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