In her el­e­ment

Lucy Liu is thriv­ing as Dr Joan Wat­son, ‘sober com­pan­ion’ to Sher­lock Holmes, writes Deb­bie Schipp

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IT MAY be a show that un­rav­els mys­ter­ies, but Lucy Liu’s Dr Wat­son in new drama Ele­men­tary is cer­tain to prove one of the se­ries’ big­gest puzzles. Eye­brows were raised by diehard fans when CBS’s con­tem­po­rary re­boot of the much-loved Sher­lock Holmes saw the drama trans­planted to mod­ern-day New York, the heav­ily-tat­tooed Jonny Lee Miller cast in the ti­tle role, and his side­kick, Dr Wat­son, trans­formed into a woman.

But with the show one week into its run in Aus­tralia, and al­ready ex­tended to a full sea­son in the US (even hav- ing an episode pro­grammed to di­rectly fol­low this week’s Su­per Bowl) the off­beat recipe seems to be work­ing.

For Liu, play­ing the enig­matic, guarded Dr Joan Wat­son is a chance to put her ac­tion roles aside, and to take a more cere­bral ap­proach to act­ing.

It’s a chance she’s rel­ish­ing, and a far cry from her roles on the big screen in­clud­ing Alex Mun­day in Char­lie’s An­gels and the deadly O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2; or on the small screen as the vi­cious but hi­lar­i­ous Ling Woo on Ally McBeal, or, more re­cently, the hard­bit­ten and street-wise po­lice of­fi­cer Jes­sica Tang in tele­vi­sion se­ries South­land.

Her Wat­son is nei­ther as phys­i­cal nor as glam­orous as we’re used to see­ing Liu, but she de­lights in just how well Wat­son can keep Sher­lock Holmes off bal­ance.

‘‘ This is def­i­nitely a very dif­fer­ent kind of role for me, which is why I wanted it,’’ Liu says. ‘‘ There’s not much ac­tion in this for Wat­son. It’s men­tal gymnastics for her.

‘‘ It’s def­i­nitely more cere­bral. Ac­tion isn’t sub­tle, and I’m en­joy­ing the sub­tleties of Joan Wat­son for a change. This is a dif­fer­ent kind of chaos.’’

In Ele­men­tary, Dr Wat­son meets Brit Sher­lock Holmes in New York. He’s as smart as a whip, ec­cen­tric, fresh out of re­hab, and has just landed in Man­hat­tan, where his rich fa­ther has as­signed him a sober com­pan­ion – Dr Wat­son.

Episode 1 re­vealed Liu’s Wat­son is no shrink­ing side­kick to Miller’s ir­re­press­ible, fre­netic and con­stantly-inmo­tion Holmes.

De­spite Holmes’ in­sis­tence that Wat­son’s ex­per­tise as an ad­dic­tion spe­cial­ist is not needed, he’s quick to find she comes in handy as he re­sumes his work as a New York po­lice con­sul­tant — al­beit a very er­ratic and un­con­ven­tional one.

And he dis­cov­ers Wat­son is not so easy to dis­miss.

‘‘ Joan Wat­son may be a side­kick, but there’s no way she’s there for laughs, or comic re­lief, or as a babysit­ter,’’ Liu says.

While there was crit­i­cism of the move to make Dr Wat­son a woman in Ele­men­tary, Liu says it’s given the char­ac­ter a new di­men­sion.

‘‘ The nar­ra­tion of the orig­i­nal Sher­lock Holmes is all through Wat­son’s eyes, and hav­ing Wat­son as a woman gives it an­other edge in that Sher­lock is al­ways un­com­fort­able with women,’’ she says.

‘‘ The fact that Wat­son is a woman who he has to be around all the time, for him, is kind of like him hav­ing to wear this un­com­fort­able, itchy sweater.’’

Holmes’ grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that he’s go­ing to have to take Wat­son se­ri­ously — and there­fore he wants to know more about her — re­veals Liu’s Wat­son just may be the big­gest mys­tery of all.

As a former sur­geon it’s ob­vi­ous she has her own de­mons to bat­tle — so far we know she was kicked out of medicine be­cause a pa­tient died

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