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Reviews Comments: Pilot Review Elementary episode/issue review by James Picard

Elementary is a difficult show to pin down. As a fan of Doyle's original stories, I love getting to see them adapted to the film format. However, every franchise with multiple adaptations has at least one that's just okay. That's this one. Starting with the good parts, some of the shots of NYC are really beautiful, and the camera work is really great. The show looks and feels like it really is in New York. The actor who plays head detective Gregson (feel free to correct me if I got the name wrong) is very believable, and he does his best to stand out in what little screen time he's given. Johnny Lee Miller also turns in a good performance, if a bit rocky. And that's where we hit the flaws. The writing for this episode was incredibly confusing. I had no idea what direction the show was taking. Was it trying to be a a regular crime-drama, or was it trying to be like BBC's Sherlock? Was it trying to focus on the characters or the crime? Is Sherlock supposed to be a sympathetic man who doesn't understand people, or a cruel, cold-hearted person who only cares about solving crimes? I had absolutely no idea. I couldn't tell where the show was going, or what it wanted me to feel. That's the biggest flaw. Unfortunately, it's not the only one. Lucy Liu was positively bland as Watson, and I don't think she ever had a facial expression other than bored or angry. I'm supposed to feel sympathy for her, but I'm not given a person who invokes sympathy. And as for the plot, I kept noticing the same thing over and over again: Sherlock shouldn't be needed. The police should be able to figure out that a floor is crooked, or that it's suspicious if a suspect's most prized possession goes missing. But because they're not, Sherlock has to come in and save the day. But in the modern crime drama, the character's skills just aren't needed. They have people already for this sort of thing. In conclusion, while the pilot does have some good points, it has just as many bad points. It's not bad by any means, but it's not good either. It's just okay, and for me, that's not enough to keep me watching.


  • Cortez
  • 2nd Nov 12
I disagree. It's most certainly not a rip-off(Sherlock Holmes is a public domain character, anyone can make an adaptation). Joan Watson is certainly not bland and Holmes isn't cold or distant. The Cops are not dumb at all and are very competent, Gregson especially.

It doesn't seem like you watched the show at all.

  • fenrisulfur
  • 2nd Nov 12
In my experience, your criticism sounds more like it would go better against the BBC's Sherlock. Joan Watson actually questions Holmes, while in Sherlock you have Watson as essentially Sherlock's pet. If any Watson is bland, it's the guy who Holmes keeps around to dose with military hallucinogens. If there's a distant Holmes, it's Sherlock's Holmes, who cannot understand social cues enough to understand a woman is attracted to him. Lastly, in the Elementary pilot, the only cops who question Holmes are the ones who don't know him. They aren't incompetent, they just don't trust him.
  • GoldenAlex
  • 5th Dec 12
You...DID watch the show didn't you?
  • JamesPicard
  • 29th Dec 12
Yes, I DID watch the pilot, it just seems I saw something different than you guys. I don't hate it, and I never actually said it was a rip-off. What I did say is that I had no idea what they were trying to do, and while it wasn't bad, it just felt by-the-numbers. And as for the cops, yeah, they should've noticed that a floor was slanted, that's kind of hard to miss. And if an important possession of the suspect is missing, they shouldn't just dismiss it like they did. And BBC's Watson is perfectly capable of calling Holmes out, which he very particularly does for the same episode you reference, fenrisulfur. Do you happen to remember the scene where he points out to a clearly terrified Holmes that what he saw likely wasn't real? Or how about the time he gets upset that Holmes doesn't care about the people who died in an explosion because of Sherlock's carelessness (I know, different episode)? He may be Sherlock's friend and assistant, but he doesn't hesitate to question him. But the Watson here never changed her facial expression, never changed her tone, and just came off really bland. As for Cortez, being a public-domain character does NOT mean the show isn't a rip-off, it just means that the literary Holmes and the name itself can be used by anybody. That does NOT mean the show didn't take character traits and story elements from BBC's show. If it's a rip-off (which I'm still not saying it is) than it's ripping off the BBC show, not the books. As for the rest of your points, I can't really argue with them because I have no idea what you're using to prove it. If you're not going to back up your own opinion, don't go telling me I'm the one who didn't watch the show. And again, I never said I didn't like Elementary, I'm just indifferent to it. I thought it was okay, and I can see why some would like it' it's just not for me.
  • librarymouse
  • 1st Jan 13
You're writing a review on the entire series after only watching the pilot? Really? :< Elementary's Watson does question and challenge Sherlock regularly throughout the show and gives Sherlock the verbal smackdowns for encroaching on her privacy (by reading and answering her text messages), acting inappropriately in public, trying to zone out in group addiction therapy meetings, etc... which you would know if you bothered to watch past the pilot. It's a completely different interpretation of the public domain character. A big example is how the two shows took Sherlock's drug abuse and handled them in entirely different ways.

Do you not understand what the word "reinterpretation" means? They're starting from the same source material, so of course there will be similarities. If you're "indifferent" to it, why take the time to a negative review based on 1 episode?
  • TomWithNoNumbers
  • 2nd Jan 13
He does say in big letters 'pilot review' so I choose to interpret that as a review of the pilot. And a pilot is meant to introduce a series and give a taste of what it will be like going forward, so discussing those aspects seems fair game. I mean executives cancel or produce a show based on a pilot.

Also ripping off is fair because of what we know about the history. The network tried to license the rights for Sherlock from the BBC and when the BBC failed to give them the rights they immediately announced a new modern reinterpretation of Sherlock Holmes that they were going to make. These are suspicious circumstances.
  • librarymouse
  • 3rd Jan 13
Sorry Tom With No Numbers! James Picard's initial review is titled "Pilot Review". I assumed that later episodes of Elementary were now available for argument after James used examples from season 2 of Sherlock in his comments. I'm totally game for arguing the merits of the pilot, but comparing the pilot to 2 seasons worth of Sherlock is biased and unfair.
  • TomWithNoNumbers
  • 3rd Jan 13
Sorry myself, it's completely fair game for you to make arguments based off all the available episodes, I just meant that your first sentence was a bit unfair on him. His review was fair enough and you countering with examples of how it gets better or doesn't turn out like that is also fair ass I see it
  • JamesPicard
  • 4th Jan 13
Okay librarymouse, I would like to point out I only used series 2 of Sherlock AFTER someone else commented on that. But in fairness, let's put Sherlock to the test. I can compare the pilot to just the first episode of Sherlock, and say yes, this is better. Let's start with the obvious: where is the inspiration from? A Study in Pink was clearly an updated version of A Study in Scarlet, minus the lengthy backstory for the killer. Elementery's pilot? If it's inspired by Doyle, I haven't read that one. Now, I understand that they couldn't make it exactly like A Study in Pink, but it felt totally bereft of Doyle's influence. I'll admit, I have not read even close to all of Doyle's stories, but it didn't feel like what I have read at all. But Sherlock contained many references, jokes, and even lines from the stories, without outright plagiarizing them. However, that probably still doesn't mean much if the story is good. Is a Study in Pink's? Yes, phenomenal, even. It manages to balance the introduction of the characters, recurring themes, and ideas, all while giving an interesting mystery, and one that has enough twists to catch someone off guard on at least something. But how does Elementary differ? While it does offer an intriguing premise for Watson meeting Holmes, that's about the best it gets. The mystery, while violent, feels oddly minor and commonplace, like it's not a big deal. Granted, the characters don't really act like it is, which may have more to do with the acting than the writing, but with all the other crime dramas out there, this feels very mundane, and something you could find from any of them. While it did have a few twists, it never actually made me think much more than "huh." But, even the worst of plots can be saved by good actors and good characters, so let's compare those. In Sherlock, the detective is a self-proclaimed "high-functioning sociopath" and has a LOT of trouble talking to people. However, he does go out of his way to treat John more nicely than he treats others, and has one of the best motivations to solve crimes in a crime drama: he enjoys it. And this is incredibly clear in Cumberbatch's performance, and he looks like he's having the time of his life playing this role. Never once was it difficult to understand what kind of person Sherlock was. If you don't like his performance, fair enough, I can understand. But he did put a lot of effort into making his Sherlock unique in an era where crime dramas practically have to borrow everything from someone else. In Elementary, I was never sure what direction the character was going. At times he seemed like a rather nice person who genuinely wanted to help people, and other times he felt like a distant, hardened person who didn't understand others. While I will say that I could tell that Johnny Lee Miller was trying his best, everything just seemed very indecisive. Sherlock Holmes is a distinct character, but I could not tell how to define the Elementary version. And as for Watson, in Sherlock he was immediately shown to be a depressed, unhappy man who didn't know how to cope with his dull life. And twisting it so that Watson actually misses the war was a brilliant character choice, and helped make him feel very well-rounded. In Elementary, Watson never seemed to change facial expressions, and reacted very oddly to some of the things Sherlock said and did, like the writers were trying to make him into a sort-of knock off of BB Cs. Really, all this made me think was "Wow, she really needs to lighten up". As for her character trait of recovering from the failed surgery, I honestly never got that impression in any scene other than when this is revealed. It's introduced, and feels like it's promptly forgotten about. Other than that, she was really only there to ask the same questions as the police. Speaking of which, in Sherlock, they all felt like competent officers who had nowhere else to turn and were incredibly dedicated to their job. In Elementary, they were too dumb to notice that the floor they were STANDING ON was shifting, and thought that the fact that one of the murderer's most important items was missing was simply a case of misplacing it. This only serves to highlight their ineptitude. However, other than that the chief was likable, and probably the best performance in this episode. But in Sherlock, all the cops, including Lestrade, were interesting characters, and you could understand why they need Sherlock's help, and why they were hesitant to trust him. And the villains? Well, it's obvious. Sherlock's villain had a great motive, lots of presence, and a definite air of menace about him. In Elementary, he was only interested in money, and felt pretty hammy. Again, in fairness, Sherlock's first episode was double the length of Elementary's, leaving it a lot of time to devote to characters and a good plot. But plenty of other shows have had good pilots with the same running time as Elementary, so it still doesn't have an excuse for being bland. It just has one for not measuring up to its predecessor. But that's just the point: it doesn't measure up. Maybe this is good for some people, but for me, it felt generic and boring, and I would prefer something else. And whether or not you like Sherlock, it is impossible to label it as generic.
  • JamesPicard
  • 4th Jan 13
Isn't it funny how that comment was longer than my actual review? :)
  • librarymouse
  • 7th Jan 13
Hey James, full disclosure: I'm a fan of both shows. That said, I find the evidence you're citing to support your opinion questionable at best. You're 100% entitled to your opinion of the show, but I personally don't think it's valid based on what you're presenting as your argument. It seems like you've already decided that the show is a lame rip-off of the BBC version and you're interpreting the show from that viewpoint.

Everything you say you don't like about Elementary is a direct comparison to what you like better in Sherlock, and you really don't seem to be giving this show a fair chance. You're just sounding like an angry Sherlock purist trying justify your dislike of this show.

I'm going to do this point by point, because the wall of text is giving me a headache.
  • Elementary had plenty of references to the Sherlock mythos, both subtle and overt. Shows do not win the imaginary "Better Modern Interpretation Award" by cramming in more references.
  • Of course Sherlock can fit more plot twists into its 1st episode that Elementary can in its pilot. Sherlock had 88 minutes while Elementary had 43. Trying to cram too many plot twists into that short a time span wrecks with peoples' willing suspension of disbelief.
  • Introduction of Holmes and Watson? In my opinion, interesting in both versions. Both sets of interpretations have wonderful chemistry and mesh/clash in interesting ways due to how the actors are playing their roles.
  • Jonny Lee Miller (no "h") and Benedict Cumberbatch are focusing on different aspects of the characters. Miller's Sherlock is focusing far more on his drug addiction and recovery since that is key to Elementary's modern interpretation. Drug addiction can also do crazy things to your personality, as can recovery, and the "inconsistencies" you see are consistent with what I've seen from recovering addicts. He also shows his "niceness" to Joan Watson by exercising common courtesy, which he really doesn't do for everyone. He brings her tea, holds doors open for her, pulls out her chair at restaurants, etc... Most everyone else gets treated as a puzzle piece or a means to an end, which is consistent with the Sherlock mythos.
  • I don't know how to respond to your critique of Lucy Liu, aside from wondering if we were watching the same show. It is short-circuiting my brain because I see her performance as both understated and expressive. She's subtle, and she has this amazing ability to telegraph exactly what Watson is thinking about Sherlock's latest shenanigan with one beautifully withering expression.
  • And I'm going to stop here because I'm getting bored of this and the rest of your arguments boil down to "Yeah Elementary did X, but they sucked at it and Sherlock did X way better!" Let shows stand or fall on their own merits dude.

Personally, if I reviewed an episode and had 4 separate people question if I had even seen it, I'd take it as a sign that I needed to re-watch it and re-evaluate my opinion since I clearly missed something the first time. To each their own I guess.

  • JamesPicard
  • 14th Jan 13
Yes, I'm an angry fanboy saying the show sucks by saying I didn't care for it, but I can see why other's would like it. I don't know how many times I'll have to say this. Elementary is NOT a bad show, I just felt it bland, and I prefer other stuff. As for recovering addicts, all right, I'll give you that, I don't know any so if you've had first-hand experiance, I'll defer to you. And as for the running time, I already pointed that out, I gave Elementary that. It IS at a disadvantage. But other shows have had pilots lasting just as long and in one part, but still turned out fairly good. Also, did I miss some of the things Sherlock did in the pilot? Because I don't recall any of that stuff in the episode. And as for letting shows stand on their own merit, the comparison between them was only a brief mention at the end of my review, whereas the comments have been lambasting me with it, and I've responded in kind. Overall, I did try to judge Elementary on its own merits, and while it does have a couple of good qualities, the pilot was not entertaining enough to keep me watching. I firmly welcome the idea of the two shows coexisting, but is it really a crime to prefer one to the other?
  • JamesPicard
  • 30th Mar 13
Alright, I'll admit it. I was wrong. I didn't do a good job saying the show's strengths, and I apologize for how this whole thing has gone. So to make up for it, I'm going to completely rewrite the review to better reflect my opinion of the pilot and show the things I thought were good. I apologize for how this turned out, I hope to do better.
  • JamesPicard
  • 31st Mar 13
Okay, new versions up, and again, I'm sorry I was acting like a jerk. Hope this one does a better job of reflecting my opinion and demonstrating the shows strengths, instead of only its weaknesses.
  • Sisi
  • 2nd May 13
I know this is flogging a dead horse, but I wanted to just say, please, please, PLEASE give the other episodes a go, if only to get more on Watson, as she does get MUCH better as the show progresses. Not only does constantly call Sherlock out when he needs it, but she's smart and quick enough to pick up on Sherlock's skills methods and put them to use whenever it suits her, something I don't think I've ever really seen in a Watson. They also seem to be trying their best to be creative with the whole insert Irene/Moriarty thing. If it goes in the direction I hope it does, this show wil get big points from me. Me being a big Sherlock fan, BTW. Anyway, just my two cents. This is one show you shouldn't judge by the pilot. It really does get better.
  • JamesPicard
  • 12th Jun 13
You know, maybe you're right. I've heard some more good stuff about the show, but have been a little nervous. However, I have been a little hypocritical here, refusing to give it a chance after the pilot, even though I beg to get other to continue shows because they get better latter. While my opinion on the pilot stands, it's just that: an opinion of the pilot. I haven't seen the rest of the show, and if I get the chance, I'll try it again and see. Hopefully it rises above mediocrity.
  • swanpride
  • 20th Jun 13
After all the flak you got: I actually agree with your review. Though I wouldn't say that the expression of the actress is the problem, it's the way the characters are written. From the get go, we get conflicting information about both of them (there is the strange scene in which Sherlock deduces something about Joan, which is later on revealed to be wrong, and to add to the confusion he says that he deliberately got it wrong in order not to hurt her....but if he didn't want to hurt her, why deducing her at all? I just don't get it). I'm not saying that we need to know everything about the characters in the pilot, but we need a baseline to work with. A riddle on both ends of the partnership just doesn't work. I also think that the pilot spends way too much time with Sherlock and Joan alone (and with the case), and not enough time to establish them in relation to the other characters. I actually tried out the second and third episode too, but in both cases I was able to guess were this would go fairly early on (and I'm now wondering if they use some of the writers from Castle for this one). Perhaps the show gets better later on, but even if it does, it would never work for me as something to tidy me over when the high budget productions are on hiatus. My expectations for Elementary were actually pretty low, after all, one can't expect a show with a regular number of episodes in a season to be high quality TV. But I really don't see how those character relate to canon at all....somewhere on the trope page there is a remark along the line of how can one complain about this one but not about an adaption where Sherlock is a Mouse. Well, guess what, because for one said Mouse isn't called Sherlock but Basil, and two, the backstory of him and Dr. Dawson are closer to canon than Elementary nevertheless. I really don't see how an ex trauma surgeon who lost a patient due to a mistake and now works a companion is still the same character as an army doctor who was send home after being wounded in action in Afghanistan. Or how a character who is apparently dependent on the money of his father is the same as one who invented his own job. Elementary is not bad, but based on what I saw of it, it's just a generic Crime show, which is certainly okay if you like generic Crime shows. But as Sherlock Holmes adaption - no, just no. If you would change the names of the characters, I doubt anyone would say "Hey, isn't that Sherlock Holmes?"

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