‘Elementary’: Five Things to Know About CBS’s New Modern Twist on Sherlock Holmes

by | August 24, 2012 at 1:01 PM | Elementary, Fall TV Preview 2012

"Elementary" stars Jonny Lee Miller as detective Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in a modern-day drama about a crime solving duo that cracks the NYPD’s most impossible cases. (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS)

Even though Sherlock Holmes is most associated with the phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” there is no proof that the fictional character ever uttered that exact phrase. But it is enough an accepted part of our culture that CBS has bestowed the name “Elementary” on its new series (premiering Thursday, Sept. 27 at 10/9c) about the British detective famous for his deductive reasoning.

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Starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu, who in a twist, becomes the first female Watson — a Joan, instead of a John, “Elementary” is a modern-day version set in New York City, after Holmes has relocated from London after being released from rehab and where Watson joins him as his sober companion.

As with the classic stories, Holmes will crack nearly impossible-to-solve cases, but instead of aiding Scotland Yard, in “Elementary,” he will be a consultant to the NYPD. And while the two are uncomfortable companions at first, Holmes learns to rely on Watson’s medical opinion as they work together, despite the fact that the former surgeon lost a patient and her license three years before the story starts.

Meet “Elementary’s” Holmes and Watson:

XfinityTV spoke to Executive Producers Rob Doherty and Carl Beverly to sleuth out some of the mysteries of their new series. Following are five things we uncovered:

The Format: Like the majority of procedural dramas on CBS, “Elementary” will tackle a case per week, instead of being a continuing drama. So whatever the case Holmes becomes involved in at the top of the hour, it will be solved by the end. “Unlocking the mystery of this show, I think, is a personal journey, as well as a professional one — the mystery of who Sherlock is and the mystery of who Joan Watson is,” Beverly says. “That is a very much serialized element to this show, whether it is her family, or his father or brother, whoever, I think those are the kinds of stories that will complement the contained elements of the storytelling.”

“Elementary”‘s Take on Sherlock Holmes: In “Elementary,” Sherlock Holmes is an addictive personality, but his addiction is not just to drugs, but also to solving puzzles. He wants to do the right thing, to help people. At the end of the day, he believes in justice. So for him, it’s not just about putting bad guys behind bars, but helping people and doing the right thing are factors that play into it as well. “The original Sherlock dabbled with cocaine and opiates,” says Doherty, who was a Sherlock fan before signing on to the series. “Our Sherlock had those same problems, but I think one of the big differences is our Sherlock hit a serious wall.

“I’ve always described him as someone for whom the world and life came quite easily because he could see so many things. He could take things down to their simplest elements, and it makes not just investigation relatively simple but, sort of, living your life and navigating this world. But, obviously, something happened. To his great surprise, the world is not as easy as he thought. Something terrible happened to him in London and he spiraled out of control. Our Sherlock has emerged with what, I think, is at his core just a tiny kernel of self doubt where one previously never existed. It’s not something we are going to speak to very often, but I think it’s one of the things that drives him.”

Characters from the books: Both the BBC series “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and the “Sherlock Holmes” movies, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, have told stories that involve several characters from the novels: the villainous Professor Moriarty; Irene Adler, the only woman that Sherlock loved; and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, with whom he is very competitive. These are names on the top of the list of the producers of “Elementary,” but not all may be introduced in the first season. “We officially have a plan for our Moriarty, and we look forward to introducing you to him as we go,” says Doherty. “Sherlock’s father, who is referenced in the pilot episode, is also somebody we are moving closer and closer towards meeting. He will be an interesting, shadowy figure in the series. Beyond that, we are, of course, neck deep in several of our first stories, the details of which I won’t get into.”

Homages to the Original: The producers plan to plant little “Easter eggs” to delight true fans of Sherlock Holmes with things only a fan would notice without making a more casual viewer feel excluded from the story. They are also not planning to modernize the original stories, written by Arthur Conan Doyle, especially since the change in locale would make some of it impossible. “That said, if something really stood out, if somebody really had a take on something, that we felt we could modernize, [we might do it],” Doherty says. “For example, ‘Hounds of the Baskervilles’ is especially difficult given it is about a guy who paints a dog in phosphorescent paint. It is hard to do in New York City in 2012. But again, we would like to have little tips of our caps to fans who really know the material, who know the names, who know the streets … little bits and pieces of the original mythology.”

The Dynamic Between Holmes and Watson: In Season 1, the producers plan to establish the relationship between Watson and Sherlock, who are just meeting each other. He is getting out of rehab; she is his sober companion. And just because he is a man and she is a woman does not mean there will be a romance. This is not “Castle.” Rather, they become colleagues and partners. “We wanted to be true to what he is going through; we wanted to be true to her job,” says Doherty. “I think as the series develops, Watson will have less monitoring to do. Addiction is a terrifically tricky thing. We will keep it alive, but this is not a show where we want people wondering, ‘Is this where he is going to fall off the wagon?’ That is not really where the show lives.”

Adds Beverly, “Whatever drove him to his addiction, those things are in some way still present with him, so even though she will have less to do with his drug addiction, she will have things to do in regards to his emotional health, who he is and how he got that way. That is a storyline arc that, I think, will play probably over a great part of the series. It is less about drugs and more about human psychology and behavior and how he became the guy that he is.”

Tune in when “Elementary” premieres on Thursday, Sept. 27 at 10/9c on CBS.