This week, an actor who has probably played Watson more times than any other got her star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. And there's all sorts of remarkable behind that statement.
Lucy Liu came to the role of Dr. Watson younger than most actors, that role having been set iconically in so many minds by Nigel Bruce, whose portly British stereotype still influences cartoon Watsons today. She also came to that role already a star, having made herself known in both TV and movies, in no danger of being typecast in the part. Her roles in action movies like Charlie's Angels, Kill Bill, and, yes, even Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, brought a certain strength to her Watson, even though the character of Joan Watson had no military background as the Conan Doyle original.
As her show, CBS's Elementary, enters its final season and Lucy Liu moves on to other roles and now directing work, we have to start wondering who will follow in her footsteps as a Watson who leaves the mold she broke behind. Because she broke that mold hard.
Can future Sherlocks deal with an American Watson? Somehow I think her lack of a British accent was more of a radical departure for the character to American audiences than going female. (Which brings up the question: Do Holmes and Watsons in non-English speaking countries have British accents?) Lucy Liu's Watson gave America something England had all along -- a Watson with no accent.
And what about Joan Watson's ascension to that job whose status formed half the plot of the recent comedy Holmes and Watson -- that of "co-detective" to Sherlock Holmes? While so many previous Watsons were relegated to tagging along and enthusiastically going "Amazing, Holmes!" at appropriate moments, Liu's Watson worked her way up from room-mate to student to equal peer at the consulting detective game. While Martin Freeman's Watson created one of our strongest foils of a partner for Sherlock Holmes, his Watson never became a detective in his own right.
Which brings me back to a thought I've had from day one on Elementary: I still strongly suspect Lucy Liu would have made a better Sherlock to Jonny Lee Miller's Watson than the way the show was cast. She's terrific with a strong character who can bring authority to a scene, and has a quirky comic side that would be perfect for Sherlock Holmes. As much as Elementary was seen as breaking norms, seeing a female Holmes leading a male Watson around would have taken it even further along that line, and Lucy would have been perfect for it.
But who knows? With one season left of Elementary, maybe we'll see Lucy Liu's character putting Jonny Lee Miller's in a Watson role, despite who is named "Holmes" and who is named "Watson." It doesn't seem impossible, with all she's brought to the part so far. Though with a character named "Odin Reichenbach" in the picture, maybe she'll be finding her own Watson as she takes on the job of being the Sherlock, as "Reichenbach" never bodes well for the current one.
In any case, this is a summer to celebrate Lucy Liu, and starting it with a star on the Walk of Fame is a very great thing.
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