Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pilot Reviews: Elementary & Made in Jersey

Elementary (Thursdays at 10:00 on CBS)

I haven't watched any of the BBC show Sherlock, nor have I ever read any of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, so I don't share in the outrage of many hardcore fans of updating the beloved character in the new series Elementary. I'm sure part of the anger comes from the fact that any Holmes fan can (and will) tell you that the famous detective never actually uttered the line which has become synonymous with him and which inspires the title of this show: "Elementary, my dear Watson." But none of that really matters, because Elementary is a good time, with or without the ties to Holmes.

In this version of the Sherlock story, Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller, Eli Stone) is a recovering addict. His wealthy father has hired Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, Ally McBeal) to be his "companion," walking him through his daily routine to make sure he's on the right path to full recovery. Holmes works as a consultant to the NYPD, specifically Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn, Prime Suspect), using his powers of deduction to solve murders.

Everything about Elementary fits very easily into CBS's procedural machine. It's a close cousin of The Mentalist (even airing in its old timeslot), although with slightly slicker production values and a more interesting leading man. In terms of its handling of the Sherlock Holmes material, I like this revision. Making Watson a woman is clever, if not exactly far-fetched considering how effeminate the original always was; but with a woman in the role, there's no longer the need to shy away from the homoerotic undertones of the Holmes-Watson relationship. The backstory they've given Watson isn't exactly groundbreaking, and neither is the mysterious past of Holmes. The script from first-time creator Robert Doherty (Medium) is adequate, though there's not much effort made to establish a plot; instead there is a crime for Holmes to solve (and it's actually a fairly interesting one, if unnecessarily complicated) and there is the relationship with Watson to build. They are the supreme focus of the pilot.

The performances are universally strong, especially from Miller. He's magnetic and charismatic, the perfect blend of charm and damage for this incarnation of Holmes. Liu is fine as Watson, but it is her chemistry with Miller that makes her character work so well. Quinn was hardly a presence in the pilot, unfortunately, but now that the Holmes-Watson dynamic has been established, other characters can come into play more. The direction by Michael Cuesta (Homeland) is stylish and witty if a bit manic at times. But all in all, Elementary is well worth the watch. It's a procedural, for sure, but one with a bit more visual flair and mental stimulation than others on CBS. Plus it's always fun to return to familiar characters, even when they're doing the same old thing.

Made in Jersey (Fridays at 9:00 on CBS)

Less successful on the whole is the new Friday night drama Made in Jersey, which is definitely in the running for "Worst Title of a New Show" (It was originally known as Baby Big Shot, which is terrible in its own right but not nearly as bad as its current title. Personally, I'd name it after another line from the pilot: Fancy Lawyer Lady.) It's about Martina Garretti, an up-and-coming lawyer from New Jersey who is trying to prove herself at her new firm in Manhattan. When she speaks up at a meeting, she lands her first case: proving the innocence of a teenager accused of murdering her professor.

The concept and execution is almost a total failure. The way Martina goes about the case is in no way believable; you'd think everyone around her drags their knuckles and eats flies from each other's hair, that's how incompetent they all seem. But Martina is always there to save the day and do all the work the police should have done. But apparently Martina is superwoman, so who needs police? The script also makes it seem like she knows every word of the law, more so than any of her superiors, and she's thrown into court at the last second because of this; yeah, she's that good... Creator Dana Calvo (Greek, Franklin & Bash) has fashioned a show that is not at all original, either. It's equal parts Working Girl, Legally Blonde, Erin Brockovich, and My Cousin Vinny, except it's not as good or as tongue-in-cheek as any of these.

Made in Jersey is successful on only one level, and that's in the enjoyability factor brought to the show by its leading lady Janet Montgomery (Entourage). She's very winning, a total charmer from beginning to end, despite how stupid everything going on around her is. Stephanie March (Law & Order: SVU) is playing a caricature of every bitch lawyer ever; Kyle MacLachlan is wasted, though when he's present it's as if he forgets he's on camera. Martina and her family all have that ridiculous, nonexistent-in-real-life Jersey accent, and they spend the majority of the episode in a hair salon, yelling... in other words, it's every stereotype of New Jersey in one character, from her lousy accent to her trashy wardrobe (By the way, can everyone in California figure out that New Jersey is a state, not a city? Saying someone is from "New Jersey" doesn't explain everything away, there are a lot of places in the state.)

But still, Montgomery makes the thing somehow watchable, if not wholly enjoyable or relatable. It's light, fluffy, totally mindless Friday night entertainment.


  1. I've watched a few episodes of the Sherlock Holmes shows on BBC, and I enjoy watching them, and I hope that CBS's version is just as good if not better. Both "Elementary" and "Made in Jersey" are coming on tonight, and I got a new DVR that will automatically record both shows for me. My Hopper has a Primetime Anytime feature that automatically records all of my prime time shows that come on CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX everyday in HD. Me and a few DISH coworkers learned that these recordings only stay on the DVR for up to eight days, and you can record up to six prime time shows at once!

  2. Excellent analysis of Elementary. I too loved Lucy Liu's Watson.


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