Sherlock Holmes returns to our TV screens once again with the season premiere of Elementary on CBS. Jonny Lee Miller as a heroin-addicted Holmes has won over many fans of the Conan Doyle creation. Like a One Tree Hill to the BBC Sherlock‘s OC, the CBS show has had to prove it’s own vitality in the shadow of an equally impressive show with a similar spark. Luckily for us, Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have created a Holmes and Watson that are wholly their own and after 2 seasons the actors are now taking the classic dynamic to a different place, that of equals.
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When last we left Holmes and Watson, Sherlock was debating getting back on the horse, literally, and Watson was trying to find her own identity as an investigator by moving out of the brownstone. The schism resulted in Sherlock leaving for London. As season 3 begin, Watson has become an more than proficient private detective and still bitter about Holmes departure. We talked with the pair about the dynamic change and how they’re relationship as actors has strengthened. Jonny Lee Miller speaks of their partnership, “First and foremost, we’re both professionals who work very well together. We just sort of clicked together as actors. That either works or it doesn’t, you know, with actors. We’ve always really enjoyed playing scenes together, so the development – it’s pretty rare that you’re in a situation where you work with the same actor for three years. That informs it, and it can really only go into a positive way to inform the show. But yeah, it’s really wonderful seeing that development, and to look back and see how great is the character’s role. We always try to keep a lot of humor in there. I think it works best with that, when there is some drama. They’re helping each other, and they’re antagonistic to each other, and it’s funny.
In the coming season of Elementary, both Holmes and Watson have new people in their lives. Liu’s Watson will have a boyfriend named Andrew, while Sherlock trains a new protégé named Kitty. Having a couple more players on the personal side won’t necessarily mean everyone is playing the same game Watson and Holmes are. Lucy gave us a peek at the new dynamics at play, “Well, I think that they are definitely going to throw some spice in there – with the other characters, between Kitty and also Andrew, but I don’t think it’s going to be the main attraction. I think those are just points of interest for them. They’ll use that as a jumping-off point of why they’re having a discussion or argument or lack of trust of one another. I think there’s something always spot-on about bringing another person into play. It always creates a little bit of tension. The characters can then satellite out onto their own in groups. I’m not saying sides and things like that, but it sort of opens it up.”
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How Holmes reacts to a new man in Joan’s life is one of the most anticipated scenes of the new season for fans, and Liu says it will be Sherlock as you would expect him. “There’s not a lot of interaction between all of those characters yet, but you see immediately how he feels about the new boyfriend when they meet. It’s quite clear, and we don’t need to keep hitting it on the head, but it will reverberate, and that will echo throughout the next two or three episodes. So I think that that’s a great question, and I like that they brought that in, because it makes it more interesting. And also, in some odd way, comedic, even though it’s not played as a comedic scene.”
The end of the last season left the Holmes/Watson partnership very broken, but Miller explains it won’t be a glossed over reunion. The team is not going to get an instant fix and that will drive the personal narrative through the beginnings of the season. Jonny said, “The first season was really two people who are polar opposites, who don’t know each other, coming together and finding a common bond, and finding a very odd, strange relationship based on that discovery. Then season two is sort of working together and having some adventures, in basic terms. For season three, I think what they really wanted to do was to drive a wedge – some wedges between the characters, and then see how they deal with that, and ultimately come together again. I mean, that’s sort of, kind of simple terms, really. I think that affords us some drama.”
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Over the last two TV seasons Elementary has built Dr. Joan Watson up as a partner for Holmes and as we head into season 3 she is clearly capable of investigating these elaborate crimes herself. Watson’s independence will create the opportunity for the show to split the character up to focus on multiple crimes and potentially give us more “Doctor-lite” episodes. “Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening this season, and it’s sort of giving the characters the ability to say, ‘Hey, I’m working on this case. I would like to have your help – what’s your opinion about this?’ You don’t see the two of us together all the time, and it creates the ability for them to have more breathing space.”
Sherlock’s sobriety has been a cornerstone of the show, since Watson was introduced as a sober companion, and the near relapse Holmes had at the end of season 2 will pull some focus as we move forward, but Miller doesn’t want it to be the sole focus. He says he has implicit trust that the writers know how to balance it though, “I don’t want our show to be completely – I don’t want my aspect of the show to be completely about that, but it affords us wonderful places to go, and it’s always – as I said, it should never go away. All I’m doing, I really trust Rob Doherty. I really trust his leadership and vision for the show. He always exceeds my expectations, even when I read it on the paper. So I really trust that, and all I look for is a chance to play some – to have some drama to play. It’s not necessarily romance based, and there’s always so much color in my character, it’s really a joy to play. They deliver.”
The pair’s respect for the writers comes out as Lucy explains their exceptional pacing and letting the characters progress naturally, “They have a great deal of patience to allow the characters to discover – and who knows, maybe lose audience members on the way, but it’s not like in episode 10 of season 1 I’m suddenly a detective. There’s a transitional time between everything that they do, and within that transition there’s another transition. There’s an allowance there, and I don’t think in this world of technology that we have – it’s so fast, it’s so fast, you’re getting what you want immediately, you move on – it’s not like that on this show. The show is taking its time. It’s breathing slowly, and it’s increasing its pace sometimes and decreasing other times, but it’s always breathing.”
The writer’s patience is paying off in Liu’s performance as she’s developed Watson’s persona. The slow burn to who the detective she has become is a praise point for fans. Lucy also attributes the format as the largest determining factor. “That’s the one thing that we’re discovering – we really have to give ourselves the ability to not try to give it all at once. If you’re doing a movie or a mini-series or something like that, it’s all within 3 to 6 months, you know. This is, we have 10 months to create a – something – a story, a plot, a beginning, a middle. We’re not going to end, so we have to keep going. It’s like a marathon – you don’t want to pull yourself out the first 3 miles or 10 miles.”
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At the end of the day though, both actors know they have Arthur Conan Doyle to thank for their job security. Mr. Miller tees up the summation thusly, “I think if you put stuff down, sort of foundations, in this case, i.e. Holmes and what kind of really worked for the short story serial format, which is what the books were, and it kind of works like that. Lucky for us, right? The network television thing is you can kind of get away with it, to a certain extent, because they’re short stories, but you have to have the solid foundations, and those other little story lines going on to keep people.”
Ms. Liu concurs, “You’re right. Arthur Conan Doyle set it up for us that long ago, to have it be, these characters that you really want to engage with, and that they stay engaged in these interesting cases and serial crimes, but what you really have all the time is that – you want to come back and see what their relationship is, and that’s the curiosity, more than the case.”
Elementary returns tonight on CBS.