So the teaser trailer for the new CBS Sherlock crime drama “Elementary” is cutting like a hot knife through butter. I see a lot of fans of the BBC adaptation throwing a fit calling it an inaccurate rip-off and on the other hand future fans of CBS version call sexism on complaints about gender swap and point out all the ways the BBC show strays from the original stories as well.
Quick word on the BBC adaptation to set things up, yes, I'm a fan. However I don't think it's without flaws. As I grew up with the books and read them many times before watching the Granada series I will always find things that don't match up to what I visualized as I was reading. I approach anything bearing the Sherlock name with a certain amount of skepticism because of this but have had some positive surprises in both the two Guy Richie movies and the BBC series (and lord knows I wanted to hate them both) but I think they do something new without straying too far from or disrespecting the source material. I find that changes in the BBC Sherlock often hint to the original source material, displaying that it's clearly made by fans of the books while any changes revealed to be made in “Elementary” has so far only managed to enrage me.
Allow me to elaborate.
Now in “Elementary”, judging from what I have seen, there is going to be something fundamentally wrong with the dynamic of the characters. Don't get me wrong, this is not due to gender swapping per say, I actually think that might be a neat and new way to interpret the stories. The problem is the selective way they have gender swapped Watson, not only by casting a female actor but by rewriting the character.
In the books Watson is a soldier, a war veteran and a doctor who, despite his rather unflattering descriptions of himself, is clearly a brilliant, strong and competent man. He is in awe and admiration of his great friend Holmes and since the stories are told from his perspective I think they need to be read as through a humble and unselfish mans eyes. It's clear that it's not a one way street and they both need and admire each other.
In "Elementary" they have chosen to remove the military aspect of Lucy Luis character and they have also made the choice to not have her be a practicing surgeon, reducing her to Holmes guardian or "sobering partner". The issue of introducing a female Watson is not that it “gets rid of the gay” but that the close friendship will lose tension. Choosing to enhance the caring, emotional and admiring aspects of Watson’s character and at the same time removing his strengths as a soldier and a doctor (in the trailer Watson gasps and turns away at the sight of a bloody corpse despite supposedly being a surgeon) takes it away from a strong and special friendship worthy of writing great books about into a simple infatuation. I don’t think “Elementary” managed to tick a single box on the list of how to convert the gender of a character.
I think these are issues that possibly could have been resolved had they kept Watson truer to his original character or chosen to swap both. Even swapping just Sherlock, who’s gender is far more coincidental in my opinion, might have been an improvement. There are further issues but in the end I believe this is what will ruin this adaptation for me. The friendship between Sherlock and Watson is of utmost importance, that's what it's all about! If that's not right then everything else will fall. I can't escape the question as to why they felt compelled to go through with the changes that they made. Why couldn't a woman be the world’s greatest detective? Why couldn't a woman be an army doctor and a war veteran? Why does a female Watson have to be more over protective and emotional?
To me, it all feels uncomfortably dated for a modernisation.