Friday Hoyden: Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson

In the new Sherlock Holmes adaptation by CBS titled Elementary. Johnny Lee Miller will be starring as Holmes. It’s set in Manhattan. Wheeeee!

Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson & Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes, filming ElementaryOh my, this news has received a wide range of reactions, some of which seem very, very odd (I mean, I love Bandersnatch and Bilbo’s BBC version as much as anybody, but this is hardly going to hurt it – just watch both! And watch the Iron Man/Sky Captain movie version too! WATCH ALL THE VERSIONS!).

Sarah Rees Brennan and Kate Linnea Welsh tackle some of these reactions, but my favourite one has to be the fans arguing that Johnny Lee Miller’s English accent sounds so fake (which has to rank up with the US-based Whovian twitterer who asked if the Whoniverse was ready for an American actor to play the Doctor and proposed Hugh Laurie (tweet long ago deleted)).

Anyway, back to Lucy! The personality shown in the clip above seems fairly classic Watson (if we draw a line through those few decades where he was depicted as buffoonish) – a strong sense of decency, fair play and honour, intelligent and empathic with some lasting damage of her own to work through, and a lot of conflict with Holmes on the proper way to do things while nonetheless admiring his intellect and insights. What I think will work particularly well here is that the constraints of canonical Watson (which will have to be adhered to strongly in other ways in order that the gender-switch doesn’t kill belief in the character altogether) should work against most possible temptations to exoticise her just because of her Asian ancestry. No wonder she took the part.

As someone who fondly remembers Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s outings as the legendary duo and most of the dozen or more English-language adaptations since (Richard Roxburgh was a fave) I’m really looking forward to seeing this to add to my WATCH ALL THE VERSIONS! scorecard. Maybe it won’t work for me when I get to see it, but I’m very much hoping that it does.

Who is your favourite Holmes/Watson combo, either actual or ideal? Den of Geek has a list of their top 10 Sherlocks – how many of these have you seen?



Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, gender & feminism

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12 replies

  1. I AM EXCITED!
    I’ve never had any real interest in Sherlock Holmes. It’s probably because the stories have always suffered from a serious lack of ladies. However, I am eager to see this new lady!Watson. One day perhaps we will be able to have a lady!Holmes, too. My vote’s with Emma Thompson.

  2. Emma Thompson as Holmes- I’d vote for that! I saw this trailer last night and am very excited, but I love Sherlock Holmes and have watched a fair whack of the adaptions. It certainly won’t stop me watching Bandersnatch, or for that matter, a new Downey jr if they release another one.
    To be fair on the Americans, Miller’s Holmes accent is not his “natural” English accent (or at least the one he uses in public when “playing” himself), although, as a Londoner, I can’t imagine he found it that challenging (and it sounds fine to my ear, although perhaps not as posh as Holmes would’ve been imagined by Conan Doyle based on the importance of accent and pronunciation to class identity during that period, but then they’ve also moved it to NY and the 21st century, so it’s accurate for today!).

  3. The idea of a show that combines Lucy Liu plus Johnny Lee Miller plus Aiden Quinn plus Holmes just makes my day. The trailer looks promising, Liu and Miller seem to have good actor chemistry and they both have a lot of warmth.

    Granada Holmes and both of his Watsons are my faves.

  4. I’ve heard some people say truly awful things about Lucy Liu since this got announced, and my question in response – “Do you think maybe part of your dislike is because you’ve only ever seen her in quirky-hot/exotic feisty stereotype roles?” – tragically received no answer.

  5. It would be nice if “the constraints of canonical Watson (which will have to be adhered to strongly in other ways in order that the gender-switch doesn’t kill belief in the character altogether)” were actually in play. But Liu’s Watson won’t have a military background, won’t have been overseas in said military she wasn’t in, won’t have a current medical practice of any sort (license suspended/revoked) and is not in Holmes’ life by happenstance and mutual… whatever, but because of legal requirement.
    Canonical Watson is so far off of the table, I still can’t quite fathom what it is, given what we know of the background of this Watson, that she’s meant to be bringing to the relationship. The execution is going to have to do a lot to overcome the constraints of this bizarre — and wholly unnecessary — bowdlerization of essential Watson canon.

    • When you put it that way, Amadi, that does seem a large set of arbitrary barriers for the character to hurdle. I can see why setting Watson up as a “sober companion” for Holmes as part of his rehab program provides some neat shorthand for letting a new audience know that Holmes is an addict, but why has this been arranged by “his father” rather than by brother Mycroft? It would have been easy enough to give her a military background as a trauma surgeon, so why not?

      • I’m still willing to give it a chance, however. It’s not really possible to evaluate a show only by what they put on the teasers/trailers, especially since those are mostly tailored more towards newbie eyeballs rather than to fandom eyeballs (they figure that most of us will be there for at least the first episode anyway).

  6. Yeah, to be honest I’m not so excited either. I also think that there’s a risk that the show is going to go really heterosexist and be all “look! we have a female watson now so we can hook them up together without it being gay!” But then again, I don’t watch many TV shows, so for me to watch something, it really has to be spectacular.

  7. OMG, Tom Baker as Sherlock totally looks like my dad. Which is weird, because Tom Baker doesn’t look much like my dad (apart from the hair) normally.
    I love the Benedict Cumberbatch version, and the Jeremy Brett version.
    I like the idea of a female Watson, but I share Jo’s concern about them messing it up with inappropriate romance.

  8. How do we know that Watson won’t be ex-military? We already know that she is a surgeon, and US tv has a number of ex-military doctors at the moment (and vets as characters more generally), with women amongst them. It would explain why she wasn’t practicising if she was somehow traumatised etc.
    I think the sober companion thing is probably just contrived to give her an ‘in’. Perhaps especially in the US, it would seem unrealistic for two opposite sex professionals to move in together, especially with no pre-existing relationship. And, they need her to both be a relative stranger to Holmes and to have a reason to come on his cases. This is perhaps even more important on TV where she’ll need to be involved from the first adventure, rather than going through a process of observing and getting to know him that we have in the books. And it would also be unrealistic for a doctor with a medical practice to have the free time to be a police consultant (which is now a much more formal arrangement than in the 1890s).
    So, it will be interesting to see how they deal with this.

  9. So excited for this! Can’t wait to see how it shakes out. Thanks for posting the promo, I hadn’t seen it yet.

  10. How do we know that Watson won’t be ex-military? We already know that she is a surgeon, and US tv has a number of ex-military doctors at the moment (and vets as characters more generally), with women amongst them.
    Bleeding Cool News has the trailer up, with the “official plot blurb” including this:
    Dr. Watson. A successful surgeon until she lost a patient and her license three years ago, Watson views her current job [sober companion] as another opportunity to help people, as well as paying a penance.
    That doesn’t absolutely rule out her being military, but I’ve never seen a description of the show that includes it, whereas I’ve never seen one that doesn’t call her disgraced; so it’s obvious what they mean to focus on. It also says that she’s dragged into Holmes’ case-life, rather than – as the original did – coming along because it sounded interesting. Spun generously, it might be an attempt to give her an arc of her own, apart from Holmes, but the genderflipped Watson getting an arc that revolves around her disgrace raises an eyebrow in itself.
    So I’m with Amadi here.

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