'Elementary' review: Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu prove Watson as a woman works

elementary-lui-miller-325.jpgLet's just start this review off by saying yes, "Elementary" and "Sherlock" are similar. Obviously. They are based on the same public-domain source material. Seeing as CBS had at one point expressed interest in actually purchasing the rights to "Sherlock," there are some questions to be asked about whether "Elementary" is too derivative.

But we're not here to debate whether CBS should have made "Elementary," because they already did. "Elementary" is absolutely entertaining, and we didn't find our plagiarism alarms going off at any point.

"Elementary" is a procedural in the vein of "House" and "The Mentalist," in that the central character's acerbic charm and considerable baggage are far more intriguing than the actual mystery being solved. Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict, but as far as he's concerned, that's all in the past. Miller's performance is the cornerstone of the show and he treats it as such -- he nails Holmes' trademark arrogance and focus and infuses it with a measure of pure, simple fun.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this new show is Watson, Holmes' "sober companion." Throughout literature, film, and television interpretations the character has always been a white man; here, Watson is played by Lucy Liu. When she was cast as Joan Watson, Holmes fans were outraged. "Cue movement in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's grave!" one fan tweeted. Articles sprang up questioning whether CBS was afraid of the inherent homoerotic tension that could spring up if the two leads were men.

In actuality, Liu's Watson is highly effective as a deeply lonely woman who was once successful but now lives her life as a day-to-day chore... until she meets Sherlock. There's no romantic potential or sexual tension between them, and we hope it remains that way, but there is an immediate chemistry as partners and companions. Moving forward from the pilot, the show will rely on that relationship to drive the story, because as we said -- the mystery itself was the pilot's weak spot.

Still, we'd peg "Elementary" as CBS's one surefire hit this season. It's got smart writing with broad appeal, and the performances alone are worth tuning in for on a weekly basis. If you're looking for the sexual tension and Tumblr appeal of "Sherlock," you're probably in the wrong place, but if you're missing Dr. House and looking for something wittier than your standard "Law & Order" spinoff, you'd do well to tune in tonight at 10 p.m. on CBS. There's plenty of Holmes to go around.
Photo/Video credit: cbs