I know this is old news, but in one of the more recent adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Lucy Liu (of Charlie’s Angels fame) has taken up the role of Dr. Watson. That is, Doctor Joan Watson.
This is great news! A WOC (woman of color) playing a well known doctor! On American TV. How awesome is that?
Jon Michael Hill plays “Detective Bell” and Lucy Liu is “Joan Watson” in CBS’s Elementary.
I’ll admit, when I first started hearing of the show (which was just after BBC’s Sherlock had just finished it’s British premiere of season 2) I thought it was just us Americans trying to get some ratings off of a popular British TV show.
Then I started hearing about how Liu’s character Joan is a disgraced surgeon, with no military background (as opposed to the canon, where Watson is a former military doctor). Then I started to think that the reason she was disgraced was because the writers thought of her as a woman who doesn’t deserve to be in a highly respected medical position. Because she’s a woman. I really thought this would just end up being fodder for those that actually truly believed women belonged only in the kitchen and not in the operating room.
But then I started watching the show during winter break this past year. And boy golly gee was I super duper wrong about Joan!
In the show, Joan Watson is still a former surgeon. She was discharged after (accidentally) killing a patient under her care. This I suspected. Afterwards, she’s looking for a new job. And so she becomes a sober companion, a person who lives with a recovering drug or alcohol addict, which is exactly how she comes to be at Sherlock Holmes’ door (played by Johnny Lee Miller). In the show, Joan Watson actively chooses to continue making other people’s lives better. She actively chose to become a sober companion because that’s what she thought she’d be good at.
Joan Watson actively calls out misogynistic remarks made by Sherlock and by others in the show. Her surgical past is not just used as a way to confirm Sherlock’s brilliant breakthroughs. Often, there are cases where Sherlock is stumped and it’s Joan herself who finds the connection and solves the murder because she’s the brilliant one too. She’s not just there to further another character’s development. She has her own developments and we see her family and friends and loved ones come by in her life. We see her kind and caring side, as well as her methodical procedural side. She is a true “strong female character”, not because she kicks butt (she actually has little to no martial arts skill, which thankfully defies the “kung fu Asian” character trope, and she doesn’t gain any martial arts or self-defense skills until much later into the show) but because she has many facets to her personality (like real women!) and she has emotions (like real women!) and she changes and develops and makes mistakes (like real women!).
So cheers to the Elementary writers for taking what could have been an awful ploy for ratings (because there’s no ‘bad publicity’) and turned this into one of the best, well-rounded character adaptations I’ve ever seen.