I like Lucy Liu as Watson. There, I said it. I’m all for a female sidekick to a new American Sherlock TV remake for CBS, “Elementary.” It seems, yes – I’m going to say it, elementary to me that in an industry rife with onscreen gender and racial inequality, a little character sex and ethnicity change is a good thing. Why not, it makes it a little more exciting, a little more new. Though, yes, it would be a lot more exciting and a lot more new if they made both Sherlock and Watson female characters. Now that, that would be revolutionary. If you’re going to remake a familiar pairing, why just turn it on its side? Turn it on its head and let’s all look at the world a little differently. (p.s. Those busy kids on Tumblr have already done just that. Though might I suggest Jaime Murray for Moriarty instead?)
But it seems a lot of people don’t like Lucy as Watson. Not even a little. Not even less than a little. Take, for instance, some editor at BuzzFeed. Wow, way to wave the flag for gender and ethnic diversity, guys. Hey, maybe think before you create your snarky bold-lettered macro. Because I can practically see the “Long Live White Dudes!” “We Rule Everything, Get Over It!” “No Girls Allowed” signs being hoisted now.
Other folks say why mess with tradition? Why swap the gender of established characters? Just write new female characters instead. Well I say, sure. Let’s do that. But there’s really no reason we can’t do both. People remake familiar shows because they’re familiar and therefore have a greater chance of success. That’s the whole damn point. So a show with familiar characters with new genders might stand a better chance at making it than a new show with new genders. That’s just life. As is, female-fronted buddy shows stand out because they are just that, female-fronted buddy shows – think “Rizzoli & Isles,” think “2 Broke Girls.” And then we’ve got to reach back and go “Cagney & Lacey,” Kate & Allie,” “Laverne & Shirley, “Absolutely Fabulous.”
There are and have been several famous male-female crime-solving duos. “Castle,” “Bones,” “The X-Files,” “Moonlighting,” So that wouldn’t really make “Elementary” all that different. But this would be the first interracial male-female duo. If the show makes it to air Lucy would be the only the second Asian-American actress in a leading role on an American broadcast network television. (Maggie Q on the CW’s “Nikita” is the only other one right now. Sure, we could argue about Sandra Oh on “Grey’s,” but I really think she’s part of more of an ensemble. And don’t get me started on poor Jenna Ushkowitz. From “Glee.”) So, let’s be honest, we’re due a strong Asian-American female lead – we really are.
But by far the most perplexing criticisms of this casting is that CBS has done this intentionally to eliminate the possibility of delicious, delicious gay subtext on the show. Two which I say, bahwha? No, but really, BAHWHA? Look, I will give you that CBS may be angling to create sexual chemistry and a will-they/won’t-they vibe between Sherlock & Watson. It’s the rare male-female duo show that can keep its leads from eventually getting it on like Donkey Kong. The slow tease sells. Just ask “Castle” fans.
Still that’s not the same as actively trying to quash gay subtext. To be honest, I’m pretty sure TV executives don’t give two farts about gay subtext, unless it creates internet buzz for their shows. That buzz usually means more enthusiasm and eyeballs. And while they almost never actively encourage it, I really don’t think stopping it before it starts is on their agenda. And, who says just because the leads are opposite sex there can’t still be gay subtext on the show? The thing about gay subtext is the fans create it. Sure, sometimes the writers and actors leave a very visible breadcrumb trail. But it’s the viewers who make these non-canon relationships happen. So, who is to say Holmes might not have a smoldering chemistry with the chief of police? Or Watson may make googly eyes at a female detective on the force. Or, better yet, a female Moriarty (really not kidding about Jaime Murray – think about it, CBS).
The thing is, this new Sherlock reboot could suck. There are absolutely no guarantees, regardless of casting, that it will be good or bad for that matter. But what I do know is a talented, veteran Asian-American actress has landed a role that has traditionally been filled by a white male actors in the past. So now instead of looking like it always looks, TV might look a teeny tiny bit more like me. And I am A-OK with that.