There are 1,000 reasons why Elementary is a show better than Sherlock. At the top of my list for reasons that this is inescapably true: Moffat can only write one character at a time, Sherlock gets called out on his irrational bullshit -his actions have repercussions!, and Lucy Liu as Watson.
(Semi-)Recently Liu discussed being typecasted because of racism and stereotypes in Hollywood. In the interview she mentioned how she is always given the roles of “emotionless Asian woman,” this trope currently rears it’s ugly head in Agents of SHIELD with Ming-Na Wen’s character, and this has been following Liu since the mid nineties with her role on Ally McBeal. She discusses her favorite roles, including one of my all time favorite movies Lucky Number Slevin. In that film (which was a snappy dialogued conspiracy-riddled action flick) she played Josh Hartnett’s love interest. And I remember leaving the theater thinking “Wow, I didn’t know Lucy Liu was so cute. She was adorable.”
And she was, she babbled on about nonsense and wore pigtails and cute sweaters and was not a “tough chick” or an ice queen. She fell for Slevin Calebra hard. And she did a great job. And the only reason I was surprised was because I’d only ever seen her as a butt-kicking babe (not that I’m anti-action-chick by any means). Charlie’s Angel’s, Ballistics: Ecks vs Sever, Kill Bill, Ling Woo on Ally, Domino… fierce. But not much range. Her role as Lindsey the neighbor who stops in to borrow a cup of sugar and ends up embroiled in a con in which Slevin seeks revenge on mobsters for the death of his father changed that. She was sweet, she thought it was a game, but she was scared. No Matrix action scenes, no impossible stunts. Just smart and sharp behavior. Just a plot twist and a crush.
And so when I heard she was going to be playing Watson. I ran the whole Watson is a woman? Watson is a woman of color? Holy shit, awesome. I’ve read a Sherlock adaptation where Sherlock is a woman (and didn’t care for it in that case), but even Watson as a woman in a Sherlock Holmes adaptation for a major network… MAJOR. Even better still when I started watching.
It doesn’t have the same style, flair and effects budget as BBC’s Sherlock (it also has more than 3 episodes in a season). While it’s written more like the procedural dramas that CBS is known for cultivating well, it doesn’t lack character development. As Joan Watson progresses into helping Sherlock with his consulting work, she tries to keep up the boundaries but stumbles into it naturally. When she shows Sherlock how doing squats will help him stay awake and focussed I started to become impressed. She’s making a new life for herself but she isn’t burdened with psychosomatic disorders or self doubt. She gave up medicine because she second guessed herself, but she takes pride in the work that she’s found and where it leads her.
She also doesn’t put up with half the shit that Martin Freeman’s John Watson does. Freeman’s Watson is constantly dragged around Sherlock as if he has nothing else to do, he counts Sherlock as his friend and it seems to be enough that he is basking peripherally in his greatness. For Joan, this is not the case. She has her own intentions, first to keep him sober, then to learn investigative skills (because it’s still helping people). As the season 2 progresses, she starts choosing cases on her own, whether or not Sherlock is on board. We get inside to her motivations with becoming a sober companion- her father was a drug addict. She still loves him, he had an untreated mental illness and this doesn’t defeat her, it envigors her to help others (and still keep an eye out for him). In last week’s episode, she investigated a doctor that she used to work with who may have undertreated a murderer. Sherlock found something he felt was more important to do. But she did things her own way, proving that she doesn’t exist to orbit around Sherlock Holmes and bask in his glowing aura of pompousness and arrogance.
And Elementary‘s Sherlock is arrogant. his pushy investigative style got an ex-con on his last chance fired from his job. The man, in turn, went to shoot Sherlock and Detective Bell got caught in the crossfire. She doesn’t sugar coat it for Sherlock that he caused this.
And she doesn’t back down when he hooks up with her friend. She even pranks him into thinking that he impregnated her. She goes along with small shenanigans (like dressing up the turtle) but that’s about it.
Often her medical expertise saves the day, her interpersonal skills keep them out of more trouble. She’s the perfect companion, the perfect sidekick, and a great friend. She’s always willing to help short of running headlong into danger, she’s not reckless, she’s not broken. She’s just trying to do what she can. A life in progress. But nothing about her character is bogged down. Joan Watson is a very positive and driving force for Sherlock, not the other way around.
CBS has some love connections on their procedurals (Deeks and Kenzi NCIS-LA, Ziva and Tony NCIS) But thus far they have not touched that with a ten foot pole (because women and men can just be friends! hooray!) as Liu said in an interview on CBS This Morning, “Maybe in ten seasons, when we’re out of ideas.”
Elementary was recently renewed for season 3. They’re well on their way!