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Elementary, My Dear Joan

CBS have released a preview for their somewhat controversial new drama, Elementary, which premiers this fall.

The promo doesn’t reveal much. Certainly not enough to judge the quality of the show. Sherlock Holmes is the usual observational genius without any awareness of social norms. Watson is the smart, more emotionally attuned sort-of-friend who tries to rein him in. It’s set in modern day Manhattan. Oh, and Watson is played by Lucy Liu. It seems to be that last fact that is giving people trouble.

There’s something distinctly uncomfortable about the Internet’s horrified reaction to the fact that a Chinese-American woman is playing this role. What TV show currently features a Chinese-American woman as one of its main cast? Grey’s Anatomy is the only one that comes to mind. The writers of Elementary have embraced a truth that many TV writers fail to understand: America isn’t just a world of white men and the women who love them. When making a modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, set in Manhattan of all places, it therefore makes sense to change up the genders and races to be more inclusive than the Victorian England Boys Club. Although obviously I can’t comment on how well it’s done in the show, it’s an admirable effort, one that many shows do not bother to make. Especially since (again, just judging from a not-very-telling trailer) we’re not getting “Watson as a woman,” with lots of emphasis on that fact in the story. We’re getting a modern Watson, who happens to be a woman, who happens to be Chinese. She’s tough (but more sympathetic and emotional than Sherlock, as any normal human being would be). She’s capable and intelligent. An ex-surgeon. And yes. She’s a woman.

I don’t know how good the show will be. I’m going to check out the first few episodes, because it could be fun. It could also be terrible, like many pilots that don’t last past November sweeps. But hating it because it ruins the bromance vibe? Because it actually attempts to be a modern adaptation, rather than a straight-up retelling? That doesn’t make sense to me.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

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