Yes, yes, Wanderers. We do have a soft spot for Sherlock Holmes; thanks for noticing. That said, it seemed rather unfair that we’d already reviewed the BBC’s latest incarnation of the famous detective without taking a peek across the Pond (not that Pond, Whovians) to see what CBS were up to with their version. So here we are.
Elementary generated a lot of controversy when it was first announced; coming so soon after Sherlock began to achieve superfandom status, some fans worried that it would be a poor attempt at cloning the popular series – especially with the coincidental casting of Jonny Lee Miller, who’d previously shared a double role in Frankenstein with Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch, as the great detective himself. Then there was the setting; Sherlock Holmes without London? Many thought it wouldn’t work. By the time the announcement came that the key role of Watson was to be Joan, not John, and played by the incredible Lucy Liu, there were those among the many fandoms who love Sherlock Holmes who thought the show was just taking too many liberties and couldn’t possibly work.
In this writer’s opinion? They were wrong.
Elementary is based in New York, yes, but Holmes retains his London roots and, indeed, is that refreshing rarity – an Englishman who’s more than just English in an American show. Watson, his faithful companion, has a marginally altered backstory but certainly retains a great deal of the spirit of the original Conan Doyle stories. As for competition between Sherlock and Elementary, there’s no danger of the stories being copied or stale, with fresh modern cases taking up the majority of the dynamic duo’s time, as well as a sizeable focus on Sherlock’s continued recovery from a drug addiction.
For me, what makes this series so good is the development of Sherlock and Joan’s relationship as they move from being strangers, to trusted acquaintances, to something approaching friendship. Joan’s work as Sherlock’s sober companion – perhaps a uniquely American phenomenon, as this Brit had never heard of the job before – works as an excellent way to introduce the two characters, allowing Joan a healthy bit of doubt and disapproval before Sherlock wins her over in stark contrast to the more commonly seen “I’ve just met you and now we’re best friends” approach taken by some other Watsons.
Over the course of the series we’re also brought into contact with an assortment of others, from Sherlock’s friend Captain Gregson of the NYPD, and his initially sceptical companion Detective Bell, to Alfredo, Sherlock’s car-jacking drug sponsor. A recent episode, excitingly, brought in a familiar name from canon, with all the familiar thrill that entails. Every role is both interesting and true-to-life, and the show isn’t shy about engaging with the modern world in a way that departs slightly from the original canon.
There’s something very human (and, if I can say it without offending anyone, frankly adorable) about this Sherlock; where other adaptations perhaps focus on his mind to the exclusion of his social abilities, Elementary embraces the idea of a brilliant man who still, on occasion, gets it wrong. However, he seems determined to improve, and Joan is more than capable of kicking him into touch when required.
The cases themselves are on the level of cunning and interest that we’ve come to expect from a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, but it’s a lot easier for me to sit back and watch Sherlock and Watson solve each one here; usually I find myself missing chunks of dialogue trying to get to the answer first but for some reason, Elementary doesn’t seem to do that. It’s easy to get caught up in conversations and scenes; it’s as if you stand beside Sherlock and Joan, content to marvel in the magic, rather than trying to be them, or beat them. Your mileage, of course, may well vary.
So, in conclusion, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan but have been resisting this recent adaptation, I advise you to give in and watch a couple of episodes. Fans of the original will certainly enjoy the numerous references, for example, to bee-keeping. If you just like a good detective story, too, this show will suit you. And despite the seemingly random hiatus pattern of an American drama, there are still plenty of episodes to keep you going. There are certainly worse ways to spend your time.
I’d give this show a 4.5 out of 5. It really is very good.
Eleanor Musgrove (Favourite character: Clyde.)