Thursday, October 11, 2012

Elementary: While You Were Sleeping Review


Coma Holmes

Now that we've gotten the introductions out of the way, it's time to see whether Elementary can get going on building up as both a series and still keep one foot within the Sherlock Holmes mythology.  While You Were Sleeping, the second Elementary episode, doesn't stray far from what is typical CBS procedural fare (we get crime, we get investigation, we get hints of personal lives within the episode saving most of those for the last few minutes), but it still throws in some distinctive Sherlock Holmes bits that if not at least mentioned would make Elementary faux-Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is attending an addicts meeting (most reluctantly) with his 'sober Companion' Joan Watson (Lucy Liu).  He finds the proceedings such a bore he has put himself into a trance, and when broken by Watson his cry of "Amigdilah!"(that's my phonetic spelling) startles everyone.  Watson makes her displeasure clear, Holmes makes his contempt for Addicts Anonymous meetings equally clear.  However, all that has to take a backseat with Holmes being brought in for consultation by Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn).

This is an odd case.  One Casey McManus has been murdered as he was coming into his home.  Captain Gregson and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) suspect it was a robbery/homicide, but Holmes quickly figures that it was a robbery AND a homicide with one not related to the other.  The robbery side is quickly resolved, but we still have the murder.  The witness/thief has identified the woman seeing at McManus' apartment and one has been found matching the description: Yvette Ellison (Amy Landon).

Only one problem: she has been in a coma for three days.

We quickly turn to her twin sister Rebecca (Jennifer Ferrin), but they are fraternal twins, not identical.  This is getting murky, especially when another victim killed by the same weapon turns up.  The second victim isn't connected to the first or the Ellison sisters...or so it appears.

Why would the Ellison sisters be wrapped up in the murders of people they don't know?  Oh but they do know them, or know of them anyway.  There is a link: a rare genetic mutation in the eye that shows they all had the same father.  The Ellison family is wealthy, but their late father made no exclusion of illegitimate children to the family fortune.  Thus: motive.

However, we have a problem: Rebecca has an alibi (videotapes from her apartment show she was at home) and Yvette (the woman described by the witness) is in a coma.  this problem needles Holmes, until at another Addicts Anonymous meeting it comes to him.  The murder is lured into a trap to which she, Yvette, easily falls for.  The coma she was in was medically induced by her lover, who revived her once the heirs were found.  Her physical weakness when emerging from said coma accounts for why the murders were committed sitting down.

While You Were Sleeping in terms of the actual crime isn't a bad one, though I would argue that some clues (such as Yvette's attending doctor not wearing a wedding ring, thus connecting him to her as her lover) was if not strictly withheld from us at least not featured prominently enough for us to arrive at the same conclusion.  The actual revelation of the murder makes sense if we go by the witness who saw her at the crime scene, and I think that on the whole in regards to the crime-of-the-week writer/creator Robert Doherty did a strong, though not spectacular job. 

Where While You Were Sleeping did much better is in taking stabs (no pun intended) into Joan Watson's private life.  I sense that Watson will not be merely relegated to asking questions and being five thousand miles behind Holmes in figuring things out a la Nigel Bruce.   We see this in her dealings with her ex-boyfriend Ty Morstan (Bill Heck), someone who is apparently close to her parents and who also puzzles as to why she would leave practice to babysit addicts (I think that was the phrase).  It also helps that Watson, as a physician, is able to convince Holmes that when they first encounter Yvette, she truly is in a coma and lend credibility to a person being able to be brought out of one.

In regards to Liu, I think she's proving, slowly, to be a capable Watson.  The fact that Holmes' partner is a woman is now a moot point, and Liu is starting to show her Watson to be both a capable and intelligent person and one not afraid to challenge Holmes.  My favorite moment between Liu and Miller is when she makes him attend a second meeting.  Threatening to go into another self-induced trance, Watson shows him a tack she has in her palm, ready to use on the tenderest part of his thigh to revive him (echoing a similar scene when Holmes threatened to do the same to revive a comatose Yvette). 

I have a sense that Miller is starting to lose Holmesian support.  I can see why: his Holmes appears to be very ADD, moving along really quickly and speaking in screwball-comedy type rapid fire delivery.  There's even hints that he is going to be deliberately difficult: he for example hacked into Watson's e-mail account to invite Ty over for dinner, with an irate Watson having to send her ex-lover away.  At the meeting, he also makes a show of playing 'the world's smallest violin' ,even remarking that he was doing as Watson asked when she brought it out the first time.

However, I can't shake the last moments of While You Were Sleeping, when a distraught Holmes looks upon a violin, almost in fear, and while we don't see him play it, we do hear it just before the episode closes.  It simply wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes if we didn't have a violin.  It's not just another nice touch (and a growing sense that Doherty does intend to show respect for the source material, if not strict adherence to everything in the Canon), but proof positive that this Sherlock Holmes will not stray too far from what we know as Sherlock Holmes. 

My one bitter disappointment is in that Hill's Detective Bell has replaced Manny Perez's Detective Abreu.  I have written on the lack of Hispanics on television, and to see one of the few Hispanic characters I've seen replaced is I think a bad decision.  This is nothing against Hill, who portrays the irritation he has against Holmes to great effect (I laughed when Bell,  referring to Holmes, said "Harry Potter here").  Unfortunately, I figured out that the 'fight' Holmes and Bell had was, well, staged.  Perhaps this is a flaw of how television cliches work now, but here I would say is one of While You Were Sleeping's obvious flaws.

I hope that Quinn isn't lost in the shuffle and that we get in Elementary a story or two were the crime is secondary to the relationships, in particular that between Gregson and Holmes.  So far I don't think I've seen them interact except briefly at a bar in the pilot, and that was business.  It is standard to give the mystery the lion's share of attention, leaving the personal for the beginning or the end.  However, I hope that in future episodes what appears to be a genuine respect and even affection between the Captain and the Consultant is allowed to grow.

I found While You Were Sleeping to be not particularly deep but decently entertaining.  Elementary is still in its early stages, feeling its way around the standards of American series television while keeping within the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  We still have several questions: will this season be all original stories with the characters tying them to the Conan Doyle catalogue (I suspect as much)?  Will we see any adaptations of the original stories (I doubt it)?  Will other characters (Moriarty, Irene Adler, Mycroft Holmes or the yet-unnamed/unseen Father Holmes) make an appearance (would be upset to see Moriarty come so soon, but don't object to the others)?

Ultimately, we have to be wary of thinking Elementary will be either an Americanization of Sherlock Holmes or a completely faithful rendition to the Canon.  It will be its own creature, a hybrid that sticks with the American style of television while working to keep the spirit of Sherlock Holmes within its framework.  I need only look at the British and American versions of The Office: both are brilliant, both are funny, and both are distinctly British and American, unique to their audiences but able to be appreciated on either side of the pond.   

So far I've enjoyed Elementary and don't expect to find anything that will make me tear my hair out, though I hope that more distinctly Holmesian elements seep their way into the series. 


Next Episode: Child Predator

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