I was very suspicious of Elementary when I first found out about it. A modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptation coming out so soon after the BBC version?! It sounded like a cynical cash-in to me. When I found out that CBS originally wanted to remake the BBC's Sherlock before they decided to make "one of their own" I became even more suspicious of it. Then I found out that the show had changed John Watson's gender which gave me nauseating visions of Sherlock and Joan having a romance! Finally, the title of the show is lame and I wonder how many clueless viewers have been left confused by the show not being about a kindergarten class? :D
Now that I've seen the first season of Elementary I now realise that Elementary is a very different show to Sherlock. In fact it's so different to Sherlock in terms of its tone and style that I'm not even sure if it's fair to compare them. I'm going to make a real effort not to do very many Sherlock-Elementary comparisons in this post. Instead I'll attempt to rate Elementary as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation and as a TV show in its own right. In a nutshell: as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation I think Elementary is really bad and as a TV show in its own right I think it's only mediocre. I do understand that Elementary has quite a lot of fans so if you're an Elementary fan who happens to be reading this... I'm sorry, I just don't like the show. Now I'll explain why in some more depth so you might want to stop reading altogether.
To me, Elementary is a Sherlock Holmes adaptation in name only. There are Sherlock Holmes purists out there that think that any modern day update of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories at all is unacceptable whether it's by the BBC or the CBS. But Sherlock is still far more popular with the fandom because it's a show that's made by passionate Sherlock Holmes fans and you can tell. That's not the case with Elementary. I don't consider myself to be a purist these days but I have my limits. There wasn't a single episode in Elementary where I got the sense that I was watching a show made by passionate fans of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. References to the canon only show up occasionally. Only one of season one's 24 episodes is a direct adaptation of an Arthur Conan Doyle story (Dead Man's Switch is an adaptation of The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton). Also, Elementary fails to capture a hugely important aspect of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories: that they're not just mysteries. They're adventures! This is a hugely important aspect of the ACD stories that Elementary has completely missed. Instead Elementary is really more of an American procedural show in the style of The Mentalist. If I enjoyed procedurals then I suppose the tone of Elementary being so different to the tone of the ACD stories might not have bothered me so much, but since I've never been a fan of these shows this was a major deal breaker for me.
- Elementary's Sherlock has a drug addiction. Sherlock Holmes isn't a drug addict in the ACD stories! He only indulges in opium on those occasions when he hasn't got a crime to solve. It's a means of assuaging his boredom. If Holmes has got an addiction to anything it's crime-solving, not drugs. But in Elementary Sherlock is a recovering heroin addict and it's all because he lost the love of his life who is... Irene Adler. *Groans*
- Elementary's Sherlock is far too emotional. The majority of the time it's actually Watson who comes across as the more calm and rational of the two!
- Elementary's Sherlock isn't intelligent enough. The deductions that Sherlock makes in Elementary are the sort of things that all crime scene investigators are trained to pick up on e.g. in the Pilot episode when Sherlock says that one of the suspects can't be the killer because his feet are smaller than the footprints on the floor.
- Elementary's Sherlock has sex with prostitutes. Did they really think a modern-day version of the character would do this?!
- Elementary's Sherlock Holmes comes across as a spoilt brat. Many Elementary fans believe that their Sherlock is "nicer" and "more likeable" than the BBC character but I completely disagree. Elementary's Sherlock complains about his father constantly - the man who gave him an expensive house to live in, paid for his rehab treatment, and provided him with a sober companion. He sleeps with prostitutes. He's sullen and doesn't seem to have the slightest sense of humour. He lacks charm and charisma. He isn't intense enough. He needs someone to look after him. When he's rude to people he's clearly being rude on purpose, and often without even the slightest provocation. The BBC's Sherlock can be rude at times but the majority of the time he doesn't seem to understand when he's being rude, and the BBC's Sherlock is kind and affectionate to the few people that he really, truly cares about.
Elementary has received quite a lot of attention because of its female Watson but it's not actually the first Sherlock Holmes adaptation to change the character's gender. CBS actually produced a made-for-TV film pilot way back in 1987 that featured a female Watson. Initially I was very much against the idea of a female Watson at first because it sounded gimmicky and I was afraid that they were going to turn Holmes and Watson into lovers. But in the end I was far more upset about the changes to Watson's backstory than the character's gender change. Like Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu does a competent job at playing her character - I think she gave the better performance of the two actually - but her character is just so different to the Watson of the canon. There are basically three intrinsic aspects of Watson's character that should remain intact in any adaptation of the story:
- He's a former soldier who fought in Afghanistan
- He's a doctor.
- He's a writer.
and Neverwhere. In Elementary Dormer does the best she can with what she's been given. I just hated what she'd been given! Most Sherlock Holmes adaptations really struggle with Irene's character. They tend to turn her into a criminal or make her Sherlock's love-interest. Even the Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia didn't portray Irene all that well imo. Irene Adler is an important character in the canon. She outsmarted Sherlock and made him realise that he shouldn't dismiss women. Despite Irene's scandalous past she was a woman of integrity. She didn't pine after the King of Bohemia. She married a better man and moved on with her life. Elementary's Irene Adler is the worst portrayal I've seen so far because the writers chose to make her Sherlock's lover and to make her and Moriarty the same person! Apparently even many Elementary fans thought this was stupid! Now I actually kind of like the idea of a female Moriarty. The character is supposed to be an evil criminal mastermind after all so a female Moriarty kind of makes sense in a weird way. People tend to think of criminal masterminds as male. An evil female criminal mastermind would be able to fool people into thinking they were good and harmless much more easily. They would be really dangerous. So I'm fine with Moriarty being female. I'm just not fine with Moriarty having a sexual relationship with Sherlock and also being Irene Adler! This is completely ridiculous! Oh yeah, Moriarty ends up being defeated really easily in this show too. Joan uses a simple trick on her that Sherlock had already used on a different villain earlier in the season. So much for Moriarty being a criminal genius!
I can see how viewers who haven't read the ACD stories could enjoy Elementary and I can understand how procedural fans could enjoy it. I'm done with the show though. It didn't work for me at all. I had so many issues with it and I doubt I'll ever watch it again. I still think that there's plenty of room for other Sherlock Holmes adaptations though, adaptations which are different to Sherlock but still manage to stay true to the ACD stories. I would welcome a version with a genuinely well-done female Moriarty. An adaptation set during the Great Hiatus would be really interesting. Most of all, I think I would love an adaptation on Moriarty's life as a consulting criminal that also focuses on his relationship with Sebastian Moran :D Or how about a Mycroft Holmes spin-off?! The possibilities are endless...
Age Certificate: 15