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Review: Elementary (Pilot)


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A former surgeon, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is hired to work as a sober companion for a police consultant, Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) after he breaks out of rehab. Holmes begins to consult with the New York City Police Department on a homicide, with Watson assisting.

PROS: Surprisingly entertaining, with Liu and Miller proving to be a good matching.
CONS: Lacks almost all of the brilliance that makes the BBC’s Sherlock so good.

When Elementary was announced last year, the backlash was immediate; the team that brought the BBC’s Sherlock to the small screen threatened a lawsuit if there were too many similarities, and fans everywhere panned the news of another modern-day Sherlock Holmes story being brought to American television. Despite that, Elementary is surprisingly watchable, despite being a lackluster weekly procedural.

Comparisons to Sherlock are inevitable, but I’ll try to avoid them, because while Elementary is a modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, there’s quite a lot that’s different, in tone and style of the new show. Elementary is less brilliant than its overseas counterpart.  Our Sherlock Holmes is simply very observant, rather than almost supernaturally so, while I never get the sense for what makes him tick. Other modern adaptations of Holmes, such as Dr. Gregory House, of House, MD and Holmes from Sherlock make this pretty clear early on; Holmes is driven by the act of solving the puzzle, because it keeps him occupied. It’s hinted at, but never quite driven home.

Rather than Sherlock Holmes, the real player in the show seems to be Joan Watson, the gender-swapped sidekick to the titular character. Liu’s done some excellent work on the television before – just see her in the latest season of Southland – and she keeps up effortlessly with a manic Holmes, even equaling him in the pilot. Watson has traditionally acted as a practical foil to Holmes, and this latest iteration does that quite well.

I found Elementary to be surprisingly funny at points; this Sherlock isn’t quite as dark as others, and it takes a sort of sarcastic humor like that of the Guy Ritche films or House, MD, and this works quite well. Weekly television dramas seem to thrive well on light character drama, and if this show stays the course, it’ll do well alongside similar shows, such as ABC’s Castle.

It’s hard to resist comparing Sherlock and Elementary together, and I won’t.  Fans of Sherlock hoping to find a show that resembles the BBC version and fails will gleefully be satisfied. Sherlock is a far superior show in terms of writing, acting and production, but I think they’re looking at this in the wrong way. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most oft-adapted characters in literary history, and each has their own quirks and changes from the original. While Sherlock certainly feels like it’s closer to the original stories than this latest version, Elementary draws on the basic elements of what we collectively remember from character; a smart man who solves crimes with an acute sense of observation, with his trusty sidekick doctor friend. Elementarys got all of the basics of a successful show, even if it’s not the brilliant adaptation it follows.

About Andrew Liptak (180 Articles)
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He is a 2014 graduate of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and has written for such places as Armchair General, io9, Kirkus Reviews, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. His first book, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction is now out from Apex Publications, and his next, The Future Machine: The Writers, Editors and Readers who Build Science Fiction is forthcoming from Jurassic London in 2015. He can be found over at and at @AndrewLiptak on Twitter.

4 Comments on Review: Elementary (Pilot)

  1. Hunh. Thanks, Andrew. Chemistry can only go so far though.

  2. I enjoyed the show, but found it unnecessarily frenetic. I’m also not used to Holmes being the slow one, as this version was once or twice. Genius=no-social-skills is also a device that’s starting to seem a bit lazy on the writers’ part. He’s smart, he should know how to fake it, what he’s faking, and when faking it will get him what he wants.

  3. As a fan of both shows I think this review is pretty spot on. They are definitely different takes on an incredibly classic character and should be viewed separately, not in direct competition with each other. The BBC version already stands out because it is made for a completely different market, a different audience and you have to add in the fact those are 90-minute episodes that only show three per season (a format which the American version could never attempt).

    I think they are both good in their own way, the BBC version is intelligent, tense and engaging, while the American version is light-hearted, quirky and fun.

  4. On one forum I’m on, many who watched it were decidedly unexcited by the show but were willing to give it another shot or two. Despite its competent acting, directing, and writing, absolutely nothing was surprising in the mystery or the characters.

    Maybe, Holmes has been done one too many times.

    Its lackluster nature is really apparent in comparison to PERSON OF INTEREST which is on the same night.

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