Reviews: Elementary

Much better than Sherlock.

...Well, with that incendiary title out of the way...

Look, the primary legitimate criticisms of this show I've read boil down to the fact that it's Yet Another Network Cop Show and Yet Another Troubled Genius Show with Holmes elements bolted on. I don't think that's entirely true, but it's certainly often true. It's got better taste than, say, the many clones of CSI, but any such program must stand in the twin shadows of House and Law and Order, and inevitably fall a bit short.

I guess I find a Holmes police procedural a bit more palatable than, say, a Lucifer one. And while the episode-to-episode mysteries aren't all perfect, they are generally clever enough to be enjoyable. I get how someone who overstuffs on cop shows might get tired of it, but... well, I just watch the ones I like.

Also, I really do like the clever twists on the source material's mythology. Many of them are spoiler-y, but they're actually genuinely creative and well-executed, with a particular bait-and-switch even being what I'd call brilliant.

Sure, the characters aren't perfect. There've been more than a dozen iconic Holmes performances, and the main cast generally doesn't measure up. And the writing isn't always as on-point as I'd like. Most of this, I put down to the problems of being a network show with a network budget.

...And, finally, the part you've been waiting for since the title, the Sherlock comparisons. Look. At the end of the day, these shows are apples and oranges. But, since I mildly liked the apple and intemperately hated the orange, I feel I owe an explanation.

Sherlock pissed me right off. It was trying way too hard to be clever and edgy and Moffat-ish. Elementary just sets things in the modern day, without comment, and if you catch how it's being clever with it, good on you. Sherlock grinds your nose into it with obnoxious cinematography and constant self-congratulatory jokes about how clever it's being. Elementary isn't afraid to actually give Holmes a bit of human fragility, and while that might be in some sense trend-chasing, it's much, much more tolerable than the Sherlock approach of just making him perfect, making all his flaws conveniently work in his favor, and having literally every sympathetic character gush about him. Compared to Elementary, it is shocking how little effort is put into trying new things with the characters or story. And any advantages Sherlock can claim to have are largely the result in differences in the production process across the Atlantic, rather than actual, you know, solid quality, including its excellent cast.

Elementary might not be an incredible show, but it's a perfectly functional one with some genuinely great ideas. I'd rather have that than some trying-too-hard-to-be-cool show that annoys me too much to appreciate the performances any day.

Aims for the middle - Hits it perfectly

I didn't expect great things from Elementary. My initial thought was, "Please don't set it in New York." In fairness, it's our (Americans) closest analog to London, and our recent attempts at, say, Chicago-based shows tanked. The problem is that this setting has been mind for all its worth. Furthermore, post-Giulliani New York City isn't exactly a hotbed of crime. Hotbed of winos and halal food, yes. Manhattan is a big mall.

(As an aside, this is why I sort of liked the reboot of Spider-Man. It stuck to nighttime and make the city look as menacing as it did in Kojak's day. Not here.)

Next, Elementary is not very ambitious. I can see rabid fans of Holmes and young noobs (13-21) loving the crap out of it. Geezers like me (28) can spot all of the imagery lifted from past shows. Miller may as well be Dr. House, right down to the juvenile dress sense and taste for hookers. Moriarty was lifted straight from Law & Order Criminal Intent, right down to the method Holmes uses to resolve the case. Watson isn't defined at all, which is hysterical given how silly the gender change is. Some executive wanted to have their cake and eat it too. 'We need sexual tension, but we mustn't alienate the Bible Belt with homo-eroticism; let's hedge our bets. Boy, I sure love Moonlighting." Talk about out of touch. What's the biggest draw in Sherlock? Cumberbatch and Freeman.

Also Watson's a surgeon, so we'll get to spend half of our time in TV's favorite setting: the goddamned hospital.

The show offers literally nothing innovative and refuses to take risks. It's a combinaton doctor/cop show in NYC, and those are a dime a dozen.

Reviewing the pilot

Inevitably, any review of Elementary will end up with a comparison to Sherlock, so I'll get that bit out of the way right now. Both are different tonally, and I don't think a comparison is really fair because it ultimately depends on whether you'd prefer a more sober kind of Holmes, or a whimsical kind. I tend towards the latter, but this review is going to be about whether Elementary's broody Holmes works.

What does work is the shift to contemporary. At no point did I find myself taken out of the episode or noticing any glaring anachronisms. I also liked the natural feeling shift of Watson to female, but I am concerned that this will end in unnecessary sexual tension (immediately joked towards in Holmes and Watson's first meeting). To those people about to point out to me that all male Watson already had a sexual tension with Holmes - no they don't, that's wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, gender flipping and updating seems to be the extent of the novelty. What needs to be the show's strongest point, the characters, is in fact the weakest. We have been inundated with the insensitive/troubled genius + frustrated, stable companion dynamic, and there just isn't enough to Watson or Holmes to distinguish them from the more memorable faces of Monk, or even Numb3rs; I dislike those shows, but at least I can remember the characters. In Elementary, their personalities are so muted, they come off as bland and boring. Holmes is insensitive and clever, but not in a particularly distinguishing or memorable way. Watson left no impression at all, and despite having seen the episode only a day ago, I can barely remember a damn thing about her. There is no chemistry, romantic or otherwise.

The actual mystery is captivating. The case of a missing body, and of a woman who needlessly undergoes plastic surgery, are intriguing enough to keep my attention. Buy the mystery can only remain as interesting as the people who solve them. I've already established that Watson and Holmes are dull as hell. Worst still, Holmes takes some particularly dubious leaps of logic to reach the solution. That's always frustrating, and it feels less like seeing a genius with an elegant solution, and more like a clairvoyant pulling things from his ass.

In summary, it is passable, but utterly forgettable.

After the first season...

...I think it is possible to make a fair judgement concerning the show.

Question 1: Is it a good TV show?

It depends. If you have been living under a rock and never seen a CBS show before, you might be enthralled by the twisted storylines. If you have been an avid watcher of CBS in the last years, you might get the feeling that you have seen the episodes before and be bored pretty fast because of the than very predictable storylines. If you are still watching shows like The Mentalist and Castle and can't get enough of the kind of stuff you might enjoy it nevertheless.

Question 2: Is it revolutionary TV?

The show is often praised being a flagship for gender-equality (with only one woman in an entirely male cast?) or minorities in general. Don't expect too much from it. You'll have more luck to find a compelling minority character with actual storylines in any USA Network show than in this one. Elementary is more or less standard TV level, and can go just as easy wrong as any other show. Personally, I don't want to see another episode about Asian sex-slaves from CBS ever again. Visually, it has it's moments, but again, there are other shows who do what Elementary does much better. It's just standard fare.

Question 3: Is it a good Sherlock Holmes adaptation?

No, it isn't. There are two kinds of adaptions, the ones which really try to adapt canon, and the ones which only work with the concept. Elementary falls mostly in the latter category, but there is really not much left of Sherlock Holmes. Different era, different setting, different characters with different backstories...there are a couple of nods to canon, but Elementary even gets the references wrong. In one episode Holmes refers to a "problem at Thor bridge" during which he entered a crypt, but the canon scene with the crypt happens in an entirely different story. One of the few episodes which is actually based on an existing story is the one in which Milverton turns up, but it is adapted without any understanding for the source text.

In conclusion: If you watch everything which has the Holmes name on it or if you really, really like Crime Shows, or are a fan of any of the actors, you might like this. Otherwise, don't bother. There are way better adaptations out there.

Pilot Review

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.

Great Americanized Story of Holmes

This here is my third-favorite new show of the fall 2012 season (#2 being Revolution and #1 being the Too Good To Last Last Resort.) There's a simple reason why this is the case - Sherlock Holmes, while not a lot of fun to read about, is mucho de fun to watch, especially in a setting where he's basically presented as a Mentalist-type character, a former drug addict who consults for the police. (Yes, I am aware that The Mentalist is a Holmes Expy. Don't flame me!)

Jonny Lee Miller is beyond excellent as Sherlock, of course. After seeing him play the horrifically creepy Jordan Chase on Dexter, it's a most wonderful change to see him play a good guy again. Lucy Liu is a great Joan Watson, too, and a most wonderful counterpoint to Sherlock's rampant irreverence for social norms, or cleanliness.

I wish there was a little less hatred for this show out there. Just because it's a CBS procedural doesn't make it tired or cliche. Sherlock purists need to calm down and accept that as good as their show is, this show isn't necessarily horrible as a result. And, to those who are wondering why CBS decided to make this the post-Super Bowl show, well, let us not forget, it is the #1 new show on TV, and while Person Of Interest (which really needs the boost in order to cement itself as a contender for taking the post of #1 drama away from NCIS) may have deserved it more, Elementary, as the new kid on the block - and one of the best new shows of the year - also needs the boost, and needs it a little more desperately.

Examine, taste, and enjoy!

"Just because you don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't awesome"

Speaking as an outsider to the Sherlock Holmes fandom, I'm probably not the best person to review this show, but I'll give you my two cents based on what I've seen so far.

The plot for several of these episodes are pretty boring, but what really makes up for that are the characters.

The dynamic between Holmes and Watson is refreshing to see. Most adaptations portray Sherlock as extremely intelligent, but lacks emotion and empathy, while Watson just fawns over Sherlock's brilliance as a sidekick. But it's not like that in Elementary

Sherlock doesn't just solve cases for his own amusement, he cares about the victims in these cases. While he is better at deducing people than interacting with them, and can be insensitive and cruel, he is FAR from being a cold-hearted man.

Joan is NOT the bumbling trusty sidekick who fawns over Sherlock She calls out on Sherlock's behavior and questions him. She's also a very intelligent- both medically and emotionally and is helpful in several of these cases.

Overall, this is a great Retool- esp. in character development, and CAN stand on it's own as well as the hundreds of other adaptations of Sherlock Holmes.

Extra note: Just watch the title sequence