Blast Off #13: ‘Elementary’ Vs. BBC’s ‘Sherlock’

by Bags Hooper on June 2, 2012 · 16 comments

in Elementary, Podcast, Sherlock, Team Focus Blast Off

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved Sherlock Holmes is getting a facelift in a major way this fall in the new series Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, on CBS.

sherlock holmes cbs elementary

But will Sir Doyle be rolling in his grave when he sees the new series? In the 13th Team Focus Blast Off, BuzzFocus Community Manager Ernie Estrella and I discuss the latest news on Elementary, the CBS modernization of the Sherlock Holmes saga, which will be set in New York City. In the wake of the current BBC Sherlock series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, we look at key differences between Sherlock and Elementary – most notably Liu as Watson. We also explore all the things that made Sherlock great and what pitfalls showrunner Rob Doherty should avoid in order to reach the same success as Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.

Listen to the latest Team Focus Blast Off and let us know your thoughts on CBS’ Elementary, slated for a Fall 2012 premiere, Vs. BBC’s Sherlock, currently heading into its third season.
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  • …..

    “In america, you know we have trains, you know it’s the present day.”

    …Because Britain doesn’t have trains. Genius.

    Modern re-tellings of the sherlock holmes story were happening decades before BBC’s Sherlock. Honestly, I find Elementary more likeable. Maybe not a better show overall but more likeable. It’s a fun show and a nice one to watch. You can actually invest in Miller’s Sherlock because the character is likeable as opposed to the BBC version which you can really only admire. Also, one of the best twists I’ve seen so far in television.

  • IdealisticPragmatist

    Listening to this now that the first season of Elementary has drawn to a close is an exercise in why it’s a bad idea to make assumptions about a show you haven’t seen and then pontificate about it for an hour. Whether you like the direction Elementary went in or not, there’s no hiding the fact that these two ended up getting almost everything about it wrong.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/vanessa.knutsen Vanessa Lee Knutsen

    Have watched all but the last episode to date. Is it great? No. They still need to fire up Dr. Watson’s character more…Holmes (in the current American TV mold of Brilliant but Socially Obnoxious Man Babysat by some Longsuffering Woman) is fairly interesting…but they need to take his character growth deeper. He needs to learn some manners and not be such a pig. Watson needs to be much stronger…By now, a real life woman of her training would be ready to let him have it and set some stronger limits…
    But remember…this lite version still has its good momemts…And it might lead the unknowing viewer to find the original AC Doylestories…
    Also…hope they bring in a great British older actor to play his longsuffering father…of whom post Y 2 K says “I wouldn’t give a Tic Tac (candy) for my father…”…
    I would even refer to his presumed great grandfather Sherlock…and enrich this interesting but a bit shallow version with…some “history”…

  • lovemydesignergenes

    Hoping tho that the professional relation stays intact for a long, long time…they should not turn into a romantic couple. Someone like him needs to walk a long road before he would even be mature enough to deal with an emotionally mature woman.

  • lovemydesignergenes

    I liked the show. Have not seen the BBC “Sherlock” but I judged the show Elementary on its own merits as an American crime drama set in New York city.

    As a modern takeoff (tho not exact recreation) on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories of about 100 years ago, I thought the characters and casting was quite good. Lucy Liu, as Dr. Watson, is Holmes’ new medical companion (hired by his unseen father to regularly watch him and test him for drugs). Her Dr. Watson is a wounded and layered woman who quickly figures out more about Holmes’ inner self – while he deduces mostly surface or publicly known issues concerning her past. They work together to solve a crime and the brilliant (but emotionally immature) 21st century Sherlock is wise enough to toe Dr. Watson’s line as maybe he realizes…he needs her help.

    She is right, though. “You are so full of it” she says. Think of 2012′s Sherlock Holmes as the slightly off balance great-grandson of the venerable Sherlock Holmes of Edwardian London.

  • Mike Moran

    “I wonder how American audiences would feel if a UK channel was to make a British version of Superman or some other US icon and place them in London?”

    That already happened. Mick Anglo converted Captain Marvel into Marvelman for British audiences. Decades later Alan Moore would pick the character back up, modernize him, and create some brilliant and acclaimed stories. Amazing what a trip across the pond and an updating will do, ain’t it?

  • Bobbi

    One more comment.   ‘Sherlock” was done as a labor of love.  The people behind it know everything there is to know about the books and the movies and anything else that has to do with Holmes.  They talked about him in current times years before they did it.  You wonder, other than maybe reading the stories (or quickly reading them) are the people behind CBS really in love with the Holmes character and just wanted to share that with everyone.  It doesn’t really look like it and esp. after they went to BBC or Moffat or whoever to want to do the
     show for American t.v. and were told..No. (they did an awful job, except for the pilot with “Life On Mars”.)
    As we have had Holmes as a mouse and a muppet many things can be done with the character.  But when it comes to humans Sherlock Holmes with tattoos and of course making him an out and out, it sounds like, drug addict – coming out of rehab…just doesn’t seem right.

  • http://twitter.com/GJSchear Geri Schear

    I agree entirely. CBS is demonstrating a lack of originality that is exceeded only by its lack of integrity. Unfortunately, there will be those with no previous knowledge of Sherlock Holmes who will assume this execrable excuse is ‘canon’. In fact, the only connection it has with the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle is the names of some of the characters. 

    That the CBS conglomerate should co-opt a British icon is outrageous. I wonder how American audiences would feel if a UK channel was to make a British version of Superman or some other US icon and place them in London, and change the intrinsic components of the story when they do so. How does Spiderman in Manchester sound?

    Apart from the immorality of CBS’s behaviour, they don’t even have the knowledge or appreciation of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories to even attempt accuracy. Holmes would NEVER apologise for being right. He was always described as neat in his dress. (The less said about the costume department ripping off the BBC the better). He was NOT a drug addict. He took a 7% solution of cocaine (then legal) when he did not have a case to occupy his thoughts. As the stories progressed mention of the drug completely disappeared.

    I agree entirely with MyrtleMartha about the deplorable interpretation of Dr Watson. 

    There is no good reason for this show’s existence. It is intended only to make money. You’d think Jonny Lee Miller would realise this show is going to label him the poor man’s (and therefore lesser) Benedict Cumberbatch.  

    As for those who would represent ‘Elementary’ as the only modern tale of Sherlock Holmes – shame on them. But then I shouldn’t expect any better from an organisation that has already demonstrated such an appalling lack of morals.I hope all true fans of Sherlock Holmes boycott this rip off. 

  • Bonnie

    More people will see “Elementary” as its on CBS and at a good time slot than have seen the BBC Sherlock.  It did do very well on PBS, but there are still many people who haven’t seen the show or i’m afraid even heard of it.
    Did see a comment from someone connected to “Elementary” saying it had been a long time since America had seen Sherlock Holmes on American t.v.  This being said just a week after the 3rd episode of season 2 of “Sherlock” was on.
    They talk about how they’ve done this or that.  I think of it as being someone, when born, had the last name Holmes and his parents thought it would be cute to name him Sherlock.
    Tho was thinking – maybe its more like House .. as he was Holmes as a Doctor.
    Benedict is already the iconic Sherlock for our time.  Jonny is a fine actor and i’m sure will do a good job, but still….

  • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

    Regardless of the genesis, when you’re making a version that’s going run at the same time of another version, it had better be on par or better than the BBC version, which is one of the best produced shows period. More people should be tuning into the BBC version and seeing what a good show that is. This is CBS clearly trying to capitalize off the popularity of Sherlock on TV (they tried to do the same with the Millennium trilogy and Quean), and CBS giving us yet ANOTHER procedural formatted show. But yes, you’re correct about D’Onofrio. I can’t keep all of those Law and Orders straight. LOL

  • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

    Thanks, Martha for the extensive and insightful response, and most of all for listening!

  • MyrtleMartha

       Thanks for the great podcast.I expect Elementary will be a success with the general public, which is mostly unfamiliar with the details of the original Holmes and Watson characters. The show is at heart a clone of Monk, which did so well – helpless and annoying, but lovable, clever detective with hired caretaker. As a retired teacher, my biggest objections are first, that the leads are so extremely different from the original Arthur Conan Doyle version that any young person inspired by Elementary to try the original stories is likely to be so confused as to give up on the reading, and second, that the character of Watson is so sexist as to be potentially damaging to any young girl/woman who’d like to imagine what she might be like as a detective.ACD’s Sherlock Holmes was fiercely independent and proud,a brilliant man who loved being right and in control, very neat and particular in his grooming and clothes, and addicted to the adrenaline high of solving a mystery, using legal (though unhealthy) drugs to provide that high when he wasn’t working. Miller’s character, as suggested by the trailer at any rate, is so far from being in control that he is under the thumb of a rich father and submits to the unchosen monitoring of a nurse/nanny, says he sometimes hates being right, is slovenly and even dirty in dress – with his scruffy version of the BBC Sherlock iconic scarf, and is addicted to drugs, using work at least partly as a way to avoid taking them. The Watson character is even worse, not directly because Watson is made a woman, but because a whole range of sexist stereotypes are already evident in the CBS trailer, regardless of whether a romantic relationship evolves. The original male Watson was military in bearing, a respected doctor, an excellent shot, very brave, always honest and straightforward in character, and attached to Holmes out of fully reciprocated respect and friendship. Watson as a female could have been all those things. But, no, she has not served her country in the military, has failed even to keep her license as a doctor, squeals childishly and turns away when presented with a murder victim, and is attached to Holmes because she is hired to do so, allowing him to demean her with dishonest misrepresentations of her job (a big step down from Monk’s feisty, self-respecting nurse/assistants). This sexism is so grotesque and unnecessary that it cries out for attention from reviewers.Obviously these characters are named Holmes and Watson only in order to feed off the success and popularity of the BBC Sherlock and the recent movies. Had CBS used different names, it could have made a new sounds-like-Monk show. As it is, CBS should be ashamed of its anti-literary and sexist self.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OIHO3YRPAZFV5KT2NUWUANEZXQ Wynne

    While I share your cynicism about the success of “Elementary” and for many of the same reasons, I am pretty amazed that you didn’t know the genesis of the show being on CBS to begin with.

    It was neither an import nor a reboot of the BBC series “Sherlock.” It was CBS being turned down by BBC/Hartswood to franchise the show for an American audience that prompted CBS to do their own thing, including casting a Brit in the lead — ironically Jonny Lee Miller, who’d famously co-starred with BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, in the National Theatre’s “Frankenstein.” And it’s because of those CBS/BBC/Hartswood partnership discussions that did not end amicably (by all reports) that the CBS show is going to have to tread very carefully to avoid infringing on Hartswood’s updated version.

    Having said all that, it does seem a bit unfair to be comparing a four-minute trailer to an established series. Trailers are notorious for taking elements out of context for dramatic effect in the hopes of enticing viewers. That “twinkle in the eye” exchange between Holmes and Watson may have been deliberately implying a potential romance when it may turn out to be not that at all. Come the fall, we’ll all find out.

    Oh, and Vincent D’Onofrio was on “L&O: Criminal Intent,” not “SVU.” :-)

  • http://twitter.com/aikaseltzer Aika

    I love your comment about the exclusivity of the arts within a culture. You know, Doctor Who is to UK as Star Trek is to US. It expresses respect. And yeah, Sherlock is awesome. Elementary? Let’s see.

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