Husband loved it, described it as excellent, well written and managed to stay awake all the way through – always a test of how good TV shows are. I’m just not so sure. So then we argued. And now he’s sulking in the kitchen. Time to put my thoughts into a blog methinks . . .
I couldn’t watch the episodes when they first aired in the UK due to being in hospital with a broken leg. Husband kindly recorded them on the Sky box and so we sat this morning, me with my leg up on lots of cushions, and finally watched the show previously known as American Sherlock.
I know I should be judging Elementary in its own right, not in relation to BBC Sherlock, of which I am admittedly very fond, but it’s hard to do that. Sherlock came first – came, saw and conquered as far as I’m concerned. How can I just put that to one side? Would Elementary have happened at all if not for Sherlock? It certainly wouldn’t have had so much press.
For those who don’t know (or have been living under a rock) Elementary is a modern, American series which takes the character of Sherlock Holmes and has him solving crimes in present-day New York – assisted by Joan Watson, a woman who his father has hired to be his ‘sober partner’. This Holmes is a recovering addict who previously worked as a consultant to Scotland Yard and then came to NY for re-hab. He gets in touch with Captain Gregson who knew him from London and offers his skills as a consultant detective.
I started watching it and couldn’t miss the similarities to Sherlock. The coat with the collar, the scarf, the use of technology, the modern setting, the title set against a cityscape, a crime centring on a missing phone (Study in Pink anyone?). Yes this Sherlock is half naked when we first see him and covered in tattoos, but the eccentricities, the perfect English diction, the frenetic behaviour all made me think of Benedict Cumberbatch. And Captain Gregson is basically BBC’s Lestrade with an American accent.
But this show is different to Sherlock, in content and style, and this did start to take over as the episode progressed. Watson is a woman (played by Lucy Liu) and is not an army doctor – she’s not a soldier missing the battlefield like Martin Freeman’s John. There is no big brother Mycroft – instead Holmes has wealthy parents looking over his shoulder. And it’s a more conventional cop drama, not as stylised as Sherlock – Elementary plays things for real with a greater sense of naturalism. Personally, I think this makes it dull by comparison, less imaginative, less humour, less of a ‘cult-classic’. Husband disagreed and said that this gave it gravitas, quality.
But, putting BBC Sherlock aside, my biggest problem with Elementary was that it was so diluted from the original Sherlock Holmes stories and characters that it was barely recognisable. Change the names and you’d have just another US cop show like The Mentalist or CSI. There were very few references to the canon and the stories had no relation to any of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tales. Yes I know they threw in a few things like the bees, opera, violin, Gregson, mind-attic and the Holmes-Watson partnership, but that’s simply not enough for me. I doubt people will watch Elementary and feel fascinated enough to want to read the originals or support the Undershaw Preservation Trust for example.
BBC Sherlock comes across as a loving tribute relying heavily on, and cleverly re-working, the source material – created by genuine Sherlock Holmes fans making their own fan-fiction. I don’t know what Elementary came cross as to be honest, but it didn’t feel like that to me.
So did I hate it? No, not at all. It was very watchable and Jonny Lee Millar played Holmes well, with a nice balance of warmth, rudeness, control and rage. And I really liked the tattoos; they set Holmes even farther apart from the official police, from normality. The way the show brings in Holmes’ drug use is clever too. I thought I would have issues with Watson being a woman but I didn’t. It felt completely natural and they did a great job of keeping the friendship free from sexual tension. My only criticism here would be that I find Lucy Liu a bit cold, severe even. I have heard it said that she would have made a great Holmes and this may well be true.
The deductions aren’t bad – some work a lot better than others – but they do demonstrate fairly well Holmes’ method.
I enjoyed the second episode more (husband enjoyed it less) as it did contain more banter between Holmes and Watson and the crime was more in-line with the sort of thing encountered in the originals – someone bumping off heirs to secure a large inheritance.
I will carry on watching (gosh that will be a big relief for the show’s creators) and my gut feeling is that things will get better. Elementary might be a slow-burn, but it’s simmering away quite well so far. However, I doubt it will match the firestorm that is BBC Sherlock and sadly doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the original stories. Took my mind off the pain of my broken leg though, and for that I am most grateful.