"Sherlock" vs. "Elementary" debate leads to Tumblr tag wars and fandom bickering
Over the last 120 years, legendary detective Sherlock Holmes has been recreated as a cartoon mouse, seen his best friend programmed into the mind of an android, turned gay, had a female assistant, and been modernized as a black detective in urban New York.
But never, until CBS’s new series, Elementary, has Holmes’ friend Dr. Watson been transformed into an Asian-American woman—Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu.
Numerous factors connect Elementary to the popular BBC mini-series Sherlock, a work of modern-day Holmes fanfiction from Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat. Unfortunately, the links between the shows have painted a target on Elementary’s back, and fans of the BBC’s Sherlock are trashing the CBS show (and its supporters) online before the first episode has even aired.
CBS originally asked Moffat to do a stateside revamp of his hit. When Moffat refused, CBS greenlit their own Holmes remake. Moffat wasn’t pleased, and said so numerous times, calling the U.S. version a “completely unrelated rogue version of Sherlock,” despite the fact that the same accusation could easily be made of his own version—or any version—relative to the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.
In another brain-breaking connection, the actor playing the U.S. Sherlock is Jonny Lee Miller, who shared an Olivier award with the U.K. Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, for their dual turns in Danny Boyle’s popular production of Frankenstein. On stage last fall, Cumberbatch and Miller alternated roles as the mad scientist and the monster.
Cumberbatch didn’t help matters, telling Shortlist magazine he felt Miller took the job for the paycheck (he later claimed he was misquoted), and adding to TV Line that he was “frightened of the dynamic of male friendship that you’d lose. Because that is obviously the bedrock of the books as well. There might be sexual tension between Joan [Watson] and Sherlock.”
The overt antagonism of the Sherlock cast and crew has bled over into the fandom. Sherlock fans have ranted about Elementary for months, even though it doesn’t air until September 27.
Fans’ primary complaint—though there are plenty of minor ones—is that casting a woman in the role of Watson will inevitably lead to a romantic subplot between Watson and Holmes, thus both highlighting and invalidating a century and a half of queer subtext between Holmes and Watson. Though “JohnLock” shippers—fans who want to see a relationship between Holmes and John Watson—aren’t the first to pick up on this subtext, they’re certainly the loudest.