Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Elementary, My Dear...

Last time, I raved about the darker, modern take on Sherlock Holmes, simply called Sherlock, starring the charismatic Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Today I'd like to focus on their American counterpart of sorts, airing prime time on one of America's big networks, called Elementary. Perhaps because it airs on a big network, the show has a less dark air about it, compared to its BBC/PBS counterpart. But I suppose one must also take into account that episodes of Sherlock each season are few (three in fact), leaving more time for script and character development. Whereas the first season of Elementary was comprised of 24 episodes. Quite a difference indeed.


Elementary is thoroughly enjoyable, cozier and definitely strays a little more from the original Sherlock Holmes characterizations. The biggest difference of course is that Dr. John Watson is now Dr. Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu. Watson has given up medicine and become a sober companion, which is how she and Holmes met. I wonder if they will explain how Watson got her last name, since Liu is of Chinese heritage, Watson's tv parents are also Asian, and the name Watson has English and Scottish origins. Back on point, Liu is well-known for her turns on Ally McBeal as well as films like the Charlie's Angels reboots and Chicago. She has other talents besides acting, including painting, collage and photography, and has shown her artwork in the US and abroad.

Lucy Liu

The character of Mrs. Hudson, traditionally Holmes' somewhat elderly landlady, appeared in one episode of Elementary's first season, and it actually took me repeated viewings of that episode to realize that Miss Hudson was supposed to be THE Mrs. Hudson. Elementary's Miss Hudson is a transgender woman, played by Candis Cayne, who is knowledgeable in many diverse subjects and at the end of the episode, agrees to clean and organize Holmes' brownstone once a week. Maybe in season two, she will become more of a regular character.

Candis Cayne

The character of Irene Adler also has a few interesting tweaks, and let's just leave it at that. She is played by British actress Natalie Dormer, who I last saw in Agatha Christie Marple: Why Didn't They Ask Evans, along with Georgia Moffett, Samantha Bond, Richard Briers and Freddie Fox. Alas I haven't watched The Tudors or Game of Thrones, which are also part of Dormer's list of credits. She is also cast in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay as Cressida.

Natalie Dormer

Inspector Lestrade shows up in season two of Elementary, played by Sean Pertwee, a well-known actor in his own right as well as son of third Doctor Who Jon. The police in season one were represented by Americans Aidan Quinn (Desperately Seeking Susan anyone?), playing Captain Thomas Gregson and Jon Michael Hill, as Detective Marcus Bell. This American police presence is to be expected as the show takes place in New York City. Both Quinn and Hill return for season two.

Sean Pertwee

Aidan Quinn

Jon Michael Hill

Last but not least is Sherlock Holmes himself, portrayed by British actor Jonny Lee Miller. Grandson of Bernard Lee, who played M in 11 James Bond films, Miller makes an endearing Holmes, if that were even possible, and his onscreen chemistry with Lucy Liu is comforting to watch. I remember watching Miller as Rose's toy boy in an early episode of Keeping Up Appearances with the brilliant Patricia Routledge. As a child, he also had an uncredited role in the Doctor Who episode Kinda, and more recently, shared the stage with the other current Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, in London in the play Frankenstein. 

Jonny Lee Miller

While we aren't sure when Series 3 of Sherlock will air in the US, we do know that we can get our Holmes fix via Elementary very soon. The second season of Elementary premieres Thursday September 26th at 10pm Eastern/9pm Central. Let's stock up on our snacks!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Passing of the Mantle

A few years ago, I extolled the brilliant performances of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. I proclaimed him the ultimate Holmes and, to this day, maintain that he is the standard bearer of all Sherlock Holmes portrayals...but now I must add the caveat... of any adaptation set in Victorian times.

Jeremy Brett

Basil Rathbone? Good, good, for sure. Robert Downey Jr? (To my taste) not so good but that might have more to do with the characterization of this particular Holmes than with his performance.  Downey Jr. is a pretty darn great actor.

Basil Rathbone

Robert Downey Jr

When I wrote that blog post years ago, I had no idea that brilliant minds would transport Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century, making him a modern day detective. There are currently two such adaptations, both of which are entertaining and enjoyable in their own rights. There is Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, as a female Dr. Watson, one of many twists on the traditional Sherlock Holmes universe.


Then there is Sherlock, the first of the two shows to modernize the popular detective, who is now tech savvy and just as brilliant as ever. Benedict Cumberbatch brings depth and complexity to the iconic role, and Jeremy Brett would have been ever so proud. In anticipation of the new season of Sherlock, let's take a quick look at the two main stars of the show, Cumberbatch and the ever-likable Martin Freeman, as John Watson.

I was thinking recently, while listening to an episode of Sherlock, that Cumberbatch resembles another contemporary actor who can be seen on Masterpiece Mystery, Laurence Fox. They are both tall, lanky and have deep voices with similar tones.

Benedict Cumberbatch

And although Fox comes from a more dynastic acting family, Cumberbatch also has actor parents, Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham, who I like to think of as that scary lady. Ventham doesn't look scary at all in real life, but as the Fendahl core in Doctor Who's Image of the Fendahl (1977), she was downright creepy.

Ventham in costume

Cumberbatch had a small role in the moving epic War Horse, and I also remember seeing him in the 2009 Miss Marple's Murder Is Easy. I have yet to see Star Trek Into Darkness, where he plays the "bad guy".

I am more familiar with Martin Freeman, having seen him in the original UK tv show The Office and the films Love Actually, Shaun of the Dead, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Hot Fuzz.

Martin Freeman

I am really looking forward to seeing him and his Sherlock buddy Benedict Cumberbatch make more magic together in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug later this year. And I am anxiously awaiting Season 3 of Sherlock, which I hope will also air this year.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Gentleman's Gentleman

One of my favorite book series is by P.G. Wodehouse and concerns the shenanigans of Bertram, or Bertie to his nearest and dearest, Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. The premise of the stories is that Bertie gets into trouble, and Jeeves calmly and masterfully gets him out of it.

Jeeves and Wooster

Bertie belongs to England's upper crust and is very well-to-do. He has a few Aunts who are forceful in nature, he doesn't have a job, and he treasures his bachelorhood. One of the many quirky charms of this series is the names of all of Bertie's friends and acquaintances. Take for example Stilton Cheesewright, Gussie Fink-Nottle and Boko Fittleworth. Wonderment.

Set during the 1930s, the books take place in Bertie's luxurious London flat, his relatives' country manors, and other stately homes across the English countryside. There are also times when Bertie has to flee to the United States to escape his imperious Aunt Agatha Gregson. While in America, he continues to live a life of leisure, although he manages to get into sticky situations there as well.

I also enjoy watching the television adaptation "Jeeves and Wooster", starring Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. The acting, costumes, and scenery are top-notch and bring Wodehouse's stories to life.

Hugh Laurie

Stephen Fry

Familiar faces from British television pop up as supporting players. They include Martin Clunes as Barmy Fotheringay Phipps, Pip Torrens as Bingo Little, and Amanda Elwes as Angela Travers. I remember Clunes from the Doctor Who episode "Snakedance" and of course his starring role in Doc Martin.

Martin Clunes

Torrens was in the 1984 movie Oxford Blues along with Cary Elwes, whose cousin happens to be Amanda Elwes. Both Torrens and Elwes (Amanda) also appeared in earlier episodes of Poirot.

Pip Torrens

Amanda Elwes

Wodehouse's stories, whether read or watched, will most assuredly entertain for a lifetime.

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Book Releases for Summer's Lazy Days

Some interesting-sounding books are coming out in the next two months. Let's take a look at them.

Who could not pass up "Hen of the Baskervilles"? The title alone is fantastic, and this mystery sounds lighthearted and funny. It takes place in Virginia, within the environment of a state fair. Of course the plot revolves around a chicken, a prize chicken no less, and Meg Langslow, the fair's deputy director, works to solve the case. This is the 15th Meg Langslow caper written by Donna Andrews and will become available on July 16.

Hen of the Baskervilles

You might have heard about J.K. Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy", her first published book since the Harry Potter series. It came out to great fanfare last year, and on July 23, it comes out in paperback. Set in the fictional small town of Pagford in south western England (West Country), Rowling's newest book doesn't have any magic or wizards, but her insightful understanding of human nature seems to be on display once again.

The Casual Vacancy

Also available on July 23 is a murder mystery set in AD670 in Ireland. "The Seventh Trumpet" by Peter Tremayne, a pseudonym of British historian and novelist Peter Berresford Ellis, is the 21st story in the Sister Fidelma Series. In "The Seventh Trumpet", Fidelma of Cashel investigates the murder of a young nobleman, whose identity is unknown. Her trusted companion Eadulf aids in the investigation.

The Seventh Trumpet

With all of the excitement (felt by some, maybe not by others) about the impending arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's baby, "Heirs and Graces" by Rhys Bowen seems particularly timely. This glimpse into English high society during the 1930s is also a murder mystery, and is appropriately categorized as a "cozy" mystery. The 7th book in the Royal Spyness series features titled sleuth Lady Georgiana Rannoch, and arrives on bookshelves on August 6.

Heirs and Graces

"The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon tells of a dystopian future set in a strange new London and elsewhere, in which different groups move against each other. The fantasy-based plot for this first offering in a planned 7-book series involves clairvoyants like Paige Mahoney, the main character, and an alien race called the Rephaim. Look out for this book on August 20.

The Bone Season

Last but not least is veteran crime writer Patricia Cornwell's latest novel "Dust" featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta and Pete Marino. The book takes readers from Scarpetta's stomping grounds of Cambridge, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., where Scarpetta's husband is carrying on his own investigation for the FBI. You have to wait a little longer to bring "Dust" home, as it becomes available in time for the Fall/Winter holidays on November 12.


All of these books caught my eye for one reason or another. I hope they interest you too. Happy reading!