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It's 'Elementary:' Jonny Lee Miller beguiles as quirky Sherlock hero

Robert Bianco

Whatever it is Jonny Lee Miller is doing in Elementary (Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT, *** stars out of four), here's hoping he keeps doing it for years to come.

Despite the name of his character and the premise of this CBS drama, he's not exactly playing Sherlock Holmes, at least not as the character is usually portrayed. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock, after all, was not a heroin addict, did not work in New York and did not have a female Watson (the exquisite Lucy Liu) who was every bit his equal. Nor did he have such an openly (and often humorously) expressed sexual appetite, or as open a heart — as evidenced by his willingness in tonight's fourth season premiere to express his need for his newfound friends and colleagues.

But the curiosities about Elementary go well beyond its modern twists on the text, a device it shares with Britain's Sherlock. It's just hard to name a star turn in a big broadcast show that is as beguilingly idiosyncratic as Miller's. Everything he does seems somehow odd and yet completely right: the sly, sometimes sped-up line readings; the bowed-backwards stance reminiscent of Stan Laurel; the haircut; the head-bobs — even the way he keeps his shirts buttoned at the neck, as if to emphasize how buttoned-up and yet eccentric his character is.

In short, like his show, Miller over-delivers. You go in expecting a standard network murder-of-the-week mystery, and you get something much more — maybe not from the crime, but certainly from the ongoing story of the crime solver and his battle to maintain his sobriety and sanity.


When we last saw Sherlock, he seemed to be losing that battle. After beating a man close to death and suffering a heroin relapse, he faces the possibility of jail time and the certainty of unemployment.

Luckily, unlike last season's opener, he's facing his problems with Watson, who has become an increasingly formidable force. When some Brit snob insults Sherlock, she answers with "What's the hardest you've ever been hit?" — a line Liu makes both amusing and threatening.

Sherlock also gets another possible ally: His father, Morland, played to the hilt by John Noble. And it doesn't take long before Morland proves his worth as a story device and Noble proves his worth as a scene partner.

The cases Sherlock and Watson solve in these first two outings don't amount to much, but their relationship does. Watson's bond with Sherlock is personal and professional, but not sexual — which makes for a nice change. Perhaps someday the show will give in to will-they/won't-they flirtation, but so far it has largely resisted, and is all the better for it.

Great work. Keep it up.