To get one piece of business out of the way up front: “Elementary,” CBS’s modernized take on Sherlock Holmes, premiering Thursday at 10 p.m., is not on the same level of richness as the recent BBC/PBS edition “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
That said, dozens of actors have portrayed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant and complicated deducer, and Jonny Lee Miller (“Eli Stone,” “Trainspotting”) does a fine job in his iteration. One series being brilliant does not preclude the next from being enjoyable.
Miller’s heavily tattooed Holmes is freshly out of rehab, on the hunt for a healthy replacement addiction, and finding it in puzzle-solving as an unpaid consultant for the NYPD. (A service he previously offered Scotland Yard.)
This is a CBS crime show, however, so this Holmes is more in “The Mentalist” mode — itself a Holmes-ian gloss with a faux-psychic twist. Here, the know-it-all at the center pays more attention than anyone else; but, with no other job obligations (thanks to family wealth) he also has the time to do so. Therefore, he’s able to see the pointilism of a crime where everyone else just sees a mess of dots. It’s a nice note in the pilot that Holmes’s tenaciousness isn’t contrasted with the other cops being bumblers, simply overworked law enforcement officers eager to close cases.
Holmes is assisted in his investigations by Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) in a gender flip. Here she is serving as Holmes’s sober companion, and her past life as a surgeon comes in handy at crime scenes and while perusing records.
They make a good team. He’s an obsessive who can’t let things go, and who is clearly more interested in clues and closure than whatever those things might mean emotionally for the affected parties. She has a more humane touch and is no slouch herself when it comes to sleuthing.
Miller and Liu also complement each other as her stillness and small gestures work in tandem with his more frantic and gruff energy. Both get chances to showcase comic timing and dramatic depth as they dance around each other throughout the debut episode. (At one point, Miller deftly quips that he figured something out the new-fashioned way: “Google. What? Not everything is deducible.”) He condescends by calling her his “glorified helper monkey” and she calls him on his arrogance. He grudgingly recognizes her detecting skills, she empathetically recognizes his fears. If the producers of “Elementary” are smart, they won’t simply mash the two together romantically at some point, but explore the sense of sibling love/exasperation developing between them.
The dependable Aidan Quinn pops up sporadically and still undefined as the police captain awed by Holmes’s skills. (And the premiere gets random bonus points for its use of Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives.”)
“Elementary” should fit snugly alongside the other procedurals on CBS, including “The Mentalist,” the various incarnations of “CSI” and “NCIS,” “Blue Bloods,” and the new ‘60s-in-Sin-City drama “Vegas” with Dennis Quaid. (We’re holding “The Good Wife” as a cut above.) Each is a perfectly entertaining drop-in show with good actors, familiar premises, and the occasional truly mysterious mystery that aren’t a bad way to pass an hour.