Monday, January 18, 2016

Lucy vs. Martin, Or Who Watsons Better?

Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson, Consultant for the NYPD

There was some initial resistance to Elementary on my part, coming as it did on the heels of the BBC’s Sherlock.  Elementary seemed destined for cancelation.  I mean, how could an American produced series expect to hold its own against one of the greatest English characters being produced in England, with English actors and English writers?  And the larger question, did the world really need two contemporary versions of Sherlock Holmes, in addition to Guy Ritchie’s Victorian Steampunk incarnation?
So even with the intriguing casting of Lucy Liu as Watson, I boycotted Elementary for three seasons and jumped on the Benedict Cumberbatch/Steven Moffat bandwagon.  I was absolutely certain the BBC had to be superior, what with the better quality, acting, culture, and tradition.  And in many ways it is; surrounded by an excellent cast including Mark Gatiss as Mycroft, Andrew Scott as an excellent Moriarity (“Westwood!”) and of course the fantastic Martin Freeman as Watson, back from Afghanistan and looking for a flatmate.  Sherlock has the proper tics and eccentricities and is addicted to texting.
But something happened between then and now.  I wanted more Holmes, he was my favorite childhood character, and so I decided to give Sick Boy from Trainspotting a try.  I had three seasons to binge, which is my favorite way to watch a TV show and by the end of the first season I had fallen in love with Lucy Liu’s Watson.  It’s not technically fair to compare the two productions, on one hand we have the Death Star, NBC, bringing the full force of a major network to bear with 80 episodes, versus the plucky BBC with their paltry yet exquisitely written and performed three seasons and 10 shows.  There was so much more room for character development and growth in Elementary, to which they took full advantage.
You should note that gender swap is nothing new; Shakespeare always had men and boys playing his female parts.  Ironically, the Puritans complained that this practiced promoted sodomy, which isn’t too far from the homophobia lobbed by the Christian Right these days.  And I’m certain the first lady actor to play Lady Macbeth was met with the same loud objections that we hear today concerning black stormtroopers or a Lady Thor.  Or in this case, a lady Watson.
Lucy Liu is a superlative Watson, I can’t say enough good things about her, I actually enjoy her performance as Dr. Joan Watson  far more than Jonny Lee Miller.  His Holmes is nothing new, though comparing Jonny Lee Miller to Benedict Cumberbatch makes about as much sense as comparing Christopher Lee to Basil Rathbone.  Though if we are going to turn this into a competition, Mark Gatiss absolutely wins as Mycroft against Rhyss Ifans. 
Elementary also features a transsexual Miss Hudson versus Sherlock’s traditional Mrs. Hudson.  I’ll call that a draw, but only because if I write even the slightest criticism of a transsexual character in this current social climate I will be vilified as transphobic and intolerant.  I’m not trying to offend anyone; I just wanna watch TV and be entertained.
Both productions share an undeniable and obvious affection for the characters and source material, as do I.  However it is interesting that both versions seem to find it necessary to portray Holmes as broken; a recovering drug addict, a functioning sociopath or suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.
“He has a form of Tourette’s,” Lucy Liu as Watson tries to explain sympathetically after Holmes brings his intellect and observational powers to bear upon some random stranger.
It seems in this world it is far easier for us to accept a crime fighting billionaire in a bat suit than an arrogant and eccentric bachelor with a keen sense of deductive reasoning.  We don’t value genius and intelligence anymore; college and higher learning have become more synonymous with student debt than intellectual enrichment.

Lucy Liu brings a fresh and uniquely American perspective to her Watson, in a thankfully non-sexualized but still affectionate relationship with Holmes.  Her femininity and ethnicity are not exploited or pandered to.  She doesn’t have any scenes where she has to go undercover as a prostitute in order to get her character wearing something sexy, and she doesn’t naturally know kung-fu or practice martial arts.  Her character is in many ways an equal to Holmes, both in intellect, deductive reasoning and screen time.  This is a full partnership Holmes & Watson, far more egalitarian than previous productions but then again, this is America, we believe in stuff like that.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.