The Most Important Difference between “Elementary” and “Sherlock”

I love Sherlock Holmes. I own a beautiful leather-bound copy of the entire Conan Doyle canon, all 56 stories and 4 novels, that I have read cover to cover. “Sherlock” is my favorite show. I greatly enjoy the Robert Downey Jr. movies. I’ve finally gotten around to ordering a few Jeremy Brett episodes to see if the hype is justified. And for years I’ve been trying to patch together a novel or play version of a Sherlock Holmes subversion/parody that I’ve had in mind.

And “Elementary”, an american modernization of Sherlock Holmes that capitalized on “Sherlock’s” success, drives me nuts. It’s not BAD by any stretch. I watched the first episode and actually didn’t mind it at all. But it has one huge problem: Lucy Liu as Watson.

“Elementary” drives me nuts by perverting the Holmes-Watson dynamic. Instead of making Watson Holmes’s sidekick and giving him a brotherly relationship with Holmes, they pervert Watson into a “strong, independent woman” who learns to be nearly as capable a detective in her own right as Holmes.

It’s ridiculous. Holmes is supposed to be far smarter than everybody else, ESPECIALLY Watson. The contrast is, narratively, the key to their relationship. Watson’s biggest strength is not that he’s a partner. He’s “backup” for Holmes, and he does the tasks Holmes assigns for him. He’s the everyman who represents the viewer’s reaction to Holmes’s exploits. Turning Watson into a woman makes this role impossible because women are physically inferior, so instead they need to make Watson Holmes’s intellectual partner and equal. That is not Watson, that’s a totally different character with an entirely different relationship who happens to share the same name.

One of the reasons they have to do this is, besides being female, Lucy Liu is a woman of color. And making her Holmes’s sidekick, his inferior, would be sexiss and raciss. So instead they just can the relationship entirely and put in something completely different.

The desire to create a “strong, independent women” bowdlerizes their relationship and destroys its heart. It’s a travesty, which is a shame because it’s really not a bad show. But Lucy Liu is not Watson.

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