Elementary, a review

Elementary is the new Sherlock Holmes TV show that premiered last night. It’s modern. It takes place in New York. Sherlock is played by Jonny Lee Miller and Dr. (Joan) Watson by Lucy Liu. I thought that Sherlock was going to be American, which would be blasphemy because Sherlock needs to be British just as much as any version of Arthur Dent or the Queen does. And rest assured, he is. In fact, Watson has taken to correcting his British-ism, telling him the baseball game is not called “a match.” He also refers to the New York subway as The Tube. I’m not sure how realistic that is that he wouldn’t know it’s called a subway, unless he’s being stubborn.

Review

I can’t say that the show is bad. I just don’t know how necessary it is. If you want a modern day Sherlock, you need only to watch Steven Moffatt’s Sherlock or even House, which is based on Sherlock Holmes. The crime/mystery, at least in this pilot episode, is nothing original. It’s just like any other of the billion cop dramas. What’s going to make people tune in is the relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson. So let’s look at that.

Miller’s Sherlock, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, and House all draw from the original source in terms of personality. Caring for people on a human level is sacrificed for genius. The mystery is fun, even if someone got hurt. Miller and Cumberbatch both do the same thing when they are forced to swallow their ego and say something nice to someone else, that someone often being Dr. Watson. When Sherlock and Joan Watson are first introduced to each other, it seemed clear that the fact that Dr. Watson is a woman is going to make a big difference to their relationship. (The first thing Sherlock says to her is that he’s in love with her.) But this is quickly dismissed and their friendship becomes that of any friends regardless gender. Are they going to change that later and make either of them a love interest for the other? I don’t know, but I hope not. It seems a tacky move to assume just because Dr. Watson is a woman in this version therefore she has to be a love interest. We’ll see if the show can maintain its dignity or cave to the sappy masses.

In House, Dr. House (Holmes (Homes?)) and Dr. James Wilson (Dr. John/Joan Watson) do not live together. They work together. Regardless, Wilson is the one relationship House really cares about and needs. This need is also reflected in Sherlock and Elementary. Sherlock finds that he needs Watson’s help, both in the case and to keep his humanity in check. The biggest difference between Sherlock and Elementary is that in Sherlock, Watson was a doctor in the war who has come to rent a room with Sherlock and finds himself working cases with him. In Elementary, Watson was a surgeon who now works to watch over people who’ve just been released from rehab. She lives with Sherlock because he had been on drugs, went to rehab, and was released. Are drugs going to be a challenge for him later? At the moment, he makes it out to look like addiction was just something he wanted to try once and now he’s over it, he’s too rational to give into it without reason. However, it would take an interesting turn. Not unique though. House was addicted to drugs, too.

Both Miller’s and Cumberbatch’s Sherlocks have lives governed by their families from a distance. In Elementary, Sherlock’s father had him put in rehab and organized Watson coming to stay with him. He checks in with her via phone from time to time. In Sherlock, Sherlock’s brother is constantly “kidnapping” Watson and asking him to do things for or say things to Sherlock, since he and his brother do not get along.

What I would like to see (if I keep watching): More original crimes/mysteries and less formulaic cop show plotlines. Also, something that makes this show different from both House and Sherlock.

Verdict: If you’ve seen all 176 episodes of House and just can’t get enough, this is the show for you. Same character, different setting.

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2 thoughts on “Elementary, a review

  1. 21 people have commented on this post, but they are all posting on Reddit, so I am posting them all here:

    [–]JediSquirrels 10 points 7 days ago

    That’s about how I felt, but this fails to mention that the dialogue and writing were occasionally terribly clunky. I laughed a few times at Sherlock’s awesomeness, but Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu just don’t feel real to me as the characters. I’m very much aware of the fact that I’m watching them pretend to be the characters; the show does nothing help my suspension of disbelief by being like all these other procedural cop shows.
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    [–]JMaboard 10 points 7 days ago

    I think Lucy Liu would’ve made a better Sherlock, she has that dead inside look nailed.
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    [–]whatthehelpp 3 points 7 days ago

    They both had that cardboard look.
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    [–]manbear_wolfpig 11 points 7 days ago*

    I’m going to tell you how I feel about the show, and then demonstrate why I’m right in my opinion by making a prediction. You may disagree with me, and may even dismiss my review, but months from now when my prediction materializes, you will realize the truth of my words and your world will never be the same. So here we go.

    My Review

    Elementary is a terrible adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes universe, and therefore it is a bad show. Reasons:
    1.
    Sherlock is portrayed as an emotional, spoiled brat rather than a genius devoid of empathy. As stated in the linked review, what makes Sherlock Holmes interesting is that he isn’t interested in the people, he’s interested in the problem. In Elementary we are introduced to a man who loses his temper at a woman because her lack of cooperation is causing the death of others. Why would Sherlock care? He shouldn’t, but he does, because this makes Sherlock relateable to the audience. He reacts like a child not getting what we wants, instead of like a genius able to deduce what he needs to know.

    2.
    Watson is portrayed as an equal upon whom Sherlock must rely to solve his cases. The real Watson helps Sherlock, true, but there is never any doubt that he is unnecessary. BBC’s Sherlock portrays this well – Watson is a friend to Holmes, but is genuinely amazed at Sherlock’s abilities. In Elemenatary, Watson is disgusted and unimpressed with Sherlock, and even goes so far as to take the lead in questioning a suspect (“where were you last night?” she asks at one point). Why is this question necessary? It’s not – Sherlock should be able to deduce exactly where the suspect was last night, but he doesn’t. Why? Because the show wants to establish Watson as an equal, a partner.

    3.
    The mystery is catered to an unintelligent audience. What’s the mystery in this episode? Who killed the wife. That’s the plot line – it’s singular and evidence is introduced and explained along the way leading the viewer to a conclusion. This is a show about a genius; why does he care about a murder? People get murdered all the time – this wouldn’t be interesting to Sherlock. There are no circumstances about the crime that would lead Sherlock to investigate it. Yet here he is, poking around to find out the husband is responsible for the death of his wife. Yawn. Compare this to BBC’s Sherlock with the complicated and multi-threaded plot lines, and you’ll see there is a clear distinction as to which show truly represents the deductive abilities of a genius.

    So why is any of this a problem? It’s a problem because the show is just like every other crime show on air. Take away the names Sherlock and Watson, and you could be watching Bones, Law and Order, Monk, the Mentalist, or any other crime-based show. So that’s all the show really has then, is the names Sherlock and Watson, and it’s not capturing the characters at all.

    Elementary does not inspire interest in Sherlock or Watson as literary characters. I have no desire to pick up a Sherlock Holmes novel and read it after watching the show. It’s not worthy of the Sherlock Holmes name, and yet it is precisely what the show is banking itself upon.

    My Prediction

    By the end of season 1, Sherlock will develop romantic feelings for Watson. They will kiss. It won’t go anywhere further, but it doesn’t have to. As soon as Sherlock is reduced to a feeling, empathic, regular guy who happens to notice things, the show becomes nothing more than a run-of-the-mill crime drama where the name “Sherlock” adds nothing but a British accent.
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    [–]DSQ 3 points 6 days ago

    Sherlock is portrayed as an emotional, spoiled brat rather than a genius devoid of empathy.

    But in canon while he does tend to care about the problem more than the people he is very capable of being emotional. In the Copper Beeches he worries about violet’s situation so much that Watson thinks he might fancy her!

    He doesn’t but I’m just trying to point out that BBC Sherlock tends to play up the ‘unemotional jerk’ side of Sherlock a tad more than the canon ever did.
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    [–]vonHindenburg 3 points 7 hours ago

    Second that. Canon Sherlock is not quite so unfeeling as any of his emotionally-crippled 21st century remakes. For instance, I just finished “The Dancing Men” last night in which Sherlock is enraged when his client dies because he (Sherlock) did not act fast enough. Part of it is professional pride, certainly, but much of it is true sorrow at seeing a good man get killed and determination to see him avenged.

    Now, the counterargument is that the original canon is different in one important way. The new adventures show Sherlock and Watson having their adventures in real time. The original, on the other hand, are Watson’s retellings of these adventures. Who’s to say that he wouldn’t try to soften and humanize his friend a bit. From time to time, wouldn’t he attempt to attribute more laudable motives than professional pique to Sherlock? Far fetched, but Doyle only knows.
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    [–]DSQ 2 points 6 hours ago

    Yup and Doyle probably wouldn’t tell us since he hated Sherlock at the end. xD There is at least one canon story written completely from Sherlock’s POV but I haven’t read it yet maybe that will answer our query.

    I think maybe the true answer is that Sherlock was very capable of being rude and mean but like a true Victorian gentleman he knew how to present himself when with company. I think the reason so many modern day adaptation lose that aspect of him is because being polite isn’t as important any more and being rude is seen as being ‘cool’ sometimes. Strangely I think RDJ’s Sherlock get’s his manner the best (compared to Sherlock and Elementary) but fails in other aspects of his demeanour.
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    [–]dare2dan 2 points 6 days ago

    I agree. All of it. Thanks!
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    [–]TheShader 2 points 7 days ago

    I will take you up on your challenge and bet a piece of karma against your prediction.
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    [–]XQYZ 6 points 7 days ago*

    I felt about it the same way I did about the US remake of IT Crowd. It’s not a complete train wreck, but everything that I liked about it was the stuff they stole from the original.
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    [–]I-baLL 3 points 7 days ago

    Wait, there’s an American remake of the IT Crowd?
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    [–]mtx 3 points 7 days ago

    Just the first episode. You can find it on Youtube.

    I don’t know why the US has to remake things instead of just airing the original shows.
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    [–]bjh13 2 points 7 days ago

    I don’t know why the US has to remake things instead of just airing the original shows.

    It isn’t just the US, or did you think Law and Order: UK was an original show?
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    [–]ToFoolThemIn 2 points 7 days ago

    Lol I had no idea there was a Law and Order: UK.
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    [–]bjh13 1 point 7 days ago

    Yep. Fairly successful too, with Jamie Bamber and Freema Agyeman, as well as former Doctor Who star Peter Davison. It’s been on for six series so far (seasons for those of us in America) and every single episode has been an adaptation, or remake if you will, from the original show. The US isn’t the only place adapting works from other countries for their audience.
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    [–]DSQ 4 points 6 days ago

    Well to be fair to Law and Order it was only made because the American creator Dick Wolf had wanted to make a British version of the show for ages and asked ITV to make it with him rather than ITV wanting to buy the rights. But you’re right UK TV is as guilty of buying the rights to shows and remaking them as America, we only do it less because we have less channels and less money.

    A more surprising example is that University Challenge is a remake of a American show.
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    [–]KBRGreen 1 point 7 days ago

    Maybe they think people won’t watch it. Either that or Americans wouldn’t be able to make money off the shows unless they did.
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    [–]penthehuman 2 points 6 days ago

    The US remake of IT Crowd was worse than a trainwreck
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    [–]InsertRelevantMeme 3 points 6 days ago

    It’s a kinda alrightish show i will watch while waiting for the real sherlock holmes show to start again. Stop looking at it as sherlock competition but more as a stand along thing.
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    [–]hey_you_wit_the_legs 2 points 4 days ago

    House, which is based on Sherlock Holmes

    Mind=Blown
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    [–]Turil 1 point 1 day ago

    It was more of an emotional show. Not terrible. Not great.

    Moffat always is more interested in geek stuff and confusing the hell out of people.

    Both are reasonable options for storytelling.

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