BASIL Rathbone was cool, sophisticated and sharp witted; Jeremy Brett intelligent, moody and obsessive and to many still the definitive Sherlock Holmes.
Then Benedict Cumberbatch threw a scarf about his neck and became an Internet savvy, texting and bordering-on-sociopathic Holmes in the series Sherlock while Robert Downey Jnr and director Guy Ritchie turned Holmes into the man of action with a taste for the ladies.
Soon we’ll see Igor Petrenko (Google him!) play a Russian Holmes – what’s “the game is afoot, Watson” in Russian, one wonders?
It’s all been heaps of fun, thank you Sir Arthur, even Michael Caine’s inept, drunken, womanising Holmes in Without a Clue.
But it does so invite the question: Did we need another Sherlock Holmes?
And the answer is Elementary – yes, we did.
This new incarnation of Holmes is far from an attempt to mimic the successful series Sherlock and Cumberbatch but with American accents; CBS did insist Elementary was original and not a remake and thanks to good writing and Miller’s performance it’s not only original but also captivating viewing.
Elementary turns the Holmes genre on its head (again), with the series not only set in the United States but portraying Holmes as a tattooed drug addict who likes sex (what happened to Holmes’ famous “aversion to women” we ask?)
This new, modern Holmes has just spent six months in rehab and now is forced by his wealthy father to live with a sober companion Dr Watson (Joan, that is), dryly played by Lucy Liu.
Holmes has resumed his work as a consultant to the police and as she’s required to keep an eye on him, Watson accompanies the sleuth on his cases.
He introduces her as everything from his bodyguard to his personal valet as he uses his colossal brain and powers of deduction to solve murders that puzzle the police.
For her part, Watson is a former surgeon who lost a patient and as a personal redemption is working as an addiction specialist. With Holmes she’s taken on more than she realises; he’s highly intelligent and intuitive but also tactless and secretive; the sort of man who no longer plays the violin but smashes them.
Jonny Lee Miller is believable and appealing as Sherlock Holmes. His Holmes is brilliant, observant, rude, even humourless, but also curiously fragile; Holmes feels vulnerable to us, as though failure will plunge him back into addiction to help him face a world that doesn’t quite understand him.
The addiction angle is in a sense, somewhat true to Conan Doyle’s original character.
The “original” Holmes uses cocaine out of boredom, to sharpen his mind when it’s not being properly challenged, injecting a seven per cent solution with a syringe.
In the Granada Television episode the Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes bursts into almost maniacal laughter when using cocaine to help fight depression.
Still, other key elements wander far from the original (not that we object too much when a series if this much fun). While the series Sherlock, although transplanting Holmes from his Victorian setting to our times, still comes complete with characters like Mrs Hudson and the super villain Moriarty, you won’t even find Lestrade of Scotland Yard in Elementary. (Moriarty, however and Mrs Hudson are tipped to make an appearance in future episodes…watch this space….)
Though we do have the much brighter Captain Tobias Gregson (there’s an Inspector Gregson in Conan Doyle’s stories). And we also have an Irene Adler, “the woman” as Holmes calls her. In Elementary, Sherlock admits Irene is dead and he’s not handled that well.
So it’s not quite so pure and some Holmes fans will shake their heads at that.
But do we care? Not at all, and we say that as big Sherlock Holmes fans.
That’s because Elementary is nicely written, nicely paced and fascinating – and for much of that we can thank Jonny Lee Miller who has surprised us with an endearing Holmes, complete with eccentric mannerisms, swift deductive abilities and all. Even its divergence from Conan Doyle’s original stories into the realm of new puzzles and crimes for our detective to unravel is good viewing with Elementary proving in some respects a clever procedural crime show.
It’s not Sherlock and that’s the good news. Sherlock is wonderful. This is wonderful also, but different. And there’s room enough for two good, different shows about the famous fictional detective. (There’s even room for the Russian series – we hope it has English subtitles).
In the end it’s Elementary: this is already one of the better new programs on TV so far this year.