Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lucy Liu to play Watson on new Sherlock Holmes Adaptation

Actress Lucy Liu

Veteran television and film actress Lucy Liu has been cast to play Sherlock Holmes' loyal sidekick, Watson, in a pilot episode of a new CBS adaptation of the popular detective stories.  The show, "Elementary" is being marketed as a modern, updated retelling of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved short stories.  It comes at a time when the BBC's "Sherlock" - also a modernized version - has been a critical and commercial success in spite of its somewhat radical approach.  Liu's character, Jane Watson, is a former surgeon and NYPD consultant who platonically assists Sherlock Homes in solving mysterious crimes. 

Although this is not the first time that a woman has filled the role of Watson on the small screen, Liu's status as an Asian American woman has sparked more than a little controversy across the web following the breaking of this news.  The Guardian's TV & Radio blog scoffed at the idea, writing,
Now, the easiest thing to do when presented with this news would be to slap your head in despair. Watson? A woman? What madness is this? Won't this cancel out the asexual ambiguity of Sherlock's character? Why stop there? Why not make Watson a child, or a alien, or a rapping cartoon animal?

 Comparing, even equating, a woman in the role of Watson to an alien or a "rapping cartoon animal" playing the character is, at least to me, extremely offensive.   Even more so is the author's absurd claim that Holmes' sexual ambiguity will certainly be comprised by the addition of a female Watson.  In his opinion, apparently, men and women cannot work together productively without a relationship or sexual intrigue developing.

The shock and resistance to a female, Asian Watson is clearly quite fierce.  A meme even appeared on Buzzfeed which illustrates more blowback to the idea of Liu as Watson:

It bears mentioning that the Sherlock Holmes series of short stories was written by a Scottish author, and first appeared in 1887.  At that time in Europe, more than a century ago, most detectives and their assistants (and, moreover, most publishers of literature) were privileged white men.  Since then, these stories have been enjoyed by many people from all walks of life and society itself has changed dramatically.  That the characters in our modern myths, such as Sherlock Holmes, could or should reflect this shifting social structure, seems to me an incontrovertible matter.  That is not to say that "Elementary" as a television program will be good or bad - just that its quality should not be assessed even before it has been released, solely on the casting director's choice of an actor of a certain gender or race. 

How do my classmates feel about this casting decision? What are the potential positive and negative effects that such a casting could have on this program? Do you think (or even, hope) that this could be part of a trend in more-inclusive casting of women/minorities into "traditional" characters?


  1. As you mentioned, Sherlock Holmes was initially distributed and published during a period where women were essentially limited to the private spheres and kept restraint to their traditional caretaker roles. This is no longer relevant to our society, as women can now hold most positions in the job market(although some positions are more limited than others.)Some may argue that Watson must be played by a man to preserve the text's origin and/or historical setting. Although, it once again demonstrates sexism and reinstates inequality, and plays upon traditional values, that should no longer applicable. In my opinion, including men and women in a platonic work sphere, will demonstrate a progress, and hopefully become emblem of change within the entertainment market.

  2. I think this casting sounds quite interesting and I am pretty curious as to how this show will play out. How it will turn out I think would be a 50/50 chance of it being a success or not a success. Think of the show “Two and a half men,” when Aston Kutcher replaced Charlie Sheen as the main character, I don’t think anyone knew how it would turn out, but because of the curiosity of Aston Kutcher’s first appearance on the show, everyone turned in to find out. So it’s one of those things, either it will be a hit or not. If this show turns out to be a hit, I think the media will continue to cast more women/minorities into “traditional” characters as you can see that reality shows have been a success so networks have been continuing to create more shows like it. Basically, TV networks will take any opportunity they can capitalize on an idea. Hope this helps.

  3. Very interesting casting choice!

    As an avid Sherlockian, I am curious to see how this one plays out.