be difficult, as he’s been discovered shot to death. Although the case appears to be wrapped up, Holmes remains focused on the plastic-surgery angle, certain they’ve missed a critical piece of the puzzle.

Holmes returns to observations about Watson’s past, postulating that she lost someone important to her – a patient who died on the operating table, which led to a malpractice lawsuit and the doctor leaving her profession. She questions how he figured it out, and Holmes’ aggressive answer that he observed the chain of events he thinks led to his conclusion angers Watson. She leaves, threatening to resign as his companion and says she thinks he may be a lost cause.

Later finding Watson at an opera, Holmes interrupts her enjoyment of the performance to try to continue the case. She resists, but his persistence, and increasingly loud conversation, finally persuades her to listen. Holmes compliments her on her ability to get information in the earlier interview, and begrudgingly admit he might actually need her assistance. Watson reluctantly agrees to leave with him.

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Holmes thinks the attacker suffers from rage, and discovers the pills he was taking to suppress those emotions had been switched with steroids. Furthermore, the victim’s husband is a psychiatrist, who could prescribe such drugs..

Confronting the husband at the hospital, Holmes pieces the case together: The psychiatrist met the attacker, found out about his rage issues and proclivity for attacking a certain type of woman. Wanting to get rid of his wife so he could continue an affair, he convinced her to undergo plastic surgery that molded her into the type of woman who would trigger the attacker’s rage. He then gave the attacker the wrong pills to trigger that rage, and arranged for the attacker and his wife to be together.

Although his conclusions ring true, Holmes has no actual evidence, allowing the psychiatrist to walk away smugly. Demonstrating some anger issues of his own, Holmes demands Watson’s keys and crashes her car into the husband’s. The incident lands Holmes in jail, where Watson speaks with him, trying to discern if it’s worth it to continue to support him and deal with his issues.

Released on bail, Holmes reunites with Watson the next morning to figure out what they missed. Zeroing in on a bag of rice at the attacker’s home — it shouldn’t be there because of an allergy – being used to absorb water from a missing cell phone, the duo confronts the now-rate husband at the police station. Together, Holmes and Watson provide proof that he’s the killer by means of a voicemail.

The pilot concludes with Holmes and Watson watching a baseball game, where Holmes is able to predict the next play of the game, and the two leave for dinner. It would appear they’ve agreed to continue this companionship relationship — for now.

Following the screening, moderator Dalton Ross introduced stars Miller and Liu, along with creator/executive producer Robert Doherty and executive producer Carl Beverly for a brief question-and-answer session.

Ross asked Liu about Watson being recast as a woman in this modern-day interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic characters. “The gender change creates a dynamic and a chemistry,” she said. “There is a difference when there is a man and a woman and a man and a man … there is something special between those two. I am not saying it’s something romantic, but it gives you a little tingle.”

Beverly further explained, “It’s not the design of the series, to turn the show into a ‘will they or won’t they.’ The design is to capture the original spirit of the source material. To a certain degree the genders are incidental.”

Speaking of source material, Ross asked about other Holmes characters appearing in Elementary. “It would be a great shame to do a Sherlock Holmes and not have a Moriarty appear at some time,” Beverly said. “It’s something I am looking forward to writing. As far as other characters, I love Mycroft but might hold off on him for a bit. As you saw in the show, his father — I love the idea that he is sort of a mysterious shadowy figure — but the intention is to make him a part of the series.”

Expanding on the idea of a connection between this show and the source material, Beverly explained the creators’ plans. “We love the original stories, we love the original books. But what we love is the relationship, the beats that happen between the characters,” he said. “We want to do new stories — we’d like to contribute our own stories and material to the canon.”

Asked about his portrayal of Holmes, Miller said he “struggles with the control of his emotions, and just struggling with control in general”

“I found that a very interesting part of the character, that he’s really struggling with those things and that the Watson character can maybe help him out with that,” he continued. “Hopefully that might be relatable too for people.”

Of her character, Liu said, “I think that Watson is somebody that’s flawed, and she’s using this character to avoid dealing with her issues — but unfortunately he sees right through her and she realizes how exposed she is and how insecure she is. She’s trying to keep it together, but it’s hard, because he’s a very unique character to deal with.”

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An audience member asked Liu about criticism over changing Watson to a female Asian-American. “This is the first I have heard about criticism,” she replied. “I try not to listen to what’s out there, but thanks for letting me know. My whole career has been about overcoming criticism. I ignore all that because if I didn’t I’d still be doing Calgon commercials. For me, it’s about making something special for myself.”

“Lucy was added because she was great for the show, and a great actor,” Doherty said, “and that’s the only reason.”

Asked about differences from other versions of the story, Liu spoke about how other interpretations chose not to focus on Holmes’ drug use. “I think CBS takes a great risk bringing in a recovering addict and a sober companion,” she said, “and I hope it pays off.”

Elementary premieres Sept. 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.


  • Talon Jennings

    I refuse to believe that they made it through this entire appearance without someone asking about or mentioning the concurrent BBC show. 

  • coalminds

    So “modern” means that Watson has to be a woman? Pass on this garbage.

  • Bob

    No, coalminds. “Modern” means that Watson doesn’t have to be played by a man.

  • coalminds

    AND it doesn’t have to be set in England. So if you don’t want to make it British and you don’t want Watson to be a man, why the hell are you making SHERLOCK HOLMES? Just make a new property set in NY. This is just as bad as wanting to make Akira with a non-Japanese story and cast. 

  • Shane

    Life on Mars, Being Human and now Sherlock. Yet another 3rd rate yank copy of a brilliant BBC show.  I’d expect it to fold after a season but then considering some of the crap that continues to pass for TV shows (yes I’m looking at you reality TV) I’m not game to predict it.

  • Wraith

    This seems like the ultimate example of concept-by-committee.

    “So, I really love this idea to do our own Sherlock Holmes show. We’ll set it in New York of course, not London.”

    “And in the present day obviously.”

    “Let’s get in a gritty realism with the struggle to recover from drug addiction.”

    “I’d like to sex things up a bit. Can we have a woman on the show?”

    “We can replace Watson with a woman. Let’s cast an Asian actress too, and seem really forward-thinking.”

    “This is great! I just want to suggest we also tie in Holmes more closely with the police, so the show more readily aligns with how American audiences expect their cop dramas to work.”

    What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes at this point…?

  • guest

    I hope they explain why the character is surnamed Watson despite being Asian. The obvious explanations would be either she was adopted or she was married and changed her name. Either way, I hope they at least touch on it, even if just briefly. 

  • Stephen

    This has no attraction to me and I’ll be avoiding it.

  • jrau18

    Being Human US shits all over the UK version, which very quickly turned to shit in the fourth series.

  • Dick Grayson

    Why would anybody watch this when there is a BRILLIANT version of this very same idea being shown on the BBC?

  • Kizmet

    Yeah.  Everything I see about “Elementary” just makes me realize that the only reason I’m even considering watching because I’m not certain when “Sherlock”s third season will be out.

  • Kizmet

    Reading this description of the pilot I’m beginning to think that the whole ‘sober companion’ non-sense is going to be a bigger departure from cannon than Watson being female.  Watson is supposed to be fascinated by Holmes from the beginning, they’re supposed to like each other.  Watson is not supposed to be putting up with Holmes because she’s being paid to.