In the new CBS show “Elementary” debuting 10 p.m. Sept. 27, Sherlock Holmes has at least four tattoos, including a half-sleeve on his left arm. He wears a t-shirt that states “I am not lucky, I am good,” needs a shave and has sex with a prostitute that probably (gasp!) included handcuffs.
But regardless of looks and a move to New York City, in the pilot he appears to be essentially the same often annoying consulting detective Arthur Conan Doyle introduced to the world in 1887.
This contemporary Holmes, like the buff version Robert Downey Jr. played in the WB action movies, and the tech savvy version Benedict Cumberbatch essays for BBC’s “Sherlock,” is another creation for a public that can’t get enough of this eccentric Englishman.
But will it turn off die-hard fans, some of whom thought Downey Jr.’s version was nothing more than an action-packed thriller having nothing to do with Doyle's creation?
"Sherlock makes everything right with the world. He makes sense out of chaos. People enjoy getting escaping back to 1895"
- Sherlock Holmes afficianado Richard Kitts
“If the story is good we will overlook all the other stuff,” says Richard Kitts of Staten Island, a retired banker and one of only 350 members of the invitation-only Baker Street Irregulars, a Holmes fan club founded in 1934. “As long as Sherlock and (John) Watson are the focus, I will ignore the other stuff. A few might take exception, though.”
One who definitely takes exception is Susan Diamond, a Baker Street Irregular and Holmes traditionalist who lives in Chicago.
“I think Robert Downey should be shot,” she says. “He’s destroyed Sherlock Holmes. He’s turned him into a Victorian Iron Man. The plots are ludicrous. It’s all action and explosions.”
She concedes Jude Law is a credible Watson, but she finds the films offensive. And she doesn’t buy the idea they will encourage moviegoers to read the books. She does believe BBC's “Sherlock” might send people to the bookstore, but that’s more because the BBC respects literary properties and its show is a clever riff on the canon, but it’s not really about Holmes.
“The Sherlock Holmes books are one of the few mystery (series) you can read again and again,” she says. “Doyle is not that good a writer, but he created an incredible character.”
A character that obviously has staying power.
“The main reason Sherlock Holmes has lasted so long is it’s an escape,” Kitts says. “Sherlock makes everything right with the world. He makes sense out of chaos. People enjoy getting escaping back to 1895.”
With “Elementary” and “Sherlock” we don’t have to go back in time. We haven’t in a while. Gregory House from Fox’s “House” and Adrian Monk from USA Network’s “Monk” featured brilliant, socially challenged men each of whom has one real friend and solved impossible medical and criminal problems, respectively.
In the “Elementary” pilot, Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) has just been released from a New York City drug rehab center. His father hires Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) as his sober companion.
That Watson is an Asian-American woman is thrilling to the Baker Street Babes, a year-old group devoted to all things Sherlockian.
“There are a ton of us all around the world,” says Lyndsay Faye who at 32 is one of its oldest members. The New York City-based writer’s books include the 2009 pastiche “Dust and Shadow,” a story about Holmes and Jack the Ripper. “We have more than 11,000 followers on Tumblr and 7,500 Twitter followers. More than 100,000 people have listened to our podcasts. We love to share Sherlock Holmes in all his various incarnations.
“The demographics for Sherlock Holmes fans are changing rapidly,” she says. “There is renewed interest and the BBC series and Warner Brothers films have attracted a lot of female fans. And where do you find them? Online. They are very enthusiastic.”
Male or female, old or young, she says if the writing in “Elementary” is snappy and the stories interesting, fans will watch like they did when they bought tickets to see William Gillette on stage as Holmes in the late 19th century, and Basil Rathbone on film in World War II-era English propaganda movies.
She said what keeps everyone coming back is the friendship between Holmes and Watson.
“These characters would take a bullet for each other. They are each so different, but together they make one functioning human,” Faye explained. “It’s the basis for every cop film ever seen. Who wouldn’t want a best friend who amazes you and involves you in thrilling adventures? It appeals to every gender, and can be adapted in countless versions.”