Lunchtable TV Talk – Elementary: Promotion and reinvention

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It seems a fool’s errand to try to describe or review TV’s Elementary. Jonny Lee Miller (he’s great but he’s always a little bit “Sick Boy” to me) as one of many versions (modern and not so modern) of Sherlock Holmes delivers enough entertainment week on week – and the reimagined scene, set in New York with a female Watson (Lucy Liu originally as Sherlock’s sober companion and later his fellow detective), is effective in differentiating it. Supporting cast is also usually effective. I am struck in particular by Aidan Quinn as the police captain, as it seems Quinn has been relegated to a lifetime of playing the put-upon also-ran (Desperately Seeking Susan and Legends of the Fall come to mind) or world-weary police captains (in Elementary and in the short-lived US version of Prime Suspect starring Maria Bello).

In the most recent Elementary episode, I felt a strong connection to a very small scene, in which Quinn turns down a promotion. When asked why, he responds, “My ambition is being met.” He does not want to move. (It turns out in his case that the promotion was more of a way to get him out of his current job and is more a threat/not a choice than anything else.) But the bottom line for me is … how is it wrong when you admit that you are where you are because you want to be there? Isn’t finding the right place and right level of challenge and satisfaction and wanting to stay put its own triumph? We can search a lifetime for what we want to do and never find it. But when you find the thing that makes you happy, at which you have talent and from which you deliver results, do you need promotions and to climb a ladder just for the sake of climbing? The whole system is built that way – and not set up for those who are content with building on the foundation they have already built.

Elementary shows us another path, in fact, in the form of Liu’s Joan Watson. After a successful career as a surgeon, she leaves medical practice to become a sober companion. She eventually finds, in her work with Sherlock, that she is a gifted detective and makes a complete career change. For many this would seem ridiculous – after the years of training, education and practice that go into becoming a surgeon, walking away from it seems improbable. But finding one’s real passion – or a passion that becomes obvious or blooms only in later life – should be … if not rewarded, at least considered.

Having Watson’s career U-turn as a template and evolving example provides an interesting juxtaposition for the way the captain is tied to this career ladder he is expected to climb.

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