I intended for this review to stand solely on its own and not compare Elementary to Sherlock. I failed entirely. That said, Elementary is a good show so far and I hope it got good ratings and that it will succeed on CBS.
(I will be referring to CBS and BBC Sherlocks as Millerlock and Cumberlock respectively.)
So both shows are modern-day reboots of Sherlock Holmes, and both start out with a dead lady in an improbable-to-access room. And that’s where the similarities end, really. Whereas the BBC’s stories are reboots of classic Sherlock tales (“A Study in Pink” is from “A Study in Scarlet”, etc.), Elementary is a pretty standard crime procedural whose main character happens to be Sherlock Holmes. That is, plotwise, there are no obvious callbacks to the literary tradition. There are literally zillions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon stories to pick from without treading on Sherlock‘s toes, so I’d have liked to see something like that.
I wonder if they were trying so hard to not be Sherlock that they decided to avoid the literary callback thing altogether?
Really, the biggest thing I take issue with is Millerlock’s character, because I can’t really get a handle on him. This Sherlock is flawed in different ways from the BBC’s; he’s not as prim or detached, he’s scruffier and more fallible, and I think he is more keyed in to how society outside his head is supposed to work. He doesn’t have as much of a problem admitting he was wrong, he isn’t as rude or socially incompetent—and I’m not glorifying those traits in Cumberlock, but I will say that it makes the dynamic between him and Joan different from any I’ve seen in the BBC’s or really any other screen adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. He’s rude and awkward sometimes, but otherwise relatively easy to get along with, and apologetic when he’s done something bad. You can tell that he is absolutely not a slave to his addictions or his urges, and that doesn’t ring true to me with a character who is supposed to be a recovering drug addict. None of this is show-stoppingly bad or anything; it’s just very different for me.
(But for the record, I don’t take offense to the “I Googled it” line; with how attached Cumberlock is to his phone, I’m sure he Googles things all the time. The BBC just has different rules about product placement since they are funded by the British government—they can’t actually say “Google” without a very good reason.)
The million dollar question, of course, is how was Lucy Liu as Watson? She was perfectly wonderful, of course: you really relate to her frustrations with Holmes, and I am perfectly okay with the change in her character’s past (being a former surgeon rather than a war vet), although I think that means that Joan’s reactions to things are going to be a lot different than the PTSD-inspired thrill seeking of Martin Freeman’s Watson or the honorable Victorian soldier feel of Jude Law’s.
She seems less likely to be the brawn of the outfit, always involved in the action, simply because an ex-surgeon who still takes care of her hands to the extent she does is not going to be throwing punches, and she doesn’t seem like the sort to carry a weapon. But she is the one who ultimately spots the thing that solves the case in this first episode, so perhaps she’ll be a more intellectual companion? I would like to learn more about her character and see how she moves on from her past loss and does/doesn’t return to medicine. (I also like that they acknowledged and summarily discarded any potential romantic storyline between them from, like, their first conversation with each other.)
Unfortunately, I think, this show is never going to have the cult following that Sherlock does. I know that a lot of people on Tumblr seem to really love Elementary, and I’m not sure if it’s a defensive overreaction to all the fanatical Sherlockians hating on it, or if there was something about the show that I missed. (Feel free to let me know in the comments—I’m genuinely interested in hearing from someone who disagrees with me!)
I think it has too many outside factors conspiring against it, and the writing, the relationships, and even the music are so far not as compelling as the BBC’s. But it also lacks some of the problematic things that keep people from devoting themselves wholeheartedly to Sherlock, and it’s still a good show, and I’m going to tune in again next week. I recommend you check it out.