On Sherlock Holmes and Swapping Scripts
As people who follow me on Twitter know, I watch Elementary, CBS’s “Sherlock Holmes in present day New York City” series. I’ve gone from liking it (and calling it “House with murders”) to really enjoying it.
There are people who won’t watch it because they think it’s a Sherlock rip-off or because they cast Lucy Liu as Watson or because it’s set in New York or because it isn’t really Sherlock Holmes.
Is it a Sherlock rip-off? I’d argue that it’s not; Sherlock gave CBS proof that the concept of “Sherlock Holmes in the present day” works, they tried to buy the concept from Steven Moffat, but CBS had also commissioned several scripts for a “Sherlock Holmes in the present day” series in the past decade that never made it to pilot.
Lucy Liu? She plays an interesting character who happens to be named Watson and was a doctor, but otherwise she’s not very Watsonesque. The character is interesting, however. There’s backstory there, and I hope the series explores it.
New York City? Sherlock Holmes always loved America. Something like a quarter of the stories in the Canon have an American connection.
Sherlock Holmes himself? I find Jonny Lee Miller’s character recognizeable as Holmes. The personality traits of Arthur Conan Doyle’s character are there in Miller’s portrayal. He veers more toward the eccentric side of the character (like Robert Downey Jr.’s version in the Guy Ritchie films) and has better social skills than Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes or Hugh Laurie’s House. Miller’s Holmes is still an insensitive jerk, but in his default state he’s not an outright asshole.
All of that said, I’m not going to get into a Sherlock vs. Elementary fight. Such a fight honestly doesn’t interest me.
However, the last few episodes of Elementary planted an interesting idea in my head.
It will never, ever happen, but I would love to see Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and Rob Doherty’s Elementary do a script swap.
Back in the 50s and 60s, American television was filled with westerns. It wasn’t unusual for a script for one series to be recycled and shot, largely unchanged, for an entirely different series. Names would be changed, settings would be updated, the script would be made to fit the new series. I don’t know why westerns did this. Maybe it was because the premises were similar. Maybe it was for economic reasons, maybe it was cheaper to rewritng an existing script than to write a new script from the ground up. Whatever the reason, I’ve always thought it was interesting that television scripts were swapped around in this way.
Sherlock and Elementary have similar premises — Sherlock Holmes is alive and active in the present day. Their scripts would be “swappable.” The cities would have to be changed, obviously. A Sherlock script would lose Lestrade and add Gregson as it made the trans-Atlantic crossing to Elementary and vice versa. Some things wouldn’t carry over, like Joan Watson’s sober companion routine, and Lestrade’s associates would be compressed down into Detective Bell most likely. Scripts were swapped, they weren’t unchanged.
Suffice it to say, I’d love to see Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman tackle, say, “The Red Team” on Sherlock or Jonny Lee Miller deal with “A Scandal in Belgravia” on Elementary. Okay, maybe “Belgravia” wouldn’t work on Elementary because the two series have divergent views on Irene Adler, but as I said, the scripts wouldn’t be shot for the other series unchanged. Cumberbatch would be able to play the character work that Miller is getting on Elementary, Liu would find new facets to Watson that she’s not getting currently as a sober companion.
It won’t happen, I know. It’s a silly idea, I freely admit it.
But my, wouldn’t it be fun?