I had planned to watch CBS‘ new crime procedural Elementary last night, but instead I caught it this morning while slightly hungover. Which in retrospect I realize was probably the best way for me to take in this new show about sexy, troubled Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and all the sexy murders he solves while fighting off his sexy drug addiction.
What’s funny is that, because I came home late last night, I missed the pilot’s cold open and jumped right into Holmes and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) investigating a murder at some doctor’s shi-shi Upper East Side apartment. His wife’s been murdered by an intruder, but the fact that she was stashed in the panic room, along with her severe plastic surgery addiction, make Holmes think the husband did it. I watched the whole episode through, and while the mystery never got twisty enough to actually engage me, I did find myself thinking, Huh, this show isn’t the awful Sherlock rip-off that I expected it to be. Sure, it was fairly boring and the characters lacked complexity, but it wasn’t insulting, per se.
But then this morning I watched the opening, and suddenly I found myself on edge. In those first seven minutes, it seemed clear that American networks had done just what I’d feared—they took an idea they saw doing well overseas (i.e., the BBC’s Sherlock) and tarted it up. Sure, they tried to retain Holmes’ intelligence in this new embodiment, but as the great detective himself will tell you, first impressions are everything. And how did CBS introduce us to the new Sherlock? By emphasizing all of his “bad boy” aspects:
• He’s a recovering addict who broke out of his treatment center on the day he was supposed to be released. Watson is his “sober companion,” a sponsor/coach of sorts who has been assigned by Holmes’ father to make sure he doesn’t relapse.
• Holmes got kicked out of London because of a mysterious incident, which of course we’ll find out more about right in time for sweeps. So, the writers decided to keep him a Brit, which means viewers can swoon over his accent.
• When Watson visits his apartment, she encounters a hooker — who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lisbeth Salander — leaving the building. Then she comes face-to-bare-chest with shirtless Holmes, who’s obviously just enjoyed some nookie with the mystery lady. And in case you didn’t pick up on that, he gestures to the handcuffs hanging from a ladder (?!) and smirks about how he doesn’t like sex but he does it anyway so he can think straight.
• But before that, he jumps into a speech about love at first sight, which turns out to be entirely memorized from the soap opera he has playing on one of his many TVs. So, he’s maybe-kinda sensitive in a robotic way, and women automatically want to be the person to actually make him mean what he says and actually want to have sex with them.
• By the way, he’s got quite a few tattoos.
I’m so confused! As far as I understand, Sherlock Holmes isn’t supposed to be such an overtly sexual/bad boy character. Sure, I’ve lusted after Robert Downey, Jr.‘s movie version, but in a detached way because I’m attracted to his arrogance and scruffiness. And yeah, Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House had his fair share of hookers—but House always played that as incredibly sad, that House was so prickly he couldn’t get a woman close to him unless he paid her. Here we’re supposed to be seduced by how titillating Holmes is, and any idiosyncracies are clear turn-ons.
I’ll tell you one thing, Sherlock wasn’t afraid to make Holmes into a total weirdo who’s been accused of having Asperger’s, or even as being a psychopath. (In the pilot, Benedict Cumberbatch‘s character retorts to the disbelieving policeman, “I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research!”) And while fans are happy to post sexual fantasies about Cumberbatch on Tumblr, the show isn’t about whether you or not you would bang him.
Sherlock Holmes is not some male Mary Sue that every other character needs to spend the season trying to win him over. He’s got a job to do, and all this unnecessary sexualization just gets in his way. I do like how Elementary didn’t even try to tread Sherlock‘s hallowed ground of London and instead play up the whole “fish out of water” thing with Holmes being banished to New York City but trying to keep up his old habits. There’s a compelling tension between Holmes and Watson, but I don’t know if that’s simply because she’s a woman and I’m just waiting for them to do it already. Executive producer Rob Doherty has said that he wouldn’t even consider a romance for several seasons, but I can’t imagine what else will keep viewers tuning in for the rest of this season.