Last week, I watched CBS’s newest drama Elementary.
Then I went and read reviews, but only the next day when I was less…riled. Both the reviews I read—from within the industry I believe—however, both seemed to think it was a good show. They seemed to believe it would work for all but fans of Sherlock Holmes.
I’d like to argue otherwise.
Yes, I know the original Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read all the short stories and novels…actually, I just checked and I read most of them this year. I don’t obsess over the canon details, however. Doyle hated his character enough to (attempt) kill him off, he clearly wasn’t worrying about the consistency of details—which is why there aren’t any. Once at college, I checked out Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes and read it in two weeks. They’re catchy, but there aren’t many character details. And I most remember the theory that between the two parts of the series, Watson and Mycroft had the real Sherlock murdered and replaced him to make more money. I’d watch that show.
Cover of The Great Mouse Detective
I am a fan of the permutations of the Sherlock Holmes ‘mythos’. Not just the remakes into movies and television shows (like the recent Downy, and Sherlock), but the more creative pastiches as well, like The Young Sherlock Holmes (self explanatory), Without a Clue (where Watson is the secret genius), and The Great Mouse Detective (come on, it’s adorable). Elementary really doesn’t break as much ground as it thinks it does.
What else is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche? House.
I suppose Elementary follows most closely in that vein, that attitude. This Sherlock is just as much a jerk as House (which is not a show I’ve ever gotten into). Not that Sherlock‘s Sherlock is nice (and even if he were kind, I don’t think he’d appreciate such a vacuous term), but he’s also a sociopath. Even so, part of his story arc is his consideration of others, especially as inspired by Watson.
Elementary‘s Sherlock, however…like Dr. House, there’s little redeemable about him outside of intelligence. Sure, it’s interesting to see him put the pieces together, but you wouldn’t want to run into him in real life.
More on him later, because I wouldn’t be as bothered by this iteration of Sherlock if it weren’t for Watson. I really wanted to like Lucy Liu, and had great hope (in spite of all evidence and common sense) for a female, American Watson. Instead. Well you can’t see me shaking my head, but I would have preferred anything but what we got. What’d we get?
Sherlock’s a jerk: that’s the consistent trait they give him anymore. This Watson, unlike Law’s and Freeman’s, however, don’t just take it. At least they snark at him. The writers made Lui’s character a doormat. She just takes all of his shit. There are several sequences where Sherlock oh-so-sincerely apologizes, because Watson has what he wants. And she buys it! Does it ever end well for her? Of course not, and despite the fact he’s clearly as sociopathic as Cumberbatch’s character, it’s never acknowledged by the show.
Dr. Watson (Photo credit: Scott Monty)
In fact, I suspect he is supposed to be sincere (even though if he meant it, he would have changed his behavior), so that he and Watson can get it on.
Now the very first scene has Watson walking up to Sherlock’s apartment, passing a prostitute on the sidewalk that he’s just sent off—probably just to unnerve her (charming)—and Sherlock’s hanging out topless. That may have been intended as fangirl bait, but, ummm…I guess Miller just doesn’t do it for me, because my only thought was ‘ick!’. Sherlock just explains to Watson (as I said, just to make her uncomfortable) that he needs sex for his thought process, and this brings me to the fundamental problem I have with this show.
It is, at once, but completely unoriginal and entirely unrelated to the source text except for the names. As Sherlock proved, you can change all the details and still have something that has something of the spirit of the original. Elementary seems to get what canon details it has from all the time it’s riffing off Sherlock.
Even then, I don’t need it to be entirely faithful. Frankly, Jeremy Brett exemplifies the canon-Sherlock for a (mostly) canon adaptation. Brett also proved that Sherlock does not have to be devoid of all human qualities to be fun to watch. If nothing else is going to resemble canon, why not stray further: Sherlock likes sex, that’s fine, but if it’s strictly for his mental process why not make him gay or bi? If Watson is a woman, why does she have to be a surgeon (a failed one, at that)? Why not make her a mortician? She knows all about death and can get information to Sherlock that he can’t get otherwise—and then she’s torn between her irresponsibility and detecting—conflict!
And why, oh why, is Sherlock even from London? It’s set in the US! Do it properly, and have him from New York City, and his arrogance even supports his back story (what, I’m from California, we can make fun of NY). And there is no reason whatsoever for the connection to Scotland Yard; I mean, why bother?
Especially since, for whatever reason, his primary police contact also met him at Scotland Yard. I may have to resort to smilies to express my full bemusement. For some reason, Sherlock bothered me less, but I can’t imagine Elementary‘s Sherlock getting away with this. For one thing, Britain is more accustomed to authoritative government and class differences, and Lestrade’s career is clearly damaged by association. Elementary hasn’t even touched it so far, and I can only imagine his cases going to court: “You let an addict find all your clues? Innocent!” For the record, I had an exceedingly similar response when I heard about TNT’s Perception.
Hopefully, I’ve shown my issues aren’t with Elementary‘s canon discrepancies, only that it’s so…Hollywood. And I do mean that in the most derogatory sense of the term. They go for all the easy answers and forgo any real creativity or risk. I suppose I’ll watch the next episode tomorrow. Maybe it only failed because they were introducing the characters, and I’ll get to see Joan punching Sherlock in the face. I will be a fan for life.