Networks have been knocking off Sherlock Holmes for so many years, recently in everything from “House” to “Psych” to “The Mentalist,” there’s something mildly admirable about taking the middleman out of the deal. Enter “Elementary,” CBS’ modernized twist on Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth, not to be confused with the immensely satisfying PBS series “Sherlock.” The main question — whether this slickly made, shrewdly conceived series can sustain “Person of Interest’s” lead-in among CBS viewers — might best be answered with another: Will many of those previously watching “The Mentalist” in this timeslot even notice the difference?
For reasons that doubtless have more to do with demographics and commerce than daring, the troubled young man known as Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is relocated to New York. Coming off a stint in rehab, he’s grudgingly given a sober companion/watchdog named Jane Watson (Lucy Liu), a former surgeon.
While purists might wince at the gender switch, the relationship mostly works, with the new Watson as dazzled as all those preceding her by Holmes’ uncanny powers of perception, which — in his Manhattan digs, far from the concerned father who hired Watson — have earned him a surreptitious advisory role with the New York Police Dept.
“I don’t guess. I observe,” he explains.
Granted, there are certain modern flourishes — like Google — that make a master detective’s job easier. Other than that, precious little has changed in series creator Rob Doherty’s 21st-century take, including a slightly hapless police inspector (Aidan Quinn, oddly in the same timeslot and job as his last gig on NBC’s “Prime Suspect”) who benefits from Holmes’ on-the-sly counsel.
In the premiere directed by “Homeland’s” Michael Cuesta, Miller’s Holmes is pretty much the expected wild-eyed genius, and every bit as emotionally disconnected as other screen incarnations of the character. He also exhibits a facility for rattling off great mouthfuls of dialogue, worthy of “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons.
As for Liu, she gives as well as she gets, and there’s a playful if not particularly fresh quality to their interplay. One only hopes it stays professional, given the speculation that has dogged the Holmes-Watson relationship through the years.
Of course, given its plum scheduling and questionable competition (NBC’s “Rock Center” could be a master detective’s best friend, ratings-wise), the table appears set for “Elementary” to get sampled, and there’s little here likely to chase the procedural crowd away.
Admittedly, this is hardly the fall’s most exciting new show, but one needn’t possess inordinate deductive skills to discern “Elementary” has perhaps the best chance of hanging around awhile. As for those who would accuse CBS of simply milking the same proven formula over and over, hey, no shit, Sherlock.