The drama series Elementary is a modern-day take that follows the brilliantly gifted Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and his sober-coach turned crime-solving partner, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), while they crack the NYPD’s most impossible cases. It’s a unique, intriguing, darker take on the story that has also proven to be very unexpected.
While at the CBS portion of the TCA Press Tour, executive producer/writer Rob Doherty talked about why this is a much darker Sherlock, how he approaches the procedural stories to facilitate character growth, the unexpected casting for Moriarty, when some familiar faces might return again, and the pressure of coming up with cases that would challenge someone as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
ROB DOHERTY: It really had to do with being drawn to the idea of a broken Sherlock Holmes, and not meeting a Holmes who is at the highest of heights. He’s a guy who has gone through a personal trauma and is now trying very hard to get back to where he was. That meant giving him a history with addiction and drug use. It’s hard not to have a little darkness in the show, if that’s your starting point. But, the great thing about the character is that he’s so charming, he’s so funny and he’s so smart. I think we wring every little bit of fun that we can out of the character, but we also try to stay true to his darker origins.
We don’t normally see procedurals with so much character development and really strong character growth, which you’ve had this season. How do you approach the procedural stories to facilitate that character growth?
DOHERTY: I’ve always said that one of the beauties of doing a show about Holmes and Watson is that there is an obligation to go home with them. We would be doing a disservice to the characters and the canon, if we didn’t show the domestic side of the relationship, and that’s one of the things that really appealed to me. I worked on a show called Medium for six years and developed an appetite for that kind of storytelling. We had a procedure to that show, but we also went home with Allison DuBois at night. So, for us, it’s just a very natural thing to do. It’s funny, with maybe a handful of exceptions, I don’t feel like the procedure or the cases typically inform or reflect anything that’s going on personally for the characters. It’s a two-step process. Once we have a case that we think is interesting and appropriate to the show and to our procedure, we’ll sketch that out. We will then look to see what would be going on in the characters’ lives, at that point in the season, and what we’ve set up in a previous episode that could have a pay-off. Sometimes if your character story or your B-story is too reflective of you’re a-story, it starts to feel unreal and it starts to feel like you’re watching a TV show.
DOHERTY: It seemed appropriate. Part of the plan, from the very beginning, was to establish a female Watson. There was symmetry to the plan that I liked, and the rest of the staff really liked. It also seemed that the best way to break our Holmes was to say that he made the mistake of falling in love once. We were excited to tell the story of a Moriarty that was devious enough to romance him, and then break him down.
With as busy as Natalie Dormer is, will viewers see her again?
DOHERTY: We had Natalie back this season. That episode aired a couple of weeks ago. We could not adore her more. She was really the only person we had in mind. As we began to approach the end of the first season, Natalie was just the only person on my radar. I’d seen her in a lot of British shows and in movies. We, unfortunately, will not have a second crack at her this year because she’s very in demand. Early in the year, we identified a window where we would have her, and we took advantage of that spot.
Do you have any new characters coming in?
DOHERTY: We will have Jane Alexander guesting in an episode that will be coming up very soon. We will also see the return of some of the characters we established in the beginning of the season. Inspector Lestrade will return. He’s played by the great Sean Pertwee. And Rhys Ifans will be back as Mycroft.
When you’re coming up with storylines for the greatest detective, who comes in and solves the crimes that the good detectives failed at, it must create an extra pressure on you to come up with really, really smart plots. To what extent are you aware of that, and how do you cope with it?
DOHERTY: I’m very, very aware. That’s all pretty accurate. Part of it is not looking too far ahead and not panicking if the production is about to start up an you only have three solid stories. We’d all love to have 10, but you just have to set them up and knock them down, one at a time. I dare say that it worked out last year, and it’s been a relatively smooth process for us this year.
What is the greatest challenge unique to your show, in getting it shot and on the air smoothly?
DOHERTY: Gosh, something that’s maybe unique to our show is that Jonny [Lee Miller] and Lucy [Liu] have to be together and on camera a ton, and that makes it very difficult for us to find relief. What we have promised people is a Holmes and Watson show. And even when you want to find a little break for Lucy or a little break for Jonny, it’s tough to do that because our audience has a certain expectation, especially coming into the second season. I felt like we picked up some good habits, the deeper we got into the first season. We were able to find ways to create a little bit more balance for them, and we’ve tried to carry that into this year. But, it’s always tough because it influences how you tell a story.
Elementary airs on Thursday nights on CBS.