I had started a blog post about the BBC’s Sherlock, a modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, but recently there has been chatter online about CBS attempting what sounds like a very similar endeavour. The more I hear about it, the more issues I have. So now this post is about that.
The first time I remember being aware that American versions of British things were awful was watching the American film of Roald Dahl’s Matilda in 1996. (Danny DeVito, really?) Since then it’s been a run of examples, from The Office, to Being Human, They even tried to remake Absolutely Fabulous. Viva Laughlin, the remake of Blackpool was a laughable flop, Top Gear, the X Factor, the list goes on.
In the case of Sherlock Holmes, I find it even more puzzling, in my opinion, the market is pretty much saturated with Sherlock remakes right now. In 2009, and again in 2011 we had Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law starring in major Sherlock Holmes blockbuster films, set in the original time period. And over the course of 2010-2012 the BBC produced six 90 minute episodes of their modern-day retelling of the Sherlock story.
CBS’s Sherlock series, Elementary, is another modern-day telling of the books, and the timing reeks of an attempt to market off of the popularity of the other Sherlock franchises currently out there, and the critical success of the BBC’s Sherlock in the UK. Elementary will take place in New York City and feature British actor Johnny Lee Miller as a recovering addict leaving rehab to become a consultant for the NYPD.
The latest news to come out of CBS’s Elementary is that Lucy Liu has been cast as “Joan” Watson, in a gender bending twist of the source material. While I have defended reboots of original material which includes the switching of a characters’ gender – Boomer in Battlestar Galactica and Kono in Hawaii Five-O stand out in particular – I am not in favour of this one. The Sherlock Holmes stories do lack an abundance of smart, capable, recurring female characters, but I’m reading this switch from John to Joan slightly differently.
One of the recurring elements in the Sherlock stories is the relationship between Sherlock and John, and it’s many interpretations: Friends, Colleagues, a ‘Bromance’, Heterosexual life mates, Lovers, an Asexual and his best friend, there has always been a debate in the fandom, and amongst casual viewers and readers.
To me, this switching of John to Joan reads as the network’s reading of the relationship as a sexual one, or one that can become that. But an absolute reluctance to explore that relationship as it stands. If the source material is being read as one that can be a romance, then the network is simply taking the cowardly and predictable way out of exploring a gay relationship between two leading characters.