Thursday, March 01, 2012

My dear Watson

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.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The BBC has beaten we Yanks to the punch, and it is excellent: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018ttws">excellent.

Worth watching season two, episode one, "A Scandal in Belgravia" for Ms. Irene Adler. You're welcome:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xW9EUWsvftE

Anonymous said...

Just as excited about Robert Doherty. He wrote for or exec produced Star Trek: Voyager, Dark Angel (!), Tru Calling, Ringer, and on. Lots of strong females and good writing in those shows.

Nefarious Newt said...

I am a traditionalist Sherlock Holmes fan, who hasn't put one eyeball on anything Holmes-related since Jeremy Brett died. I like my Holmes the way he is, and I like my Watson the way he is.

That said, I see where these new spins on old ideas make them accessible to a new age. And why anyone would get bent out of shape over Lucy Liu as Watson is beyond me. She's an excellent actress. She's talented. She may very well bring some bite to what can otherwise be seen as a staid straight-man to the persnickety and flamboyant Sherlock Holmes. Sexual tension? Why not? Frankly, Holmes is a very acerbic character, not given to dalliance, but very keen on the ladies nonetheless.

I think people should stop getting their knickers in a bunch and give it a chance.

JadedRogue said...

Battlestar Galactica changed up Starbuck and Boomer. Did that hurt the show? If anything it made it a better show with more avenues of story telling, more intensity and well, better acting. Hawaii 5-0 (Grace Parks cast in both of those shows, she's destine to play roles that men played first?). This will not alter the time continuum! If anything, simply gives the writers more fodder to play with. Now! Imagine if Watson were a lesbian.....

Florence said...

I already knew about the remake of Sherlock and I was really annoyed. Because Sherlock is awesome.
Really brilliant stuff. And Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing.
But everything has changed since I read this: Watson will be a woman, an Asian woman, Lucy Liu! Now that's new.
Because as much as I love the BBC Sherlock, Stephen Moffat can't write women.He really can't. What was the point of modernizing Sherlock if it was to keep the same old sexist stereotypes? And yes his Irene Adler may be great but she was still problematic for many reasons.
So I'm super happy about Lucy Liu being Watson. Even if this is initially to tone down the gay subtext (is that surprising from CBS anyway? No).

Big Shamu said...

I love Lucy Liu. Really. A lot. I don't care what she's in. She just needs to be in more. I'd rather it would be great female movies. But yeah, more Lucy.

mike said...

Thank you for this excellent & thoughtful post, so full of ideas that I have printed it out so i can read again

Lakhani Lawn

Anonymous said...

Ms Snarker,

I respectfully disagree. CBS is only remaking Sherlock due the overwhelming success of the BBC version. By casting a Joan Watson they have already messed up the show by destroying the obvious subtext/canon pairing of Sherlock and Holmes.

Now I love ladies as much as the next lesbian. But if CBS wanted to be truly revolutionary they should have created a female Sherlock to go with their Joan Watson. Instead this version is just going to fall into the obvious straight heterotic cliche that always seems to happen.

I will stick with the BBC version thank you very much.

Redbone210 said...

I like Lucy Liu. Alot.

I'm all for more Lucy Liu on television. In any decent vehicle that showcases her talent. And those freckles...

Just sayin'...

AmySarah said...

I like the Lucy Lui casting, I think it will be interesting.

BUT, the big question, is why are they remaking an excellent BBC show that is less than 2 years old?

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that there was an updated Sherlock Holmes on BBC. Good for them for keeping it traditional and frankly good for CBS for stepping out of the box a little by making Watson female. There aren't enough asian female leads on television(male either)so this will be a refreshing take on the character. I'm not super thrilled with whom the casted as Holmes, but he may prove me wrong.

Jaime Murray can only appear in this show if she remains available to film for Warehouse 13. I'd be heart broken if there was no more HG Wells.

Birion said...

While I have nothing against Lucy Liu as an actress or a person, and gladly enjoy a good Holmesian remake -- Watson is a woman? Sherlock is a woman? Watson and Sherlock are women? Watson and Sherlock are the same woman? Sherlock is a genius detective and thirteen years old? Watson is a ghost? Watson is a dog? Sherlock is a ghost of a dog? --, I fear that this news -- and the show itself -- could not have been timed any worse. Regardless of the creators' intent, almost everyone will see this show as a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of Sherlock, combined with a cheap attempt at being "edgy" and "politically correct". Now, I'm not saying that it is or isn't -- Though it does seem awfully conspicuous, don't it? --, but there will be an awful lot of people approaching this with exactly these predispositions.

Anonymous said...

A female Watson? Nice twist. Surprised it hasn't been done sooner, to be honest, what with all the (straight) will-they-won't-they opportunities it opens up.

Although wonderfully, in the BBC adaptation, other characters keep assuming that Holmes and Watson are a couple. Which Watson has given up correcting and Holmes doesn't seem to care about one way or the other. Not gay, but somewhat gay friendly.

Anonymous said...

I was not going to watch the show, but this casting news about Lucy Liu certainly changed my mind!

I disagree on one thing: Jaime Murray cannot be on that show, she has to be on Warehouse!!! ;) (But yeah, JM has Moriarty is quite a nice idea!)

Christine said...

I had zero interesting in watching this until I heard Lucy Liu was playing Watson. They took a white male character and made them a Asian American female character?! I am both thrilled and flabbergasted! I really hope it's actually a good show.

A. True said...

Oh wow, this actually makes me excited for the show when I wasn't before! Introducing Liu as Watson gives it a completely separate twist from the BBC show that is happening, and I am glad to see the divide.

And in vindication of gender swapping characters, may I offer: STARBUCK. (Caveat: I only watched Season 1 of BSG, so if they ruined her totally awesome character later I have no idea.)

Anonymous said...

I'd be all for both Sherlock and Watson being women. I have to say that I think one of the reasons to make Sherlock and Watson a heterosexual man/woman pair is because they WANT the OVERT CANON romance and DON'T WANT it to be queer. The way you've addressed the subtext issue doesn't capture the whole story with regard to homophobia. I don't think they would do gender switches of the characters because they are interested in having gender diversity in a show. That's giving waaay too much credit. It's because they want a romance between the leads. Suppose it turns out they are switching Watson's gender only so that she can be considered an acceptable love interest for Sherlock. And isn't that awful in itself? The reason for including women is so that they can do the Sherlock/Watson in canon? It's a wonderful idea to switch up the genders in reimaginings, but if it's only because we NEED to have all-important SEX in the plot and queer sex isn't allowed, that's not progress to me. As you said there are lots of cisgender heterosexual man/woman pairing on crime shows. So really, this is a huge disappointment in my eyes. I'd like to see a queer Sherlock/Watson romance, however the characters identify. Short of that, maybe a heterosexual man/woman team that has NO tension or interest in eachother, or a pair where one or both are asexual and/or aromantic. And it'd be great to have Lucy Liu cast in any of the aforementioned situations.

ella said...

I just think Liu would make a better Holmes than Watson.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that this post (and comments) did not touch on the bigger problem with CBS' Watson character. They are changing Watson's background from accomplished, stalwart military doctor who was injured in battle to a civilian doctor who was fired for malpractice.

I love the idea of switching the genders of any of the characters (oh my, could you imagine Lucy Liu as Sherlock?), but I wish they would try to stick with the established characterizations and background.

Anonymous said...

Lucy Liu rocks it hard on Southland. Cheek

Anonymous said...

What is it with Americans? Is it not possible for them to create anything entertaining without some individual or group dragging race, gender, and ethnicity issues into the discussion? Not everything is political - or needs to be made so.
This relentless breast beating and token political correctness is becoming rather boring and self-indulgent don't you think? There are far better venues for waging that battle than nit-picking a telly series.

That said, I think Lucy Liu makes for a very good Watson character. Not so much because she's a woman. But rather because she is such a capable and talented actor. Watson is a difficult character to portray for any actor. There are many ways to interpret his personality and role. And not all previous efforts have been successful. Especially when fans of Sherlock Holmes bring so many preconceptions, preferences, and emotional baggage with them. Lucy Liu makes it work. To excessively focus on the gimmick of gender or ethnicity as applied to her Watson diminishes from the talent she brings to the character.