CBS’ Elementary finally wins me over

cbs-elementary-jonny-lee-miller-lucy-liu-imageI presumed I would absolutely love series three of BBC Sherlock, but sadly I didn’t. I also presumed I’d dislike season two of Elementary but I actually rather enjoyed it. I do like to be proved wrong every now and then.

I think I have judged Elementary a bit harshly in the past and perhaps been a bit too glowing and gushing about Sherlock. So, to set the record straight, I actually found myself enjoying the last season of Elementary despite my scepticism.

No, it’s not Holmes from the canon, it’s not heart-stopping ‘event television’ and it is rather over sentimental at times, but hey, it’s a good crime drama. And I think that’s what I liked about it.

It was simply Holmes and Watson solving clever crimes together. Most of the episodes stuck to the formula in the canon – Holmes and Watson are presented with an unusual case, they work on it together, Holmes solves it and along the way we see little glimpses of their friendship and personalities. Nice and simple.

Ok, we had Watson and Mycroft falling in love and Mycroft actually being a spy (started to feel the old scepticism coming back at that point) but it did work in the context of the series as a whole.

That’s the beauty of having so many episodes, the characters can travel a full arc of development and you get balance – a splash of personal drama interspersed with good old fashioned detection. There were plenty of episodes to suit all tastes.

Having only three episodes to play with, BBC Sherlock didn’t have that luxury and consequently, in my opinion, didn’t get the balance right with series three.

The partnership between Holmes and Watson in ‘Lemon-Entry’ is touching, funny and, for me, very true to the spirit of the original. Jonny Lee Miller plays Holmes as a sensitive but brilliant man-child. He manages to show Holmes’ vulnerability extremely well, conveying all his neuroses in a believable and strangely likable way.

I think it was a bit harsh of me in a previous blog to describe veteran actor Sean Pertwee as a ‘Rupert-Graves-a-like’. Yes his world-weary Lestrade was cut from a similar cloth but they took him much deeper. Particulary in the episode ‘Ears to You’ (gotta love any show with an episode called Ears to You) which sensitively played out the complexities of his relationship with Holmes. Sorry Sean, I take it back.

The relationship between Holmes and Mycroft was a bit silly at first and then turned into an unexpected joy. I’m not sure about the whole ‘spying thing’ though, and I’m even less sure about the whole ‘restaurateur/chef’ thing. I do wish people would leave Mycroft alone and just let him be a fat Government official with a big brain and even bigger behind. This all-singing-all-dancing action man that people want to turn him into doesn’t really work for me.

I’ve been watching re-runs of Sherlock series two on Alibi. They are brilliant, especially A Scandal in Belgravia and The Reichenbach Fall. The sequences when Moriarty breaks into the Tower of London and then the sequence set to Nina Simone’s Sinner-man are simply breath-taking. Oh gosh, here I go glowing and gushing again. It’s just so sad that, in my opinion, they lost that magic in series three. I think the contrast is so great that it’s almost as if they were made by completely different people. Maybe my disappointment has fuelled my new-found enjoyment of Elementary. I knew what to expect and I got it. I just liked it more than I thought I would. There’s something rather comforting about that.

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author from Shropshire
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4 Responses to CBS’ Elementary finally wins me over

  1. Gaurav says:

    (Apologies if this comment approaches post-level length)

    Ah Ha!

    I have been waiting for you to write this post. As someone who follows your blog religiously, I knew you would eventually get there much like I did.

    I live in the US. Grew up in India reading Holmes and watching the Granada series. LOVED the first season of BBC Sherlock. Could not imagine a better modern adaptation of Holmes. I think they had me at “Afghanistan or Iraq?” and the subsequent phone-based modernization of that classic encounter from the books. The difference between us is, I started noticing cracks in the 2nd series itself. I actually did not find Belgravia a great episode. I thought Reichenbach was too padded and overly stylized. By series 3, I began to despise Moffat&co. The end of the 3rd episode makes me wonder if I will even watch S4 (yes, I will, but I doubt I will like it).

    I started watching Elementary simply because it was there. I live in the US, so it is easy to access. It is Thursday nights so it’s conveniently timed. Like many Indians who grow up with a slight colonial complex about British superiority and an inexplicable disdain for American pop culture, I too was like “Hmpf! Americans doing Holmes? After Moffat’s Sherlock? No way!” After the all, the Americans had already made a hash of Moffat’s previous masterpiece, Coupling.

    But I watched anyway, partly because I ❤ Lucy Liu. The first few episodes seemed very uneven. In comparison to the tight and stylized slickness of BBC Sherlock, Elementary seemed positively pedestrian. But the wife and I kept watching, mainly because we had nothing else to watch on Thursday nights.

    Towards the end of the 1st season was when I started rethinking my earlier assessment of the show. A huge part of it was Johnny Lee Miller. When I thought back as a hardcore Doyle fan, I realized that Miller's Sherlock seemed more and more like the Sherlock from my childhood. Cumberbatch's Sherlock did start that way, but eventually he became a caricature of himself. In the books, Holmes has his quirks and idiosyncracies, but he is still a respected and dignified member of society. He is child-like but is still a grown-up. Moffat&co, as their shown went along, took Holmes from childlike to child. Almost a cartoon. He seemed less like Holmes from the books and more like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

    So after watching Sherlock S3 and Elementary S2, I thought hard and realized that Sherlock was just a copy-pasting of the old stories in a new and overly stylized 21st century context. Whereas Elementary, admittedly with the extra 15 hours to develop character arcs, seemed like a much more realistic 21st century version of Holmes. BBC Sherlock seemed lie it was parodying itself. I particularly despised the Sherlock scene where he waits on John and Mary in the Sherlock as if it was an Adam Sandler movie.

    And then I re-read the books. And I realized that Miller's Sherlock was actually more like the way Doyle presented him. Sure, Miller's Sherlock has sex. But once I got my colonial-Brit-born-Victorian hang-up over Sherlck having sex, I was able to see beyond it and realize that Doyle's Sherlock is actually a warm, human, feeling person at heart. He is not a robotic cartoon the way Moffat&co depict him by S3. Sherlock will have emotions and fears and anger and all that, and it will occasionally shine through.

    And maybe I am being a bit feminist here, but I like that Watson is a woman in Elementary. And an intelligent and assertive woman with more of a spine and greater influence than even Doyle's Watson.

    Anyway, this comment is getting too long. So I'll end it here.

    • Thank you for your comment. Please don’t apologise for the length, I really enjoyed your reading your thoughts.

      Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who had issues with Sherlock series three. I couldn’t believe he faked death with the help of a big blue inflatable and the well-known squash-ball technique – after waiting two years that was the best they could do? People left comments on this site with their own theories which were better than that. Then to lift a plot from V for Vendetta, it’s just lazy in my opinion.

      All this time on and as you can probably tell, I still feel let down by a show I had loved and supported from the start. And though everyone else seemed to adore the stag night, I just thought it was ridiculous and gave us nothing, no further insight to Holmes at all. Seeing him drunk playing ‘Who am I?’with a post-it note stuck to his forehead did nothing for me. I agree with your comments about the waiter scene too. Husband fell asleep by that part and still hasn’t bothered to watch the rest even though it’s ready and waiting on the Sky Box. He couldn’t take his eyes of series two, and not just Lara Pulver’s naked body.

      You sum it up brilliantly – ‘BBC Sherlock seemed like it was parodying itself’. It has made Sherlock comical and over the top in the same way I feel that Guy Richie did. Love the comment, ‘they took Holmes from childlike to child’, – spot on. I don’t find him very likeable in series three.

      You are right that Holmes in the canon has his quirks but remains ‘respected and dignified’. He is a gentleman with a touch of old-England about him. I think, at the moment, Jonny Lee Miller captures this the best. And I never though I’d say that.

      It’s almost as if BBC Sherlock has become rather Americanised with lots of full-on emotion (stag night, wedding speech etc) and Elementary has brought in more Englishness to season two – episodes filmed in London, veteran Brit actors like Sean Pertwee and Rhys Ifans, episodes which are less about everyone loving everyone and more about getting on with crime solving.

      Like you, I started watching Elementary simply because it was there and because, as a life-long Holmes fan, I was curious. I never thought I’d end up enjoying it as much as I’ve grown to.

      Of course, there is nothing wrong with exploring Holmes’ emotional side, I did it myself in my novel, but I think a lightness of touch is required. I will happily admit that I didn’t always get this right in Barefoot (it was my first novel and I still had much to learn) but Moffat and Gatiss are experienced, powerful TV moguls who should have known better in my opinion. But then, series three broke records for viewing figures so who am I to comment?

      I just hope they can bring back the magic for series four. After all, I do think they paved the way and Elementary wouldn’t exist without Sherlock. But at times, I think both forget that they wouldn’t exist without the wonderful stories of Conan Doyle which still surpass anything the rest of us have created.

      Delighted you ‘follow my blog religiously.’ It’s a massive compliment, thank you.

  2. It’s interesting you’ve changed your thoughts on Elementary. For me season two further cemented it as a half-baked television crime drama. I loath this version of Watson, not because she’s a a woman, but because she’s terribly bland as a character and actress. Miller is the only thing that keeps the show interesting. I found myself getting more and more annoyed with the series with every episode, especially what they did with Mycroft, Lestrade, and Moriarty.
    I agree that series 3 of Sherlock wasn’t as strong as 1 and 2. It was more of a personal development series – but there was much more emotional impact from those three episodes than series 1 and 2 of Elementary. I don’t feel the writers of Elementary get Holmes at all. I feel the series is completely lost on me now.

    Great post Charlotte! Enjoy reading them!

    • Thanks Luke, really glad you enjoy my blogs even when we don’t agree! I completely understand why you would feel this way about Elementary and I am surprised by my own change of heart. I read your blog about season two and expected that I would agree with you but somewhere along the line I’ve found an affection for it.

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