Elementary Creator Defends Decision to Make Watson a Woman
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Since the show was first announced, Elementary–the upcoming CBS take on the Sherlock Holmes stories–has been under the watchful glare of the already-rabid (but often lovable) Sherlock Holmes fandom. Already drawing suspicion upon the initial announcement of the series on the grounds that it could be taken as yet another Americanized take on something already popular in Britain, the show drew even more passionate reactions when it announced that it would be casting Lucy Liu, a woman, in the role of John Watson, a traditionally male character. The creators and writers of the show are addressing the gender-swap at Comic-Con in San Diego, filling us in on the thinking that went into the decision, and letting us know the Sherlock-Watson relationship is all about friendship.
Elementary is difficult to write about; there were a lot of very strong feelings about the show from the very beginning, and they’re not likely to dissipate until at least a few episodes have actually aired.
It should be pointed out that not all reactions to the gender-swapped casting of the Watson role in Elementary are based in the opinion that Liu doesn’t have what it takes to play the famous character; that’s certainly there in some of it, but from what I’ve witnessed around the interwebs, there are many things it stems from. Many are arguing that they’d much rather see Liu in the role of Holmes.
For others, however, the reluctance comes from those who have experience in the field of the classic will-they-won’t-they of television procedurals; those who saw the swap as a heteronormative attempt to bring the legendary sexual tension between Holmes and Watson into a more canonical light through the casting of a man and a woman in the parts.
But Robert Doherty, a writer for Elementary, got into the conversation at SDCC about how the creative team are actively trying to avoid the will-they-won’t-they romantic aspects of the pairing:
“I recognize that it’s a challenge to avoid, but it’s not a “Will they or won’t they?”; that’s not the intention. It’s really about trying to honor the spirit of the stories and the material which showed an incredible friendship that grew over time.”
As for the reasoning behind the gender-swap in the first place:
“When this opportunity arose, I did a lot of research—psychological assessments of the original characters by actual doctors. One of the things I came across is that Holmes struggles a bit with women. He struggles with people in general, but there are moments when he doesn’t quite seem to get the fairer sex. What could be more trying for Sherlock Holmes than working with Watson as a woman?”
In Elementary‘s adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon a lot of emphasis is put on Holme’s long-standing drug addiction. As Liu herself said, it’s an aspect of the character that has often been “swept under the rug.” Liu’s Joan Watson will appear in the pilot as Holmes’ sobriety companion.
It is a long-known literary fact that the love between Holmes and Watson is of the strongest caliber. If Elementary‘s cast and writers can capture that effectively, we’re sure that’ll go a long way.
Here’s my personal philosophy: The Sherlock Holmes stories, while created by one man originally, are like Superman; I’m not going to get upset about any new adaptations or changes for the most part, because they’re stories that have been adapted ad nauseam over the decades and now, somehow, belong to everyone.
I’m still fuzzy on what I’ll actually think of Elementary once it airs, but one thing’s for sure: It will be really cool if Joan Watson is written right.