Back in 2010, I was whining about the fact that no one had tried hooking Sherlock Holmes up with a female Watson, since cult 70s fave They Might Be Giants. Little did I know that just two years later CBS would be recruiting the inestimable Lucy Liu to play that very role in a modern-day police procedural, alongside Jonny Lee Miller as the legendary detective.
To begin with, the disgraced ex-surgeon, ‘Dr Joan Watson’, is merely an irritant to Sherlock… a “sober companion” employed by his estranged father, to keep the recovering addict on an even keel. Over the past sixteen episodes, however, the two have grown closer, and developed a healthy, robust respect for each other, while bonding over a mutual love of mystery solving and crime-fighting… but it wasn’t until this week’s episode, that Sherlock finally put his cards on the table, and admitted his true feelings for Joan. No, not the sort of icky romantic or sexy feelings that would scupper the working relationship they’d worked so hard to establish… but the simple, humble admission that he works better, both as a detective and as a human being, with her by his side, as his partner. I don’t mind admitting, I was a little weepy when I first watched the scene, and I’m getting a little weepy again now, just writing about it. With all of the rote, shop-worn V-Day schmaltz floating around at the moment, it was bracing to be presented with such a powerful display of genuine, platonic love between two people… even if that declaration basically amounted to asking her to spend more time poking around dead bodies with him and getting attacked by violent villains!
I’m not going to keep ragging on the BBC’s Sherlock, because… what’s the point? It wasn’t a show I could ever warm to, or even grudgingly tolerate, but it was hugely successful, and picked up plenty awards. I only bring it up again now for the sake of contrast… because Elementary is very much the Yin to Sherlock’s Yang. The latter seemed to be overstuffed with smugness, arrogance and a general disdain for women, while the former is chock full of heart and humanity. Not to say that the Holmes of Elementary is a soppy sentimentalist… he most assuredly is not… but his dismissive, detached demeanour, and obsessive analytical ways only make it all the more moving when he does drop his defences, and make an effort to communicate his emotions. And all credit to Miller for his brilliant portrayal here. I hadn’t really thought about him since Trainspotting, but he is clearly an excellent actor, who’s shown a real flare for playing the frequently infuriating know-it-all as a fully-rounded and vulnerable human being. Liu’s Watson, meanwhile, is a strong, smart, grounded and compassionate woman… and has ably proven herself the ideal companion for such an erratic, eccentric artist. They have great chemistry together, and make for a very compelling, and often very funny, double-act. How long the writers will be able to resist bringing them together as a romantic couple remains to be seen… but for the moment, their dynamic is perfect, and the series is shaping up to be a true classic of its genre.
[Note: As for the other woman in Sherlock’s life, ‘Irene Adler’, she’s been referenced as his long-lost true love… presumed dead, but I’m not buying that for a second!]