I’ve talked about Elementary a few times before this, and if you read those two posts you know that I was slow to appreciate the show at first. So what made me go from lukewarm to squealing fangirl over the course of less than a season?
5) Racial diversity
Elementary is one of the few shows on TV that doesn’t try to fill a diversity quota with background POC. Instead, we have regular and recurring, three-dimensional characters in Joan and Detective Bell and Alfredo. These characters have their own complicated histories, their portrayal doesn’t rely on stereotypes, and, while their plot-related conflicts are never explicitly tied to their racial identity, the characters are not divorced from their heritage.
The show constantly turns stereotypes on its head—when Joan offers a traditional Chinese remedy for Sherlock’s cold, it isn’t because of hokey orientalist superstition—she does it because there’s research to support it and it actually turns out to help. Alfredo used to be a carjacking junkie, but he’s turned his life around and is now Sherlock’s sober sponsor.
Furthermore, when POC characters are one-off characters, they’re still far better-developed and nuanced than many POC characters offered by other shows, and they’re never just the victim of the week or the evil brown person.
4) The show is not afraid to call out problematic behavior.
On mainstream television shows, and even on many of our more niche faves, we’re constantly bombarded with sexism, homophobia, and racism, among other terrible things. Just a few weeks ago a black female character on Supernatural gave the Winchesters a much-deserved scolding and was met with a “That was hot” from Dean, and Sam, usually the more socially aware of the two, simply agreed. In Elementary, when someone (probably Sherlock) says or does something problematic, the chances are that someone (probably Joan) is going to shut that person down. She and others regularly point out the -isms inherent in character’s phrases and actions, and those behaviors are always portrayed as bad. It even manages to do this without getting soapbox-y. It’s a breath of fresh air.
In April 6th’s episode, “Snow Angels”, Elementary did a remarkable thing in introducing the character Miss Hudson. Miss Hudson is a formerly kept woman who acted as a muse to creatively-blocked artists; she has impeccable style and minor OCD. She’s also trans. Candis Cayne, the actress who played her, is herself trans. Throughout the episode, never was she or her gender the butt of a joke; never was her trans-ness made out to be tragic; and never was she misgendered or referred to with a slur. She will apparently be a recurring character, and I can’t wait to see more of her.
2) It avoids sexualization of its ladies.
Elementary does a stunning job remembering that women can be sexy and strong characters without being unnecessarily sexualized. The scene that comes first to my mind as an example of this was also in “Snow Angels”—Sherlock bounds into Joan’s room and throws some clothes at her, telling her to get up and get dressed so they can go out. She commands Sherlock to turn around while she gets dressed, and in any other show she probably would have gotten out of bed and gotten dressed behind him, allowing the audience to see her changing even if Sherlock doesn’t. Instead, she puts on all her clothes under the sheets, and even does up the zipper on the back of her shirt herself.
One of the best things about this show is that they could have spent this whole season building up a romance between Joan and Sherlock, but they decided to grow a friendship between them instead. Every scene that could be used to add romantic tension is subverted into a platonic moment instead. There’s a reason the two of them made my list of brotps back in February. A show with a male and a female lead where the two of them hooking up isn’t part of the endgame is unicorn-rare on television, and it’s great to see it in Elementary.
This show is tremendously feminist, a breath of fresh air compared to many other shows, and I will continue to watch it as long as it graces the airwaves. You should watch it too.