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posted: 9/26/2013 2:58 PM

'Elementary' premiere takes Holmes, Watson to London

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  • CBS took a risk with "Elementary" last year -- and it paid off. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), right, and Watson (Lucy Liu) are returning for a second season.

      CBS took a risk with "Elementary" last year -- and it paid off. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), right, and Watson (Lucy Liu) are returning for a second season.

  • CBS took a risk with "Elementary" last year -- and it paid off. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), right, and Watson (Lucy Liu) are returning for a second season.

      CBS took a risk with "Elementary" last year -- and it paid off. Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), right, and Watson (Lucy Liu) are returning for a second season.

By Jill Lawless
Associated Press

Perhaps it was elementary, after all.

The detective drama "Elementary" is back for a second season after silencing skeptics by garnering critical praise and strong ratings.

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The show, which stars Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in New York, returns to CBS in the United States on Thursday -- further evidence of the Holmes' inexhaustible appeal.

When "Elementary" first aired a year ago, there were plenty of doubters: Another Sherlock? Set in America? With -- horrors -- a female Watson?

Even Lucy Liu, who plays Watson -- Dr. Joan Watson -- said she warned the show's creator, Robert Doherty: "This is dangerous territory."

"To be honest, the pressure is on, but it's even more so for the writers and the executives," Liu said during an interview amid the elegant Georgian buildings of the Old Naval College in London, where the cast and crew decamped this summer for a set-in-Britain season premiere. "They have to change, modernize, something that is beloved in literature."

She said she told Doherty he could "change the characters' names. You don't have to have it Holmes and Watson. You could just make it anything and it could be a new, fresh idea."'

Doherty would have none of it. Holmes, he said, is eternal -- and ubiquitous.

The BBC's acclaimed series starring Benedict Cumberbatch is currently filming a third three-episode series, and Ian McKellen has been announced as an elderly Holmes in upcoming movie "A Slight Trick of the Mind."

"I remember saying, 'Look around the dial -- Sherlock Holmes is everywhere,'" said Doherty, who wrote for "Star Trek: Voyager" and was a writer and executive producer on the psychic mystery series "Medium."

"He is a paradigm. He is the original detective. (Arthur) Conan Doyle created this paradigm that has obviously influenced and shaped most of the detectives that we've seen in literature, in films and TV shows, since his inception."

In any case, the affable Doherty -- a huge Sherlock Holmes fan -- says he has a thick skin.

"If you're getting into the Sherlock Holmes business and you're afraid of comparisons or skepticism, you're in the wrong business," he said. "The fun of it for me was taking everything we knew to be his history and his setting and his partnership, and shifting it by a matter of degrees."

Rather than a cerebral, pipe-smoking Victorian Londoner, the Sherlock in "Elementary" is a tattooed recovering drug addict working as a consulting detective to the New York Police Department. Watson is the "sober companion" hired by Sherlock's wealthy father to keep him straight. (That's not so far from Conan Doyle's original Holmes, an occasional injector of cocaine).

The first season introduced updated versions of characters from the Conan Doyle canon, including Irene Adler -- the only woman ever to get the better of Sherlock Holmes -- and the detective's arch-enemy Moriarty, given a twist we won't reveal here.

The first episode of season two sees Sherlock traveling to London, scene of past glories and traumas, to help out Inspector Lestrade, an old ally from Scotland Yard. It also introduces elder brother Mycroft (a superbly supercilious Rhys Ifans), a man even more brilliant than the great detective, and the only person who makes Sherlock visibly insecure.

Liu promised the arrival of Sherlock's brother would add an "exciting and interesting" new dimension to his relationship with Watson.

Doherty promises new and intriguing villains, and perhaps the return of Moriarty -- left down, but decidedly not out, at the end of season one.

And while the show has revealed details of Holmes' troubled past, there is still much to learn about Watson's past traumas.

One of the show's attractions is the onscreen chemistry between Miller's Holmes and Liu's Watson. But Doherty says fans hoping for romance will be disappointed.

"There are always some people who pine for it, and I get that, because we happen to have a spectacularly beautiful Sherlock and a spectacularly beautiful Joan," he said. "I just have no interest in that kind of relationship. The original Holmes and Watson, to the best of my recollection, never slept together; ours don't have to either."

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