Elementary may very well be television’s most highly anticipated new series, having a critical eye trained on it as television’s second Sherlock Holmes series on the air, following BBC’s Sherlock. CBS’s version, again, presents a modern take on Sir Author Conan Doyle’s iconic character, this time in New York City.
Sherlock’s character is set up as having already been established as a super sleuth across the pond. A drug addiction lands him in a New York City rehabilitation center and, upon release, he moves into one of his father’s least luxurious Brooklyn properties under the one condition that he maintains a sober companion. Cue lady Watson, a former doctor looking to save some lives after losing a patient.
As awkward as the premise may sound – using whatever Crocodile Dundee methods necessary to get Holmes to New York City – the actual execution is handled rather nicely. Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes, all tatted up and disheveled, is enjoyable to watch. His mannerisms are quirky and endearing, his ramblings are entertaining, and his monologues command attention. Miller’s Holmes may not be to the caliber of Benedict Cumberbatch, but his performance is strong enough to carry a series on his own.
Lucy Liu is surprisingly good as Dr. Watson. True, Liu has starred in numerous film and television roles, but the general response to her announcement was met with more than a little apprehension. Rightfully so, given the numerous Charlie’s Angels movies that nobody asked for. Fortunately, Liu’s role as Watson is subtle and nuanced, often helping to open up Miller’s performances and intrigue the audience.
Watson commands few scenes on her own, though they still manage to continuously slip in expository details throughout, leading to few impactful back-and-forths between her and Holmes. In a sense, Watson can been seen as the typical second hand in any character procedural, always helping to move the story along while the eccentric star does their thing, and there’s not much in the premiere that changes that. Even so, the awkwardly honest relationship that Holmes has with Watson helps to quickly build a relationship and attachment with the characters, making you want to see them together, and allowing Watson to have her moments to one-up her recovering addict.
Aidan Quinn rounds out the Sherlockian trio as Captain Tobias Gregson of the NYPD. Quinn’s performance is exactly what you’d expect from the famed actor, going back and for with Holmes, often annoyed, yet still respecting his opinion enough to go out on a limb for a case. Compared to all of television’s (many) other police liaison characters in procedurals, Quinn’s Gregson is one of the best.
Aside from its characters, what makes a Sherlock Holmes story different than any other tale of crime or murder is its unique story and approach. Elementary establishes that unique Holmes deduction and reasoning in spite of its tale, which takes far too long to become intriguing, leading off with a few too convenient assumptions coming from dirty walls and a tilted floor. As the episode progresses, the story eventually finds itself after a crime admission, leading to a relativity satisfying ending, though not due to the presence of Sherlock Holmes.
As a procedural, Elementary is good, interesting – like so many others on television. In many ways, the Elementary series premiere feels like a television procedural with Sherlock Holmes as its guest star. Often times you’ll find Holmes obtaining the same type of information that any other television detective would in the same situation, only he’s rambling a bit more while doing it.
Overall, there weren’t enough familiar Holmes moments to make it feel like a genuine Sherlock tale – instead of just a version of The Mentalist, which itself is a version of USA’s Psych. Because it’s the first episode, you can forgive a few missteps. Character development and relationship establishments get rushed for introductions and such. Still, Sherlock Holmes is the center of the series, so there should have been more engrossing scenes to show off exactly what he can do. And using Google doesn’t count.
As the series continues, Elementary has the opportunity to refine itself, slowly falling into the storytelling freedom that a multiple episode order allows. With news of Moriarty soon appearing on the series, there’s no reason not to stick around to watch. For all the comparing and complaining over Elementary and Sherlock, the truth is that it’s a competent series which puts an entertaining twist on an overly-familiar genre.
But, no, it’s not better than Sherlock.
Elementary airs Thursdays 10pm on CBS