Last week I wrote about my initial reactions to CBS's Elementary. I only touched on Lucy Liu's Joan Watson briefly in that article, but after watching the second episode of the series I wanted to talk again about her version of the archetypical sidekick. What I said last week I still stand by though - while Liu is wonderful in the role, she isn't really quite playing a real Dr. Watson.
I've seen a lot of people complain about Watson being a woman in Elementary, but honestly gender flipping the character was a minor change. No, the reason Liu's Joan Watson isn't quite a real Dr. Watson has nothing to do with whether or not the character has two X chromosomes or an X and a Y.
It's about background and motivation.
The background changes to the character can't really be adjusted -- as far as anyone can tell from two episodes, Joan lacks the military background normally associated with the character. It may seem like a small point to some, but there it is. Either way, that will never change - Watson isn't going to go to war between episodes and come back shot in the leg and/or shoulder (depending on which Arthur Conan Doyle story you're reading).
Well, unless they get super desperate during May Sweeps.
The more important point though, is Watson's motivation. Joan Watson is Sherlock's "Sober Companion" in Elementary. She's not there for the mystery, she's not there for the excitement -- she's there to make sure Sherlock doesn't give in to his addiction. Her focus is on the man, and while she's aiding in the investigations, it's not her reason for being present. And that's the biggest reason she's not quite a true Dr. Watson.
Again, I say "yet."
Because Joan Watson's arc is clearly going to be her character getting hooked on the mystery over the first six episodes. It's a six week contract for her to watch Mr. Holmes, and I'm fairly certain they want to have the series last longer than that. The first part of this season is going to see Liu's Joan acquire the motivations which will make her a true Dr. Watson.
She'll still lack the background, but the motivation is always the most important part.