Why I love Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes on #Elementary

Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller portray Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes on Elementary.

It’s no secret that I have a deep and abiding love for flawed, damaged characters. However, creating the perfect flawed characters invites flirtation with risk. Such characters tread a perilous line between likability and utter loathing.

For instance, at one point I really liked the USA series Monk. But after a while, his flaws descended into full-scale buffoonery. His lack of consideration for his assistant, Natalie, made me loathe the character. His many phobias went from interesting tics that he needed to conquer into painfully endless gags that stopped being funny about five seconds into the scene.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I gave the CBS drama Elementary a try. It was a modern take on the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, set in New York City. A drug-addicted detective with a quirky personality and the tendency to be abrupt is exactly the kind of character that is likely to prompt deep loathing. (The very reason I’ve never liked House.)

Sherlock’s behavior in the initial episode or two made me doubt whether I could tolerate his behavior each week. But the cases were complicated, with unexpected twists. That brought me back until something magical happened. I grew fond of both Sherlock and Joan Watson (portrayed by Lucy Liu). 

The writers on Elementary have been masterful at demonstrating the development of the character over the course of three seasons. And Jonny Lee Miller’s portrayal of the character has been nothing short of brilliant.

Early on we learn that Sherlock was a star consultant for Scotland Yard, but fell out of favor after descending into a drug habit following the murder of the woman he loved (another great twist). His father–a man who has always remained distant from his son and has never been seen on the show–forces him into rehab in New York City. When he gets out of rehab, he starts consulting with the NYPD. However, his father hires a sober companion to live with him–Watson, who was formerly a doctor.

Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller as Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes on ElementaryIn the beginning, their relationship is fragile, antagonistic. He doesn’t want her there and she is simply doing the job she was hired to do. However, as Sherlock discovers that Watson’s medical background and natural powers of observation are beneficial to his investigations, he begins to train her to be a detective.

Dr. Joan Watson (portrayed by Lucy Liu) was once a promising surgeon. However, when she lost a patient, she also lost her confidence and her medical license. Watson finds solace in serving as a companion to recovering addicts, despite the fact that her family and friends believe she’s retreating from her life out of fear.

Sherlock and Watson are both damaged characters with tragic pasts that drive their choices. Yet, over the course of the first season we watched the growth of both characters and the evolution of their complicated relationship.

Watson’s admiration for Sherlock’s skills as an investigator grew and she learned to understand him a bit more, even as she tried to help him learn how to deal with others in a less brusque manner. Holmes’s growing recognition of Joan Watson’s unique abilities cause him to admire her. But he also begins to recognize the benefits of having a companion in his life. Slowly, but surely, his loathing for her turns to tolerance and then caring.

Because the writers have done such a wonderful job of showing Sherlock’s development over the past three seasons, we understand the great impact of even the smallest gestures. Watching the growth of Sherlock’s character each week and the development of his relationship with Watson and Detective Marcus Bell–with whom he also once had a contentious relationship–is truly a thing of beauty.

Have you seen Elementary? Love it or hate it? Who are your favorite damaged characters and why?

Photos courtesy of CBS.


Why I love Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes on #Elementary — 12 Comments

  1. I haven’t watched Elementary as often as I’d like, but I do like the show. I like the way the writers have shown growth in the characters. I hope they’ll be able to keep up the good work in the future, and not rely on gags and quirks as Monk ended up doing. In my post tomorrow, I talk about character growth as well.

    • I’m impressed with how they’ve been able to maintain that growth believably over three seasons. The cases are good on the show, but I am always much more fascinated by the character growth and the development of the relationships. I’m hoping they’ll be able to keep it up, too.

    • I highly recommend it, Samantha. If it’s possible, try to catch the series from the beginning. You’ll appreciate the subtle nuances of the growth in Sherlock’s and Joan’s characters and the deepening of their relationship so much more.

  2. OMG, one of my fave shows ever! I mainly got the DVD of Season 1 for my husband, who loves everything Sherlock. I sat down to watch it with him a couple of times…and haven’t looked back ever since. I am totally addicted to this show! Sherlock always pushes the limits (ahem, the sex rug?) but then you always get to see him in a human light – he’s always redeemed. It’s funny to watch Watson with him because she is almost babysitting him sometimes, but then to see the rapport that has built between them is just astounding.
    I really miss Kitty, though – she gave the show, and Sherlock, a different dimension and we got to see a more caring side of Sherlock, who loved her almost like a daughter.

    Gosh, I can go on all day about this! Doesn’t hurt that the intrigues are always never what they seem. I’ll gladly admit I watch for the characters, though :)

    • The sex rug. That’s hilarious. “I’ve asked you repeatedly not to call it that.” LOL. The dynamic between Sherlock and Joan is awesome. I love watching them together. There have been so many scenes between them that brought me to tears. Like when he showed up to sit with her while she waited for her ex to show up at rehab. Or when he shared at AA for the first time. I’m also really liking the way he and Marcus have begun building a relationship, too.

      Oh, I LOVED Kitty. I really hope they find a way to bring her back.

      • Yes, he and Marcus are definitely warming up to one another. I really liked how he would rag her when she was with Andrew (poor Andrew, btw, but he wasn’t meant for Joan).
        And Moriarty! Who can forget her? Best twist ever with making her that way. Is it crazy for me to really root for Jamie and Sherlock? They are so made for each other! :)

        • I really liked Andrew and I hoped he and Watson could be happy together. I was fearful he would turn out to be someone other than who he seemed. Never saw what happened coming. And Moriarity…yes, best twist EVAH. Yeah, it’s a testament to the writers that we can root for that relationship.

  3. It’s not a favorite, because I don’t see it often, but I am drawn in every time. I love flawed, too, and they are deliciously so. I enjoyed HOUSE, too, for the first several seasons, but then I couldn’t find anything to love anymore and gave it up.

    • I only gave a few episodes of HOUSE a try over the years. I liked a lot of the other cast members and the cases were always quite intriguing. I just couldn’t get past how awful he was to everyone. *shudders thinking of it* Guess I’ve known enough real-life people like that in the workplace.

  4. I’ve just finished Season 2 and I think the relationship between the brothers has been brilliant, and not seen before.
    Typically, Mycroft Holmes was just an add on in the BBC series starring Jeremy Brett, whom I believe was the very best.
    Jonny Lee Miller has hit the nail on the head.
    The tension and anger of Sherlock against the quiet, calm and forgivable persona of Mycroft is intense to watch.
    Just brilliant acting from the two actors.
    Just starting to wast Season 3

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