This started out as “Sherlock vs Elementary”, but since I’ve only watched season 1 of Elementary I thought I could do a better job of that article later. Instead, here’s an unnecessarily wordy blog about how I feel after watching that first Season.
Despite Johnny Lee Miller’s seemingly over-engineered performance, Elementary is beginning to grow on me. His mouthy, desperate-to-please rendition of Conan-Doyle’s character is much like Nick Grimshaw; every day allows him to acclimatize to the role a little more, and every day I want to punch him in the mouth a little less.
Don’t get me wrong, the show is eclipsed in every measurable way but one by its BBC rival. But that one way counts for something: its duration. The creators of Elementary are willing victims of the age-old ‘quantity/quality’ formula. You’re getting four times the footage at a quarter of the quality. But what’s a quarter of infinity?
The show has a procedural feel akin to Castle or the early seasons of Hawaii Five-0 with a generic murder of the week presented for our famed British hound to sniff out. The complexity and intelligence of these murders is no greater than any other US-based police procedural. What the show banks on is the deliciously twisted character of Mr Holmes providing enough intrigue to bridge the gap between mediocrity and greatness.
It takes quite a few episodes for Elementary’s Sherlock to find that balance between dispassionate smart-assary and endearing social awkwardness, but two thirds into season one it gets there. Sort of. Both incarnations of Sherlock are smug, but Cumberbatch’s feels to have earned it, somehow, even from the first episode. Miller just doesn’t capture that gravitas.
Miller’s Sherlock (let’s call him ‘Millock’, and the other one ‘Cumberlock’) seems overly happy with himself for knowing all the answers, whereas Cumberlock seems genuinely baffled whenever he has to explain something. Cumberlock exudes excitement throughout the process of deduction, like a dog who’s been told to find his lead so he can go for a walk. Millock’s more pessimistic, ebullient version just takes longer to get used to.
Then there are the Watsons. I’m all in favor of recasting iconic roles with gender switches, my personal favorite example being Starbuck in the recent rebooted series of Battlestar. Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu, may just end up coming in at a close second – if she avoids one big danger: sex with Sherlock.
Joan Watson is a fascinating character because she ticks all the boxes of the classic interpretation of the character, while adding an entirely new set. Her relationships with her friends and parents are fascinating to witness and add a fresh draft of variety to a potentially overdone piece of subject matter. But she’ll ruin it all (in my opinion) if she has sex with Sherlock. It would most likely signify the beginning of her character becoming the typical will-they-won’t-they love interest that seems to be a pre-requisite for mediocre American TV shows.
The real problem with the show, when compared to Sherlock on the BBC, is the writing. Not everyone can be Steven Moffat, and not everyone can create perfect Marvel-esqe fusions of drama, comedy and heart. But Elementary is a decent TV show, and sits perfectly as a time-killer between series of Sherlock.